The performance sector of the modern auto market is re-entering the muscle car phase again after three decades of famine. The big muscle era of the 60s and 70s was cut short by clean air regulations that were a result of an increasing consciousness for the environment. The resultant automotive industry would then begin to produce increasingly more environmentally friendly models for the next 30 years, gradually perfecting the engineering of the internal combustion engine.
Flash forward three decades and the muscle car era is beginning again. Armed with the advanced engineering, car makers can now produce insane levels of power from the most efficient engine designs in history; the EPA is happy (respectively) and we’re ushered into a new era of horsepower the likes of which mankind has never seen.
Dodge is producing the Hellcat and Demon Challengers, one of which is said to be the most powerful production motor by any manufacturer, ever; Hennessy Venoms producing 1,600hp are challenging world record speeds scratching at the 300mph threshold and we’re already past the 300mph barrier in ¼ mile drag races. It’s more than safe to say a new, technologically advanced muscle car era is upon us; a historic one at that. Now that power is back in style, there’s a wide open spectrum of options well enough for any speed enthusiast. It’s so popular in fact, that it’s now cool to fake it. Looking fast is almost as in style as being fast, and there is no shortage of cars in either category to choose from.
20 GT R Skyline
The Skyline is a legendary street car name dating back to the late ‘60s when the first Skyline began racking up an epic record-setting trend in Japanese touring races. Taking a brief hiatus throughout the ‘80s, the skyline would return again long enough to inject a few new models into the ‘90s car market before again pulling out.
Well, the Skyline is back and badder than ever. The $100,000 supercar is powered by a 565hp 3.6L V-6, shifted by a dual-clutch six-speed transmission and comes standard with all-wheel drive. The appropriately named Godzilla has again risen out of the ocean for a third comeback to terrorize the city streets.
19 Galpin-Fisker Rocket
The Galpin-Fisker Rocket takes the retro design into a new dimension more on par with supercar styling; the aggressive body lines and greedy intake vents still hunker sleekly on the smooth body lines to slice through the air like, well…a rocket. Fisker’s favorite Mustang is a ’68 Shelby GT500.
Not one for flashy looks without a bite, the Galpin-Fisker team made sure the Rocket was equipped for battle with a 725hp rating (that’s 18hp more than the Challenger Hellcat).
Not one for baggage, the Rocket is outfitted with a carbon fiber body to alleviate excess weight and maximize performance. With a carbon fiber body and horsepower ratings like that, I don’t think maximum performance will be an issue, but here’s one car I’d advocate a wing on, and I’m not a wing guy.
18 Zenvo ST1
The Zenvo ST1 is the result of a small team of Danish car builders that built the entire car by hand, save for the laborious efforts of a CNC machine. If you happen to come across this machine on the road you’d better go buy a lotto ticket; only 15 were built and sold. The nine year old styling looks not the least bit outdated, and the engine construction made sure the performance department was on par for years to come; the 7.0L super-turbocharged V-8 rests behind the front seats in the middle of the car while an array of peripheral radiators coolers and other components were strategically installed about the body.
The three performance modes switch from 650hp, 850hp and 1,104hp on the fly depending on the mood; selection of the high-performance mode leaves you alone with the beast and turns off all traction assist devices.
17 Noble M600
The battle of the titans is no longer strictly reserved as a domestic-only showdown; world speed records are constantly being pushed further and further down the line as ridiculous new hypercars constantly challenge physics to push the envelope even further.
Twin-turbocharged V-8 making 650hp with a Lexus block that’s designed for supercars is complemented with light-weight carbon fiber components in an effort to achieve what few hypercar manufacturers are able to nail; making an insanely high performance car with incredible handling that can drive smoothly and naturally. Its 0-120mph time clocks in at 8.9 seconds with an estimated top speed of 225mph; a manual six-speed lets you walk it right on through each gear to get there too.
16 Falcon F7
The Falcon F7 is a mid-west production car built by hand featuring components unlike what you’d expect to find on anything but a car like this; F1-style pushrod suspension like the Formula cars use (as well as the Lamborghini Aventador).
The $190-$250K supercar boasts a chassis design typically found on cars costing a few hundred thousand more.
With a 0-60mph time in just under 3.5 seconds and a top speed approaching the 200mph mark, this car is no floozy. The mid-mount LS7 Corvette motor makes 620hp and 585ft/lbs of torque to shuttle the aluminum/carbon fiber monocoque body around at a curb weight of under 2,790lbs; 400lbs less than a Ferrari 458.
15 Ferrari 488 GTB
This highly tuned V-8 Ferrari is complemented with a lime green wrap that hugs the body lines like it was hand-carved by a master craftsman. The carbon fiber skirts cost as much as a car and the 488 sports a rear diffuser and a bold wing that state with authority it’s here for serious business.
Only 20 were slated for production, so seeing one will be rare, but the 488 looks pretty sweet with the Misha kit installed. A humble 3.9L twin-turbocharged V-8 is the standard 488 power package was enough to gain the 488 the title “Supercar of the Year 2015” by Top Gear magazine and is Motor Trend’s 2017 “Best Driver’s Car.”
14 AMG Vision GT
One of the most futuristic "real" cars you’re ever going to lay eyes on in a lifetime, the Mercedes AMG Vision GT was designed for Playstation’s Grand Turismo 6 video game and was rumored to be possibly turned into a $1.5 million production vehicle, but since 2013 we have yet to hear any evidence supporting that.
The dual-turbocharged AMG V-8 is a 585hp, 590ft/lb of torque screamer attached to an automatic seven-speed transmission. The lightweight 3,053lb body isn’t much of a chore to pull around with its aluminum spaceframe body and a compliment of carbon fiber components.
The G8 is known widely as GM's last great Pontiac by many; the 2009 closure of the Pontiac line forever sealed the fate of the G8 as a punctuation of the brand, and not a bad one at that. The performance-built G8 is equipped with goodies like variable-ratio power steering and 50-50 weight distribution. The stuff structure is designed to maintain rigidity freeing up the chassis to absorb the road rather than negotiate body flex.
The GT sports a 6.0L V-8 capable of painting rubber on the ground all day long but a manual transmission is only available on the GXP versions which also were equipped with an optional, de-tuned 6.2L Corvette motor rated in excess of 400hp. This example of a G8 is actually a VE Holden Commodore, an Australian car rebadged by Pontiac for domestic sale.
12 AMG GT R
I’m not sure if they are setting the bar or competing with a phantom menace but the GT R’s power ratings indicate that whatever they’re doing, they’re playing for keeps. The 769hp and 708ft/lbs of launch the GT R to 62mph in less than three seconds and has to be limited at 208mph. Where it would go unleashed is anybody’s guess but the 1.2” suspension drop tuck the tires perfectly inside the wheel wells where Michelin Super Sports wrap around the dual five-spoke rim design beautifully.
The most eye-catching feature, however, is the tastefully accented pair of yellow stripes that perfectly contrast the gray and are applied in just the right proportions to convey its performance bias without being (dare I say) too attention grabby.
11 M4 BMW
If there’s one thing performance engine builds seem to favor these days, its twin-turbocharging power plants. Everybody with big power ratings is starting to use a dual setup as the proliferation of turbocharger technology becomes more and more common even in everyday drivers.
Massive power numbers can be achieved with smaller displacements and the 3.0L, 181cid inline is no exception; the regimented line of cylinders are scraping close to the 500hp mark and near 450ft/lbs of torque.
Power ratings like this allow the M4 to truly shine in many different environments, including drifting apparently. There have always been groups of people who liked to slide around in their Beemers but it seems like the M4 is inspiring a good number of additional participants to dabble in the art of the drift.
10 Carbon Fiber SRT Demon
Often times a name is branded to sell a car and make it "cool;" Fusion, Flex, Cobalt, Volt, Crossfire, Prowler; those cars are all branded with catchy names to make them sound cool. In the case of the Demon, however, it’s the car making the name look cool. There's no name more fitting for something that you can extract over 800hp out of with pump gas and 840 on race fuel.
The 6.2L HEMI V-8 is supercharged and shares no more than 50% of its parts with its predecessor, the Hellcat SRT.
Hailed as the most powerful production car in history, it’s the only Guinness-certified front wheel lifting car in history; contrary to the picture, the record number is just 0.8” shy of a 3’ high wheelie off the line. 0-30mph in one second and in another 1.3 seconds you’re at 60mph. If you want something you don’t need to even brag about, this may be the car for you; it brags enough for itself.
9 Camaro GT4.R
Based on the 2017 LT1 road car, the GT4.R is a race spec version that maintains a lot of similarities with its road counterpart. The big 6.1L LT1 small block V-8 has power on demand as it should; at 3,500lbs its one of the heaviest cars in the Continental Tire Series Sports Car Challenge, a division in which the Stevenson team has had much success with the car despite the weight disadvantage.
The dry-sump LT1 features direct fuel injection, a custom ground cam, a programmable Bosch ECU, Motec data acquisition interface and a carbon fiber intake among other tantalizing details.
It’s tunable to 480hp thanks to the MS6 ECU and weight reduction efforts are scattered all over the car; carbon fiber components including the GT4 spec rear spoiler. 18” one-piece Forgeline wheels wrap themselves with 305 series tires in the front and rear to hold the Camaro down and a Brembo disk brake system has 20 pistons of stopping power when you want to slow it all down.
8 BMW M4 GTS
If you’re reading this and don’t already have a brand new M4 GTS, you will never own one. The limited run only produced 300 available to domestic inhabitants meaning that, with delivery starting in the second quarter of 2016, these puppies are long gone by now and safely nestled into garages of adoring owners and collectors.
The water-injected 493hp engine pulls the track-ready chassis though Nurburgring in 7 minutes and 28 seconds. The race-ready M4 isn’t just seeping with horsepower however. Its balls to the wall acceleration is, as you’d expect, complimented with fast steering, making this balanced platform corner very predictably.
7 Audi R8
Although this looks like the race-spec GT 3, it’s actually just a suped up production R8 outfitted with performance mods and a body kit rivaling the cost of a new base model Mustang.
Inspired by the GT 3, the already respectable performance was enhanced by boosting the 420hp figure to 475 while a supercharger option further increases that number to above 560.
Although the term overkill is seldom justifiably used in the performance world, the expense of this kit and associated performance upgrades could just warrant its usage given the fact that the already stellar R8 leaves little to be desired.
6 300GT BRZ
This production car turned track hero is the type of build that everyday BRZ drivers look to for inspiration in their own builds, however most will rarely surpass a few engine mods, a set of rims and a body kit. A highly popular thing to do with your backyard BRZ build is to modify the engine mapping, throw a cold-air intake on it and maybe an exhaust, but the deeper you bring a factory production car into performance territory, the further you stray away from the reliability threshold that was built into the design.
Sure the BRZ platform can hunker down and grip corners like a GT from the dealer, but care should be taken when choosing your upgrades and how you use them; the car was intended for a specific level of performance. All the tuned and race-ready cars you see out there actually necessitating the aggressive body kits and race tires have built motors that can dish out the power reliably; the valvetrain and bottom end of your bone stock motor isn’t quite up to par with much more than aggressive street driving. Even then you need to know how to handle it.
5 Porsche Cayenne
The 152hp Cayenne base model is a thrilling SUV in many respects, but the market segment that engages with the base model version of a high performance line never made sense to me. My logic here is, if you’re in a position to buy a Porsche, hat’s off to you for one, as I am not, but you’re buying a nameplate with such a high performance legacy you’re only selling yourself short by not going hard.
The base model Cayenne starts out at $65,500 while the S model adds an extra $17,000…But you’re buying a Porsche; don’t start to go bare minimum now.
This is an accentuated version of buying a six-cylinder challenger; why would you do that? The 335hp and 5.9 second 0-60mph time are both highly impressive, especially for an SUV, but pull up to the first BMW X5M you see and know he’s got your 0-60mph time beat by more than 1.5 seconds.
4 Mitsuoka Orochi
Depending on how you look at this machine will determine your bias toward or against it. It has been called many things, notably ugly (it’s represented here at one of its better angles) and it does take some acclimating to. The swirling body lines contour the round edges in a form that looks almost alien, but the real problem with this ‘supercar’ is its alien nature in the performance department. Whoever designed this thing was definitely going for something stellar, but as it came to the engine, stellar must have been in comparison to a Daewoo.
Somebody must have forgotten they were trying to emulate a supercar when they decided on a 3.3L V-6 Toyota engine, this serpent-inspired "supercar" pushes less than 240hp through its drivetrain (which is a Toyota five-speed automatic by the way). If they wanted to build a unique design that would create a buzz, home run. If this was in any way attempting to stand in a field of Ferraris as has been speculated numerous times, it had better be a field of junkyard Ferraris; that’s the only way a seven-second 0-60mph car is going to beat even a tired old Ferrari. Turns out, when people drop $90,000 on a fast looking car, performance is a prerequisite. Needless to say, this futuristic looking regular-car is no longer being produced.
3 Lancer GT
The Lancer has a respectable reputation in small, specialized pockets of racing, namely Rally racing and it can be a formidable street racer as well. A thriving aftermarket industry supports the small front-wheel drive car generously with styling and performance to do just about anything you want with the versatile little car.
Needless to say, this just opens the floodgates for excessively visual enhancements to proliferate the streets without one penny going into performance.
Body kits like this one go so far as to flare out the fenders and add aggressive ventilation in places fit for a race car, but your wing and rear diffuser will only fool people for so long. Just because the Evo can run a 0-60mph in 3.7 seconds doesn’t make your 7.1 second time look any better because your ventilated fenders are flared.
2 Monte Carlo SS
The Monte Carlo can be considered a racing legend in some circles, NASCAR especially. The sponsorship of a body design throughout the years has solidified the Monte Carlo as a race car-rooted platform that means business on the road. All is well and good there, but when you produce special edition road cars to celebrate the heritage of performance, it’s a good idea to infuse some of that performance into said road car.
The SS Monte Carlo sports the paint scheme of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. and his iconic #3 car in its undecorated state but the 3.8L 12-valve V-6 can only muster a maximum 200hp and 225ft/lbs of torque according to manufacture specs. Couple this to a 3,500 curb weight and it’s barely qualified to be a pace car.
1 Chrysler Crossfire
Although you could opt for the more expensive SRT variant with a supercharged 330hp engine, the standard Crossfire wasn’t much to behold when it was released to the general public. Sure it had a good debut in 2004, generating a lot of interest in the motoring community, but slow sales proved that it wasn’t all the people thought it was cracked up to be, or what they expected.
A Mercedes-sourced 3.2L six-cylinder delivered 215hp, but the lack of a V-8 option that wasn’t supercharged seems like a travesty having been produced by a Big Three automaker.
Import manufacturers can be excused for their markedly slow acclimation to domestic markets as we’ve seen it take Toyota and Nissan forever to produce a full-size truck, but a domestic automaker producing a watered down coupe is far less excusable. Maybe I’m judging it harshly, but when there’s an automatically deployed rear spoiler built into your design, I expect performance.
Sources: digitaltrend.com, drivingline.com, modifiedstreetcars.com, autoevolution.com, motor1.com, caranddriver.com, drivingline.com.