Muscle car nostalgia came back in 2005 with a fury, and the cars just get better, badder, and faster. The two heavy weights are the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and the 2013 Chevy Camaro ZL1. They fight in the same ring but use different techniques. It’s not the simple engine arms race it once was. Now there’s electronic suspension, forced induction, and electric steering. It adds up to cars that look old school but can actually turn and stop. So how to choose?
2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
Let’s start with the powerhouse: The Shelby GT500. Power is immense: 662HP and 631ft-lbs of torque from a super-charged 5.8L V8. The moon has less pull than this car. A 6-speed manual directs power to the back, which is (to the complaints of many) still a live axle.
Inside is the Mustang interior we know: Big gauges, fake chrome, (unfortunately) there is a lot of plastic. But it does win the seating competition (if you get the optional Recaro seats). It has lots of menus, data, and track apps, and you can customize the display as you wish. Despite the tall hood, it also has the ZL1 beat in visibility.
It’s the most modern GT500 yet, but make no mistake, this car is a raucous hooligan. It’s everything the 1960s muscle cars were about, blended together and brought into the future. It’s loud, raw, a little dangerous, and fast. Traction control is more of a half-hearted piece of advice trying to control the too-small 285 rear tires. It’s more like traction advice. Read “662HP” all you want, but the straight-line speed is a still surprise, increasing like water going over Niagara. It has big brakes, but they aren’t ready for serious track duty. Should you head for some twists, make sure you’re awake and this isn’t your first car. You want a hysterical shot of adrenaline with supercar speed? You got it.
2013 Chevy Camaro ZL1
Though it looks like it should come with a black t-shirt and a prison record, the Camaro ZL1 is actually a fencing champion with the body of a WWE wrestler. It’s wide, low, and intimidating looking, but the marriage of the precise controls and the ingenious Magnetic Ride Control suspension reveal something that should cost double what it does.
The engine is a 6.2L V8, also super-charged, but making “only” 580HP, which is like saying, “He’s only 6-foot 7.” Power goes through the same 6-speed as the Shelby, but with better feel. It takes half a second longer to hit 60, 4.3s vs the GT500’s 3.8, but trust me, it isn’t slow. In fact, on a road course, it’s the faster of the two.
The reason is the connected steering, crisp turn-in, and those magic shocks. Every car should have GM’s Magnetic Ride Control. It makes the ZL1 more comfortable than the Ford on the highway, and more composed on the track. It’s one of the best cars I’ve driven.
I place the interior 2nd to the GT500, but not by much. It’s subjective really. It’s not that it’s worse (both use lots of grey plastic), but that the cabin doesn’t do the car’s performance justice. The ZL1 drives like a $90,000 AMG Mercedes, but doesn’t look it. And there’s still that narrow windshield…
But it doesn’t matter, because this is an excellent car. I’d classify it under “sports” instead of “muscle”. It rewards good driving, shrinking in the corners, the front wheels talking to your fingers in Morse code. Accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack (once the baffles open), this is a true performance car of the highest order.
These cars are close in price and performance but different in attitude and intent. The GT500 starts at $54,995, and can run the ¼ mile in the high 11s. The ZL1’s MSRP is the same, and it runs a mid-12 second quarter mile. Same price, similar speed, what to do?
The GT500 will make you (and your passengers) giggle and scream. It is a true modern-day muscle car. You climb in it and feel like a villain who has taken over all the roads. The same smoky, noisy, extroverted mischief of 1969 is present, and the GT500 encourages it. If the handling and braking matched the power, Lamborghinis would be worried. But if you seek a muscle car with modern weapons tech, you will never be disappointed.
But if you want a car that feels at home on a road course, and is also comfortable for long-distance drives, the ZL1 is the correct choice.
(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Ford pictures were provided by the car maker.)