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Mustang Vs. Camaro: The Biggest Battle of the Muscle Car World

Vukasin HerbezDecember 16, 2018

For over 50 years, the automotive world has carefully observed one of the biggest car rivalries of all time. No, it is not BMW vs. Mercedes, Lincoln vs. Cadillac or Ferrari vs. Lamborghini. This rivalry is far fiercer and more dynamic. It is the ongoing battle between two of the world’s most popular muscle cars: the Ford Mustang vs. Chevrolet Camaro.

The main weapons in this war are horsepower, engine displacement, share speed and performance credentials. But also important are racing wins and designs. For decades, Ford and Chevrolet tried their best to introduce better, faster and more beautiful cars. If you look at the production numbers and total years on the market, Ford is the winner. Ford presented the Mustang three years before the Camaro.

Also, they built more than 10 million Mustangs, making it the most successful muscle car in automotive history. However, the Camaro had also experienced a few important milestones, as well as some Mustang-defeating moments. So here are the 10 best Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros they ever made. Just read on, so you can be the judge in this decade-old automotive conflict.

  1. Ford Mustang 289 HiPo

Most of the market was fascinated when they first saw the Mustang in 1964. The compact and sporty looks, long hood and short deck and all at an affordable price seemed unreal. The engine lineup consisted of two six-cylinders and a 298 V8 engine with several power outputs. However, the most interesting was the K-Code.

The K-Code was a 289 V8 but with a sporty tune and 271 HP, which was more than enough for a decent performance. With the optional GT package including a stiffer suspension, better equipment and lots of exterior details, the 289 HiPo, for High Power, was the choice for real Mustang fans. Available between 1965 and 1967, the 289 HiPo was the first Mustang that ran as well as it looked, especially in the gorgeous Fastback body style.

  1. Ford Mustang GT 390

Mustang got its first redesign in 1967 when Ford introduced a slightly bigger and more luxurious model. The design was even more elegant and the options list was longer than ever. Performance lovers finally got a big block option in the 390 FE V8 engine producing 325 HP. However, if you are thinking this was a crazy fast Mustang that burned rubber in any gear, think again. This was a fast and powerful car, but it was more of a Grand Tourer than a muscle car.

However, the 390 GT Mustang was immortalized by the legendary Steve McQueen when it appeared as a co-star of the famous detective flick, Bullitt, in 1968. The Highland Green 390 Fastback made history with one of the best movie car chases ever, promoting the 390 engine into legend status.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 302

Ford only offered the Boss 302 for two years, 1969 and 1970. The Boss 302 featured a 302 V8 engine they conservatively rated at 290 HP. However, the real output was closer to the 350 HP mark. The Boss 302 was a model Ford intended to race in Trans-Am championships. Apart from the blackout hood and spoiler, the Boss 302 featured a stiff, track-tuned suspension, a close ratio gearbox and a high revving engine.

The car was light since it lacked any unnecessary luxuries. This made it a perfectly balanced car with great performance and driving dynamics. It was a muscle car, obviously, but its handling characteristics, high revving engine, and overall feel made it a sports car with great racing success.

  1. Ford Mustang King Cobra

The second generation of the Ford Mustang debuted in 1974. It was available for four years, until 1978. Despite the fact it was the subject of so many jokes and bad press, the Mustang II was an important model. They downsized the whole Mustang range, introducing economical four-cylinder engines and parts sharing with other Ford models. That’s what helped the Mustang survive the recession of the ’70s and the death of the muscle car segment.

With a flaming snake on the hood, front and rear spoilers and full body kit, the King Cobra was the typical ’70s factory custom car. They mated a 5.0 V8 to a four-speed manual transmission in an attempt to make a performance car. Needless to say, the performance was not great, but the outrageous body kit stole the show. Today, the King Cobra is a collector’s item.

  1. Ford Mustang SVO

Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department introduced a special Mustang for 1984. It featured a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 175 HP. It was quite the power output for a small engine. As a light car, the ’84 Mustang SVO was pretty hot at the moment.

The package included four-wheel disc brakes, a stiffer suspension, and sharper steering, transforming the little Mustang into quite a capable sports car. For 1985, the SVO upped the power to an impressive 205 HP, which turned the eyes of the motoring public to the third-generation Mustang.

  1. Ford Mustang GT 5.0 HO

The rise in the power of domestic cars during the ’80s brought the first real performance to the Mustang range in almost 20 years. The Fox-body Mustang grew more and more powerful with each model year. So, by the late ’80s, the venerable 5.0-liter V8 engine was delivering 225 HP and 300 lb-ft of torque. That translated to quite competent 0 to 60 mph times.

The Mustang was once again was an affordable performance car with cool styling, lots of options and enough power to spin the rear wheels in any gear. That’s why most people consider the 1988 to 1993 Mustang 5.0 GT to be one of the best Mustangs in a long line of quality machines. This car marked a return to the roots with a strong V8 engine and exciting performance numbers.

  1. Ford Mustang SVT Cobra

Inspired by the wild SVT Cobra Rs from the ’90s, Ford avoided naming the 2003 model “R” since it wasn’t limited in its production. In fact, it was available to the public rather than just racecar drivers and private race teams. However, this SVT Cobra was an interesting and important model for the Mustang dynasty since it featured two firsts.

The first new feature was the first factory supercharged engine and the second was the independent rear suspension. SVT took a standard 4.6-liter block and mounted different heads and a supercharger to get 390 HP and 390 lb-ft of torque. Then they named the engine the “Terminator” and 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 setup similar to 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 acceleration time took only 4.7 seconds, so the SVT Cobra was a true drag strip terror.

  1. Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500

The swan song of those SVT supercharged Mustangs was the 2013 Shelby GT 500. This glorious muscle car had a 5.8-liter supercharged V8 pumping out 662 HP and 631 lb-ft of torque. At the time, this was the most powerful American-made V8 engine and a proper beast of an engine. Installed in rear-wheel drive with a live axle platform made it a tire smoke generator.

But, beside its burnout and show potential, it was also a serious performance machine. A 0 to 60 mph sprint took only 3.5 seconds and the $50,000 Mustang could embarrass a $250,000 Ferrari at stoplight drag races. Buyers loved this overpowered Mustang. Despite being discontinued, it still is the king of the hill among Mustang fans.

  1. Ford Mustang GT 5.0 Performance Pack 2

Instead of presenting the current 5.0 GT Mustang, even though it is one of the best Mustangs in history, the 2018 model with the new GT Performance Pack 2 belongs on this list. It is one of the coolest modern Mustangs and a true performance model for discriminating muscle car fans. Because the Mustang GT Performance Pack 2 is a GT, it has a 5.0-liter Coyote V8 producing 460 HP and 420 lb-ft of torque.

With a six-speed manual transmission, it is in the best tradition of classic muscle cars. The 0 to 60 mph times in the low four seconds range means the Performance Pack 2 is fast. But the numbers are just half the story. The essence of the Performance Pack is in the handling, braking, low weight and far better driving dynamics.

For $6,500 above the price of the regular GT, you get chassis and aerodynamic improvements, stiffer springs and beefier anti-roll bars. Also, you get performance tires, bigger brakes, racing seats and a lot more. With this package, the standard Mustang GT goes from a great sports car to a fantastic driver’s machine.

Some car journalists and experts think Ford should have named the Performance Pack 2 the Boss 302 since it captures the same idea and is for the same type of customers.

  1. Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R

For those who want a more classic, screamer Mustang with a Shelby heritage, modern technology and unbelievable V8 performance, the new GT350R is a perfect choice. Even though they based the Shelby on the Mustang GT, much of the car’s suspension, design, aero package, and engine are new. The biggest single difference is the fantastic Voodoo engine, which has a 5.2-liter displacement, 526 HP and 429 lb-ft of torque.

The main feature of this high-revving power plant is the flat-plane crank technology that allows the 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 GT350R paid off since the performance is mind-boggling with 3.9 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

Although the 1967 Z/28 wasn’t the most powerful Camaro on offer, it was by far the best choice in terms of handling, braking, and overall driving dynamics. If the SS 350 and SS 396 were pure muscle cars with big engines and loads of tire smoke, the Z/28 was a driver’s machine and a road racing model that could handle most challenges.

The Z/28 package included front disc brakes, close ratio four-speed manual transmission, and a revised suspension and steering. They added exterior trim details like racing stripes and a vinyl roof and headlight covers, but the real treat was under the hood. The power came from 5.0-liter V8 delivering 290 HP and a high revving nature.

This engine proved to be ideal for the Z/28 giving the car thrilling performance numbers while retaining its low weight and nimble handling. The Mustangs didn’t have such a version, so the Z/28 was a unique offering.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

As you already know, back in the late ’60s, Chevrolet was under the racing ban proposed by General Motors. This meant that no official Chevrolet products could race and Chevrolet as the manufacturer couldn`t participate in any racing activity. However, nobody stopped Chevrolet from helping racing teams through a backdoor program where they developed special engines and components. In the late ’60s, Can-Am was a popular racing series featuring prototype class cars with V8 engines.

Chevrolet wanted to purpose-build a power plant for this championship. Soon, they produced an all-aluminum 427 big block they called the ZL-1 in 1969. It was a high revving, 7.0-liter V8 with around 550 HP in mild tune. Chevrolet produced around 200 of those engines. While most of them went to Can-Am racing teams, they installed 69 ZL-1s in C.O.P.O Camaros, selling them to drag racing teams.

The Camaro ZL-1 was totally the same as the regular 1969 Camaro the outside, but it was so fast, it was barely street legal. The official 1969 Chevrolet literature never mentioned the ZL-1 option for the Camaro. But, if you were a successful drag racer or a dealer, you knew about this expensive option. That is why they only built 69 Camaros ZL-1s.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro SS 350/396

In the late ’60s, the horsepower wars were in full swing, so Chevrolet prepared the Camaro for battle with new Z/28 and SS models. The SS 396 was top of the line muscle model with 325 HP in earlier versions and up to 375 HP for 1969. However, the best balanced and almost equally fast was the SS 350 model.

The SS 350 was a popular model they equipped with all Chevrolet’s “go fast” goodies, as well as the venerable 350 CID V8 engine producing 300 HP. With racing stripes and a graphics package, optional vinyl roof and lots of extras, the SS 350 was one of the best pony cars around. It offered a lively performance, good handling and perfect looks. Today, it is one of the most desirable classic Camaros and a sought-after piece of Chevrolet history.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro 1977

Like all muscle cars in the ’70s, the Camaro faced tightening emission and safety regulations resulting in a loss of power and performance. The early second-generation models looked promising, but just a few years after, Chevrolet discontinued the Z/28. Sadly, the most powerful V8 model produced approximately 165 HP, which was a pale shadow of its former glory.

However, the 1977 model is important for two reasons. First, it marked the return of the Z/28 option after a few years of absence. The ’77 Z/28 delivered just 185 horses. However, with a special body kit, wild graphics package, and spoiler, it looked wild. But, it was the second reason that is much more interesting.

In 1977, Chevrolet Camaro finally outsold the Ford Mustang for the first time since 1967. The mid-70s Mustang was a slow, ugly car while the Camaro at least looked much better with proper muscle car styling and stance. That is why Chevy sold over 200,000 Camaros in that year alone while Ford sold just 153,000 Mustangs.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro IROC

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

Under the hood was the 350 V8 producing 225 HP in the early years, and 245 HP in later versions. The buyers could opt for a manual or automatic transmission, and they tuned the suspension as well as steering. Chevrolet even offered a cool-looking convertible, which was the first Camaro ragtop in 18 years. The IROC-Z proved to be a popular and influential muscle car that finally brought some real performance to the buyers.

  1. 2001/02 Chevrolet Camaro SS

The fourth-generation Camaro, along with its twin brother, the Pontiac Firebird, lasted until 2002 and then went on an eight-year hiatus. During its nine-year lifespan, Chevrolet improved the Camaro, not only aesthetically but with the introduction of various mechanical improvements. They included newer, more powerful engines that added to the performance and style of the late ‘90s and early 2000s Camaros.

Arguably the best Camaro from that period is the 2001/2 SS version that featured a 5.7-liter V8 with 325 HP. The combination of a powerful engine, sturdy chassis, and six-speed manual made the fourth-generation Camaro SS a classic muscle car in every aspect. In fact, it had the same feel, noise, and performance as the legendary models from the ‘60s, but with better comfort and ride quality.

Most car fans remember the early 2000s Camaro SS as one of the best affordable muscle cars from that period. Also, it was a great basis for modifications since the venerable V8 has big potential. Achieving 400 to 500 HP from the LS1 V8 is relatively easy, too.

  1. 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS

Camaro fans were terribly disappointed when Chevrolet decided to retire the nameplate after 2003. It looked like the Mustang had finally won the muscle car battle since Chevy also discontinued the Firebird. The Mustang was the only domestic pony/muscle car still on the market at the moment. However, Chevrolet was just waiting for the right moment to bring the Camaro back to the market.

But, this time, it would be in a totally redesigned, restyled and re-engineered form. That moment came in late 2009 when they introduced the new, fifth-generation Camaro to an eager market. After a few years of showing concept cars and design renderings, Chevrolet was finally ready to introduce its modern interpretation of the classic Camaro shape an updated and highly advanced chassis and engines.

The 2010 Camaro was a triumph of retro-futuristic design and engineering since GM’s Zeta platform was highly sophisticated. It allowed the new model sports car-like road holding and driving dynamics. The base engine was a V6, but right from the start, the fifth-generation Camaro buyers had the option of the SS model with a 6.2-liter V8 engine and 426 HP.

That engine made the 2010 Camaro SS one of the fastest domestic cars at the moment. With an advanced chassis and brutal performance, the Camaro SS was far better than the Mustang GT of the same vintage. And that motor is what helped Chevrolet beat Ford in the car sales war.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Chevrolet knew the Camaro platform could handle much more than 426 HP. It could deliver fantastic cornering speeds and world-class handling. So, it was only natural, that as soon as the new generation hit the streets in 2010, the Chevy engineers started developing performance versions. The first of those was the great Camaro ZL-1 they introduced in 2012, selling it throughout 2015.

The ZL-1 was a special 427 V8 powered drag beast from 1969, and its 2012 counterpart followed the same formula. Chevrolet took the biggest, most powerful engine GM had, which was the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and stuffed it into the Camaro. The result was a 580-HP street terror with a highly advanced Magnetic Ride suspension and performance Goodyear tires, Brembo brakes and lots more.

The 2012 Camaro ZL-1 was not a one-trick pony like its 1969 predecessor was. Instead, it was a pure sports car that could put the Porsche 911 to shame. In fact, it could outhandle and outrun much more expensive and exotic cars. However, it was expensive at $57,000 MSRP, but it was well worth it.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

The legendary Z/28 version returned for 2014 in an interesting and extremely capable package. Once again, the Z/28 was a track day car, road race-oriented Camaro with its brakes, suspension and steering dedicated to precision and driving dynamics. Under the hood was a 7.0-liter V8 from the Corvette Z06 that delivered 505 HP.

The engine provided more than enough power and grunt, but they highly-engineered the rest of the car for precision. Stiffer shocks, thicker anti-roll bars, special wheels and brakes, and a 300-pound lighter body helped the Z/28 achieve better numbers at the racetrack. With its supercharged engine, the Camaro ZL-1 was faster in the straight line. However, the Z/28 was a better all-around performer as well as the perfect track day vehicle.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE

The base Camaro SS is one of the best muscle cars around with its 6.2-liter, 450 HP V8 engine, loads of torque and perfectly balanced chassis. But, the 1LE is even better. The engine is the same as you would get in a Corvette, which means it delivers 460 HP. The suspension is even more focused and slightly revised to give drivers a better driving feel and sharper response.

Imagine driving this perfectly tuned machine on a long road trip with every mile bringing you more driving pleasure. Also, they improved the aero package slightly and the 1LE is the best car if you want an all-around sports machine. It is a capable road car and comfortable enough for everyday use and long drives.

Also, it is sharp enough to be a track car that will provide tons of fun on the racetrack. Besides the SS V8 1LE, for $10,000 less, you can get the V6 1LE. It is less powerful and slower, but still a capable sports car.

Mustang or Camaro: which car wins in your book? This is the biggest battle of the muscle car world that continues to this day. In reality, both cars win since they have sparked many innovations and advancements in the automotive industry.

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