Home Cars 20 Superb Groundbreaking Modern Muscle Cars From Detroit Ever Produced

20 Superb Groundbreaking Modern Muscle Cars From Detroit Ever Produced

Vukasin Herbez November 6, 2018

The 1970s saw the demise of true automobile performance in America, although muscle cars continued to be a popular class. By the early ‘80s, the U.S. car industry had to come up with something to rejuvenate the appeal of muscle cars. They knew the segment would die under the attacks from those foreign sports cars and hot hatches. As a result, Detroit started implementing new, innovative features, technologies and designs.

Their efforts managed to give muscle cars a new lease on life. And the quest for improvement in muscle cars is still a thing. Even today, U.S. manufacturers continue to introduce forward-thinking and immensely capable new models.

Here is a showcase of the most groundbreaking muscle cars that shook the foundation of the class. The following vehicles have remained influential for generations of fans. Starting from the late ‘70s to the present day, read on for an interesting ride in cars that broke the mold. These beauties set new standards for the American performance scene.

  1. Dodge Lil Express Truck

In 1978 Dodge introduced the Lil` Express Truck as the first full-size muscle truck in the world. The secret of the Lil` Express Truck and its importance lies in the strict rules of the late ’70s. In fact, those regulations are what robbed V8 engines of their power and vehicles of their performance. But Dodge found an interesting loophole that declared pickup trucks didn’t need catalytic converters.

And the lack of a catalytic converter meant more space to install a more powerful engine. Also, it had more room to breathe, so it could deliver more punch than the competition. And this is how the Lil` Express Truck came to be. Dodge took a standard D Series short bed truck and added a 360 V8 engine. Next, they added big truck-like stacked exhaust pipes right behind the doors.

Dodge included a more durable automatic transmission, a red color scheme with signature decals and lots of chrome trim, too. This wild looking special model produced 225 HP, which was considered a lot in those days. Thanks to the revised drivetrain, it was the fastest accelerating domestic vehicle in 1978. Interestingly, the Dodge pickup truck was faster than all the Mustangs, Camaros and Corvettes in 1978.

The Lil` Express Truck was back for 1979 and it remained famous. However, the overall production numbers were relatively low at just under 3,000. Today, these cool looking Dodge trucks are highly-desireable and rare, so they command high prices.

  1. Ford Mustang SVO

The third generation Ford Mustang appeared as a 1979 model. It brought much-needed modernization to the Mustang range, not only in design but in technology, too. And the new so-called fox-body Mustang was sleeker, more modern and aerodynamic. It was also somewhat lighter and nimbler, which showed in its performance. However, the biggest news was the introduction of the turbo engine, a modern device for the time.

However, in 1984, the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department at Ford introduced a special Mustang SVO. It featured a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 175 HP, which was a high-power output for a small engine. As a light car, the ‘84 Mustang SVO was hot at the moment. The package included four-wheel disc brakes, a stiffer suspension and sharper steering, transforming the little Mustang into a capable sports car.

In 1985, the SVO department upped the power to an impressive 205 HP, turning the eyes of the motoring public to the third-generation Mustang. Until the early ‘80s, nobody accepted turbocharging as the legitimate way of upping the power. Muscle car purists thought that turbochargers were just for imports.

But the Mustang SVO proved the American car industry could come up with a modern, smart package. But most of all, the SVO proved a car could make power from technology, not just from displacement.

  1. Dodge Omni GLH

While Europe was embracing the hot hatch class in the mid-80s, America seemed quite uninterested. The Golf GTI sold well in the States, but the domestic manufacturers didn`t produce any models that drivers could consider hot hatches. That was until the legendary Carroll Shelby teamed up with Dodge to introduce his version of the compact Omni.

Dodge called it the Omni GLH and it was a proper hot hatch. Also, it was one of the best affordable performance models money could buy in those days. Nobody expected Dodge to produce a hot hatch that could beat its European competitors. But with Shelby’s help, it did just that. Shelby added a turbocharger to the 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine to produce 175 HP.

This helped the engine reach 0 to 60 mph in fewer than seven seconds, which highly competitive for the day. They also gave the Omni GLH some suspension modifications and improvements, so it could handle all that power.

But the best thing about this car is the name, “GLH,” which meant “Goes like Hell.” Also, Shelby and Dodge produced an improved version they named the GLHS that stood for “Goes Like Hell S`more.” However, they only built 500 of them, making them extremely rare today.

  1. Buick GNX

The story of the GNX is an interesting one. Back in 1982, Buick started experimenting with turbocharging its line of standard V6 engines. The results were satisfying, so the Buick engineers got permission to develop a performance version with better acceleration figures. Soon, they unveiled the Buick Grand National with 175 HP, which wasn’t impressive but it was a start. However, in the next couple of years, the Grand National got a bigger engine and more power.

The power went from 175 HP to 200 HP, and finally to 235 HP. And with those numbers came acceleration times of less than six seconds, making those black Grand Nationals seriously quick cars. In 1987, Buick introduced the ultimate version they called the GNX, short for Grand National Experimental. It featured the same 3.8-liter turbocharged V6, but with 275 HP and 0 to 60 mph time of 4.7 seconds.

However, nobody expected such a bold move from Buick. After all, Buick was producing cars without any excitement. And suddenly, there was a turbocharged V6 coupe that broke every classic muscle car mold. It was even faster than a Ferrari. At that moment, Buick GNX was the fastest accelerating production model in the world.

At $29,000, it was expensive, but legend says some GNX owners paid for their cars by street racing for money. Unfortunately, Buick GNX was one year only model, so the company made just 547 of them. Today, drivers praise those cars just as much as they did in the late ’80s.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z

The third generation Camaro was a well-received, popular car. But after a while, car buyers wanted more performance and power. So, Chevrolet delivered just that in form of the legendary IROC-Z version. They present it in 1985 as a tribute to the Chevrolet-sponsored International Race of Champions series. However, it was much more than just an appearance package and a cool name.

Under the hood was a 350 V8 with 225 HP in the early years and 245 HP in later versions. Buyers could opt for manual or automatic, and they tuned the suspension as well as the steering. Chevrolet even offered a cool-looking convertible that was the first Camaro rag top in 18 years.

The IROC-Z proved to be a popular and influential muscle car that finally brought some real performance to drivers. And although this Camaro wasn’t advanced in technology, it was a nicely rounded package. It included a powerful engine, improved aerodynamics and a modern suspension, offering powerful performance for the time.

  1. Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe

The 10th generation of the venerable Thunderbird emerged in 1989 with a redesigned platform and a more elegant, sleeker body. Again, the Thunderbird was a luxury coupe with no sporty ambitions. However, the Ford engineers created a performance model that drivers could consider a muscle car in the Thunderbird Super Coupe.

Just like the Turbo Coupe, the SC had a smaller engine, but this time they supercharged it to achieve high performance. The 3.8-liter V8 got a supercharger and intercooler, as well as a high-tech motor management system.

Also, the engine delivered 210 HP, which was respectable. The SC was praised for its handling and braking capabilities and high top speeds, courtesy of its aerodynamic shape and clever engineering. The acceleration was good too, with 7.5 seconds to 60 mph.

  1. GMC Syclone

Back in the 1980s, GM has experimented with turbocharged engines, which was much in sync with industry trends at the moment. However, the most famous of them all was the Buick Grand National or Buick GNX. It featured a 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 engine with fewer than five-second 0 to 60 mph times. And with that kind of firepower, those black Buicks were terrorizing the drag strips and stoplights.

But by the early 1990s, the Buicks were gone, so the GM engineers were looking for a place to install their turbo hardware. They decided to make a sports truck out of the Chevrolet S10, a compact pickup with diminutive four-cylinder power. So GM took an ordinary S10 body shell and installed a 4.3-liter V6 with a turbocharger good for 280 HP. They added a special four-speed automatic from a Corvette and performance-based all-wheel drive.

The Syclone could sprint to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, making it faster than the current Ferrari. The key was its light weight, small dimensions and lots of torque from that turbocharged engine. However, the price was significantly higher than the regular model, so they built less than 3,000. And, almost all of them came in the signature black color.

However, the Syclone wasn’t the first performance truck, but it was the first turbocharged compact pickup, making it unusual and unique. Today, GMC Syclone is a coveted collector vehicle. Best of all, it is still so fast, it can hold its own against younger, more powerful cars.

  1. Ford F-150 Lightning

The ‘60s were a high watermark for American performance like horsepower and torque ratings, as well as looks and interesting, fast models. After the early ‘70s tight emission and safety laws, the power went embarrassingly down. It looked like the glory days of octane madness were gone.

Fortunately, in the ’90s, American car manufacturers started investing in performance, delivering faster, more powerful cars to the market. One of those pure performance machines was the crazy, cool F-150 Lightning. Arriving in the early ’90s with only 280 HP, the Lightning was a performance truck with great driving dynamics. But, in 1999 with the redesigned generation of F-150 trucks came the new Lightning.

However, this time it was meaner looking, more aggressive and packed much more firepower. Ford installed its 5.4-liter V8 with a supercharger good for 360 HP at first and 380 HP later. This was higher than the previous model and much more than any truck on the market at that time. The performance numbers were sublime because the Lightning could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds and top 140 mph.

Those figures were more suited to a Porsche 911 than a regular pickup truck that could tow cargo just like any other F-150. The second generation of the Lightning proved to be quite popular, staying in production for five years up to 2004. During it run, the Ford SVT department produced over 30,000 Lightning trucks, which are fantastic numbers. This also means the SVT Lighting is relatively inexpensive and plentiful, too.

  1. Oldsmobile Achieva SCX W41

Despite the limited sales of the original W41 Cutlass in 1991, Oldsmobile knew the 2.3-liter four-cylinder had the potential to be more than just a footnote in car history. Since they discontinued the Cutlass Calais for 1992 and replaced it with the Achieva, the Olds engineers decided to introduce another W41 model. They wanted to develop the compact front-wheel-drive sports car concept further.

So, for 1992 and 1993, Oldsmobile offered the SCX W41 model. It the last W-named performance version Oldsmobile ever built. They based the SCX W41 on the previous model, featuring the same 190 HP, 2.3-liter engine that revved to 7,200 rpm. However, they improved the design, as well as the interior equipment, suspension and brakes.

But the biggest improvement was the five-speed manual gearbox they developed especially for this model. The SCX W41 was the quickest car in its segment. However, despite its qualities, it still flew under the radar of most enthusiasts, with Olds only selling 1,600 models.

  1. Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

Even though the Corvette is not a muscle car but rather a capable, two-seater sports car, the ZR-1 was important because it showed American performance was back. The Chevrolet engineers knew the C4 chassis had enormous potential, so they wanted to improve its power and performance. But finally, they got a green light from management to introduce the best Corvette model in years.

Chevy’s goal was to show the sports car world what the Corvette could achieve. So, in 1990, they presented the mighty ZR-1. It delivered 400 HP and a performance that could beat any Ferrari at that time. Chevy called it the “King of the Hill,” and the Corvette ZR1 was exactly that. Immediately, it was obvious that Chevrolet hit a home run.

Under the hood, there was the LT4, a Lotus-engineered V8 engine producing 375 HP and later 400 HP. Also, it came with quad cam heads and had 32 valves. The engine was an engineering marvel and performed exceptionally well. Also, they beefed-up the suspension and gearbox and added a pair of extra wide rear tires. The Corvette ZR1 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, making it one of the fastest cars of the era and a modern classic today.

  1. Ford Mustang SVT Cobra

Ford was inspired by the wild SVT Cobra Rs from the ‘90s, but they didn’tname the 2003 model “R” since it wasn`t limited in its production. In fact, it was available to the public, rather than just racing drivers and private teams. However, this SVT Cobra was an important model for the Mustang dynasty and muscle car mythology because it featured two firsts.

One was the first factory supercharged engine and other was the independent rear suspension. Special Vehicle Team took the standard 4.6-liter block and mounted different heads and a supercharger to get 390 HP and 390 lb-ft of torque.

They named the engine the “Terminator.” Rumor was that it delivered more than the advertised 390 HP. To handle all that power and torque, Ford equipped the SVT Cobra with an independent rear suspension like the first Ford GT. This helped the stability at high speeds and hard launches, making this Mustang handle like a dream.

The 0 to 60 mph time took only 4.7 seconds, making the SVT Cobra a drag strip terror. Ford offered this model in 2003 and 2004, building around 20,000 of them in coupe and convertible form. And, despite being almost 15 years old, SVT Cobras still hold high prices on the used car market.

  1. Shelby GT350 R

Although they based the Shelby GT350 on the Mustang GT, much of the car’s suspension, design, aero package and engine were new. But the biggest single difference was the fantastic Voodoo engine with 5.2-liters of displacement, 526 HP and 429 lb-ft of torque. And the main feature of this high-revving powerplant is the flat plane crank technology that allows this big V8 to scream to almost 9,000 rpm.

It is the same technology exotic manufacturers like Ferrari use, but this is the first time a muscle car has such an advanced engine. Ford`s investment into the Shelby GT 350 R paid off since the performance is mind-boggling with 3.9 seconds for 0 to 60 mph. But the numbers don’t do justice to this car. Shelby GT350 R is a pure sports car that delivers fantastic driving dynamics and experience to drivers.

It is much closer to the Porsche GT3 in terms of precision driving and cornering speeds than it is to humble Mustangs of yesterday. This car is not only one of the fastest Mustangs ever; it is also one of the best sports cars in recent years. This is a model that erases the line between muscle cars and sports cars.

  1. Dodge Charger Hellcat

In 2014, Dodge presented the Hellcat and the car community went crazy. After all, the reaction was not surprising since the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 delivered 707 HP. And it is a proper monster of a muscle car that shouldn’t be on the streets. But, Dodge allowed the public to buy one of the fastest, most powerful muscle cars ever.

Despite being overpowered in every aspect, the Dodge Charger Hellcat is fun to drive and can be docile at low speeds. It’s only when you press the throttle to unleash the fury of those 707 supercharged horses do you feel the brutality of the Hellcat and power going to the rear wheels.

The 0 to 60 mph times are in the high three-second range and the car can top 200 mph. So, is there better proof that the legendary Dodge Charger can keep the muscle car segment interesting in the 21st century?

  1. Dodge Challenger GT AWD

What is the definition of a muscle car? It’s a two-door coupe with a big V8 engine and rear wheel drive, right? Well, Dodge has a different vision. For decades, muscle cars were rear-wheel drive only vehicles. But in 2016, Dodge introduced a special model in its Challenger lineup they call the GT AWD.

Even though it’s a Challenger with the recognizable coupe styling, retro charm and aggressive stance, underneath the cool-looking body, there is a V6. Also, it comes with an intelligent all-wheel-drive system. But, now there are no more smoky burnouts and rear wheels on fire. Instead, there is loads of traction even in the toughest road conditions.

At the moment, the Dodge Challenger AWD is the only all-wheel drive production muscle car ever. Even Ford and Chevrolet don’t have anything similar for the Mustang or Camaro. Unfortunately, Dodge only offers the GT AWD with the V6 engine. Despite the fact that the V6 is fairly powerful with 305 HP, most drivers wish it came with a proper Hemi V8.

  1. Pontiac GTO

The last GTO Pontiac ever produced was the 2004 to 2006 model, which was a re-badged Australian Holden Monaro. But car enthusiasts expected much from the GTO. So, although it was a powerful, capable machine, it failed to meet the expectations of most GTO fans.

But what makes this car influential and groundbreaking is that it was the first muscle car they sold in the U.S. they didn’t engineer or design in Detroit. Because Holden was GM’s Australian branch, the last GTO wasn’t an American product.

  1. Dodge Neon STR4

Dodge introduced the Neon SRT-4 in 2003 and it was one of the most affordable performance cars in America at the time. But what turned the compact Neon into a pocket rocket was the 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 230 HP.

In fact, it propelled the little Neon to 5.4 second 0 to 60 mph times. However, almost every owner tuned their Neon SRT4 the minute they left the dealership. Some owners even managed to squeeze over 400 HP from the 2.4-liter engine.

  1. Pontiac Trans Am GTA

The 1987 to 1991 Trans Am GTA was the best, most powerful version of the third generation F-Body from Pontiac. It was not only the best looking but also a rare, expensive option. The secret weapons of the GTA were its engine and WS6 handling package. The engine was a 350 V8 with 210 HP in the early models and up to 245 HP in later versions.

Rumor was that the engine was the same as in the Corvette since it used the same TPI fuel injection system and displacement, but sadly, that wasn’t the case. But, Corvette used aluminum heads while Pontiac used iron; however, the power and performance were similar.

  1. Ford Taurus SHO

For decades, those fast, stealthy cars were a European specialty. But with the introduction of the Ford Taurus SHO, Americans had their own muscle sedan. However, the best and the fastest is the current model, which is one of the coolest, most usable performance cars you can buy.

The SHO has a 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that delivers 365 HP to all four wheels over a six-speed automatic transmission. And that means the Taurus SHO is capable of a convincing performance and high top speeds.

  1. Chevrolet SS

With a 6.2-liter V8, 412 HP, precise steering and neutral handling, the Chevy SS rivals Europe’s finest sports sedans. But did you know it comes from Holden of Australia and they rebadged it as a Chevrolet fine-tuned for American customers?

The performance numbers are respectable. In fact, you can do 0 to 60 mph sprint in just 4.7 seconds, while its top speed is over 150 mph. So, the Chevrolet SS is a good proposition for people who need a practical sedan but want a sports car.

  1. Cadillac CTS-V

For years, Cadillac was without a proper performance series to compete with BMW or Mercedes. But, finally, the V-Series was born. It was all that Cadillac lovers dreamed of with its powerful engine and world-class handling. Also, they updated the suspension and made it exclusive in its production.

Under the hood was a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 with 556 HP. And that makes the CTS-V the most powerful performance sedan on the market. The suspension and the rest of the drivetrain are advanced, so the CTS-V is one of the best driver’s cars available today.

These are the 20 most groundbreaking modern muscle cars from Detroit. While some are easy to find, others aren’t. However, these cars prove that muscle cars can be affordable and fun to drive, too.

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