It’s hard to believe that muscle cars were on the verge of extinction just 15 years ago. That’s when General Motors stopped production of the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, leaving only the Ford Mustang to carry on. The last Dodge Challenger (a badge-engineered Mitsubishi with front-wheel drive) had been cancelled in 1983. And with that Mustang, Ford’s entry had had a narrow escape of its own. The automaker had considered dropping the traditional rear-wheel-drive muscle-car configuration from the Mustang for its fourth generation, which debuted in the early 1990s. Flash forward to today, though, and the big three muscle-car brands are enjoying a new Golden Age, backed by horsepower totals that would have been unthinkable in the originals.
In fact, looking only at the highest-horsepower models of the latest Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, there’s an incredible 2,016 horsepower in play.
2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon
Introduced in April at the New York International Auto Show and slated to go on sale later this year, the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon sets the bar at 840 horsepower and 770 pound-feet of torque. As a result, the Demon isn’t just the most powerful of the modern-day muscle cars, it’s also the most powerful production muscle car ever, further setting a new record for horsepower in any production-car V8 engine.
To achieve that kind of performance, Dodge engineers started with the 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi that produces 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque in the Challenger Hellcat. From there, a larger, 2.7-liter supercharger was bolted on, boost pressure was increased, another fuel pump was added and numerous modifications were made to improve air intake. The Demon’s Air-Grabber hood, for example, claims another record for production cars, with the largest functional scoop.
The Demon also showcases a number of production-car innovations to help manage that power, including numerous launch aids and the first street-legal, dragstrip-capable tires. At the same time, and despite those upgrades, Dodge managed to reduce the car’s curb weight by more than 200 pounds as compared to the Hellcat. Even the front-passenger and rear seats have been removed, although owners can add them for $1 each.
That top output requires an optional performance-control module for the engine, as well as 100+ octane fuel. In its standard setup and running on premium gasoline, the Demon makes a mere 808 horsepower and 717 pound-feet of torque.
On the other hand, when the Demon is optimized for performance, it’s the fastest production car in the world in terms of both 0-to-60 mph and quarter-mile times: 2.3 seconds for the former, 9.65 seconds for the latter.
2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
The 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 makes for a stark contrast to the Challenger Demon. While the explicit focus of the Dodge is “to cover the quarter mile as quickly as possible,” the Camaro ZL1 counts the world’s “most advanced sports coupes” as its competition. Thus, the Chevy combines straight-line performance with track-tuned handling and higher levels of refinement. There is, however, no shortage of output beneath the ZL1’s hood.
It’s actually the most powerful production Camaro ever released, thanks to a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that provides 650 horsepower and 640 pound-feet of torque. Drivers also get to choose between a six-speed manual transmission, for traditional DIY shifting, or a 10-speed automatic transmission that can, per Chevrolet, upshift faster than Porsche’s vaunted PDK dual-clutch automatic. On the topic of “fast,” the ZL1 can post 0-to-60 mph times of 3.5 seconds, sprint the quarter mile in 11.4 and exceed 200 mph on a high-speed oval track.
But where the Camaro ZL1 really shines is on the road course. It’s there that owners can take full advantage of the car’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension, electronic limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes and Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. If they wait until later this year, they’ll also be able to push the envelope with a new ZL1 1LE package that will create the most track-capable production Camaro in the nameplate’s long history. More specifically, the 1LE bundle helps the ZL1 shave 3 seconds from its time around the General Motors 18-turn, 2.9-mile test track in Milford, Michigan.
Key enablers of that enhanced performance are an extensive round of aero mods, including a carbon-fiber rear wing, along with a sophisticated adaptive suspension that features Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve dampers by Multimatic. The 1LE package also brings lighter alloy wheels with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar R3 tires that were specifically engineered for the Camaro. The lightweight wheels (and thinner rear glass and fixed-back rear seats) combine for a total of 60 pounds of weight savings.
2018 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang
Finally, the 2018 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang currently stands as the most powerful Blue Oval muscle car, and it’s complete with the most powerful naturally aspirated production engine yet from the automaker. The 5.2-liter V8 produces 526 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque, and it marks the first time Ford has used a flat-plane crankshaft in a production engine of that configuration. Without getting overly technical, a flat-plane crankshaft optimizes the firing order of the pistons in a way that improves engine breathing (as compared to a traditional cross-plane crank). Potential buyers also should know that the GT350 is available solely with a six-speed manual transmission. Also available: a Shelby GT350R variant that, according to Ford, is the “most race-ready road-legal Mustang ever.”
The GT350R follows the segment’s trend toward lighter weight to live up to that positioning, but takes a leadership role with the first standard carbon-fiber wheels from a major automaker. Each 19-inch wheel reduces the car’s unsprung weight by roughly 15 pounds, and they’re stiffer than comparably sized aluminum wheels. Overall, the GT350R weighs 130 pounds less than the already lightweight GT350. Ford engineers also leveraged carbon fiber for the GT350R’s rear wing, which complements a redesigned front splitter and a comprehensive array of other aero pieces.
All that said, the GT350R’s relative lack of output leaves it well behind its rivals. Ford hasn’t released acceleration times for the car, yet it’s clear from the engine metrics alone that the Mustang can’t keep up with the Demon in either the quarter-mile or the run from 0-60 mph. The Ford, after all, is down more than 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque to the Dodge.
Fast and Furious
Turning to all-around performance, last fall, the Camaro ZL-1 had the internet buzzing with a lap time of 7:29.60 on Germany’s Nürburgring racetrack, and that’s before Chevy developed the 1LE package. Reliable sources called that as more than 5 seconds faster than the GT350R. More recently, the 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE lapped the Nürburgring racetrack in just 7:16:04, beating times logged by Ferraris and Corvettes, and making the ZL1 1LE the 14th-fastest production car to take a spin on this track.
Of course, internet reports also indicate that a 2018 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang will be revealed later this year. Remembering that the last Mustang to wear that name featured a 662-horsepower V8 and a 200-mph top speed, a new one will no doubt be equally unforgettable.