Home Cars High-Tech Horsepower: Muscle Cars Fueled By Modern Technology

High-Tech Horsepower: Muscle Cars Fueled By Modern Technology

Vukasin Herbez September 13, 2023

The definition of the muscle car is quite simple, at least on paper. You put a large V8 in a two-door coupe or convertible, send power to the rear wheels, and enjoy burning rubber on the road or track. However, in the last 60 years, US-based manufacturers have introduced modern muscle cars that strayed from that initial concept.

These cars featured the best and most modern technology for the time, utilizing different body styles, drivetrain designs, or engine configurations. They were the models that evolved the auto market at the time by using advanced technology, and that set the bar higher for competitors. So let’s dive into the exciting world of muscle cars fueled by modern technology for their times. They were true trendsetters, so let’s check them out right here.

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Oldsmobile Jetfire

The Jetfire is a critical model for automotive history that unfortunately never got the respect it deserved. It was the first turbocharged passenger car along with the Chevrolet Corvair Monza. However, Oldsmobile’s system was far more complex and powerful than Chevrolet’s, so it deserves a detailed look (via Car Throttle).

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Oldsmobile engineers took the compact F-85 model and retained its small 215 cid V8 engine. This developed 185 hp and gave it a new forced induction intake system that included a Garett turbocharger and a unique “Turbo Rocket Fuel” tank. This fuel consisted of distilled water, methanol, and a corrosion inhibitor mix that was injected into a fuel and air mixture to prevent detonation. For the day’s standards, the Jetfire V8 was absolutely state-of-the-art technology. Initially, the market was very interested as a result. The new V8 delivered 215 hp, which was one hp per cubic inch. That made it one of the best performance cars of the day. It was almost as fast as the Corvette, with a 0 to 60 mph time of around eight seconds.

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Oldsmobile Toronado GT

The GT was a special package for Oldsmobile’s personal luxury cruiser, the Toronado. It was available for only a few short years ending in 1970. From the outside, the Toronado GT looked like an ordinary Oldsmobile, and the same 455 engine powered it. But the devil was in the details (via Hemmings).

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The GT package upped the power to a magical 400 hp, added various suspension improvements, bigger front disc brakes, and better interior equipment. The GT was a rare option, and people rarely decided to order their Oldsmobiles with this package. That’s why only the savviest Oldsmobile fans know about it today.

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Dodge Omni GHLS

While Europe embraced the hot hatch class and developed it further in the mid-1980s, America seemed largely uninterested. The Golf GTI sold decently well in the States, but the class didn’t fully take off. But a domestic manufacturer finally produced a model that could be called a hot hatch when Carroll Shelby teamed up with Dodge and introduced his version of the compact Omni (via Car and Driver).

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Nobody expected Dodge to produce a hot hatch that could beat European competitors, but it did just that thanks to Shelby’s assistance. Shelby took the 2.2-liter four-cylinder and added a turbocharger to produce a total output of 175 hp and 0 to 60 mph time of less than seven seconds, which was both impressive and highly competitive for the day. Of course, the Omni GLH had suspension modifications and other improvements to handle all that power.

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Pontiac Fiero

The story of the Fiero is one of the greatest “what if” tales of the American car industry. Most car fans know that this compact sports car caused a big sensation in the early ’80s. Everybody expected another GTO from Pontiac at the time. But they got a smaller sports car similar to cars built in Italy. It was bold for Pontiac to introduce a compact, rear-wheel drive car with the engine positioned in the center of the vehicle and pair it up with a five-speed manual transaxle gearbox (via Motor Trend).

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This was the most advanced American production model for the day’s standards. Customers were hyped by the appearance of the Fiero. And with its cool and modern design and advanced technology, the initial response was great. So great that the 1983 sales figures were over 130,000 examples. Unfortunately, however, Pontiac didn’t develop the Fiero properly enough. The engine power needed to improve and the interior also needed to be better. GM responded by upgrading the car, and by the end of the ’80s, the Fiero was a solid sports car with 150 hp from its 2.8-litre V6 engine. It was later marred by scandal, however.

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Buick GNX

The story of this model is an interesting one. Back in 1982, Buick started experimenting with turbocharging its line of standard V6 engines. The results were satisfying, and Buick engineers got permission to develop a performance version that would deliver better acceleration. Soon, there was the Buick Grand National with 175 hp, which wasn’t impressive, but it was a start. In the next couple of years, the Grand National got a bigger engine and more power, jumping from 175 hp to 200 hp and finally 235 hp (via Supercars).

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With those numbers came acceleration times of less than six seconds. But in 1987 came the ultimate version, the GNX (Grand National Experimental). It featured the same 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 but with 275 hp and a 0 to 60 mph time of just 4.7 seconds. All of a sudden, there was a turbocharged V6 coupe that broke every classic muscle car mold and was faster than a Ferrari. At that moment, the Buick GNX was the fastest-accelerating production model in the world. At $29,000, it wasn’t cheap at the time, but there is a widespread legend about the owners who paid the lease on these cars just by street racing them for money.

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Ford Bronco Boss

This one was a prototype for a high-performance Ford Bronco off-roader produced in 1969. The general auto public hasn’t known about this car for decades. But it was recovered recently and displayed in amazing original condition. Despite being produced and soon abandoned in 1969, it is still one of the most unusual American performance cars (via Road and Track).

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The Bronco was a popular SUV in the late ’60s, so Ford wanted to see what could improve its appeal. At that time, Detroit was embroiled in the muscle car wars and engineers looked for an excuse to put big power in everything they could. So somebody decided to install a 351 V8 engine from the 1969 Shelby GT350 into the Bronco, called it the Bronco Boss, and equipped it with two limited slip differentials for improved traction. The result was an SUV with power no offroad car or truck had seen before.

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GMC Syclone

In the ’80s, GM experimented with turbocharged engines, which were in sync with the industry’s trends. GM took an ordinary S10 body shell and installed a 4.3-liter V6 with a turbocharger for 280 hp, a unique four-speed automatic sourced from a Corvette, and performance-biased all-wheel drive. The power figures don’t sound like much these days but the Syclone could sprint to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, which made it faster than contemporary Ferraris (via Car and Driver).

Foto Credit: GM

The key was its light weight, with small dimensions and lots of torque from its turbocharged engine. Of course, the price was significantly higher than the regular model. Less than 3,000 left the factory as a result, almost all of them in its signature black color. The Syclone wasn’t the first performance truck, but it was the first turbocharged compact pickup designed to win stop-light races, making it quite unusual and unique. Today, the GMC Syclone is a collector vehicle and a highly sought-after model at that. It’s still relatively fast and can hold its own against much younger and more powerful cars.

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Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird

These two cars appeared for one year only. The Daytona was made in 1969 and the Superbird in 1970. Despite looking almost identical, these two models have only two things in common: the front nose cone and headlight covers. Everything else is not the same. Both cars were designed using a wind tunnel. The big wings on the back were essential in achieving high downforce at high speeds in NASCAR races. The wing wasn’t supposed to be that high, but designers deliberately made it high so the trunk could be fully opened. Dodge made over 500 examples and Plymouth had almost 2,000 copies (via Hagerty).

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When the Daytona was introduced in 1969, the rules stated that there had to be over 500 copies produced. But when the Superbird left the factory in 1970, the rules changed. The manufacturer had to produce one car per dealership, which was precisely 1936 cars in the case of Plymouth. Both of those models were successful in NASCAR, and investment in these specially built bodies paid off. Today, of course, Daytona and Superbirds are very rare, expensive, and sought-after pieces of muscle car history.

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Dodge Challenger GT AWD

We’ve already established that the basic definition of a muscle car is a two-door coupe with a big V8 engine and rear-wheel drive. 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 the lineup called the Challenger GT AWD (via Driving).

Photo Credit: Dodge

It was a Challenger with recognizable styling, retro charm, and an aggressive stance. But underneath that cool-looking body, there is a V6 and an intelligent all-wheel drive system. There are no more smoky burnouts and rear wheels on fire. Instead, there was loads of traction even in the most challenging conditions. Currently, the Challenger AWD is the only all-wheel drive production muscle car ever built. Ford and Chevrolet have nothing similar to the Mustang or Camaro. Unfortunately, Dodge offers the GT AWD with only a V6 engine. Even though that V6 is fairly robust with 305 hp, Dodge fans still wish it was available with a proper Hemi V8.

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GMC Typhoon

Of all SUVs produced in the early ’90s, arguably the most interesting and fastest was the GMC Typhoon. What the Ford Bronco Boss didn’t get the chance to achieve, the Typhoon achieved. It was a limited-production small SUV with a high price tag and unbelievable performance, which set it apart from the rest. More than 25 years since the first Typhoon saw the light of day, this vehicle is still a benchmark of performance and style (via JD Power).

Photo Credit: Car and Driver

Typhoons had a 4.3-liter V6 engine with a turbocharger and intercooler. The power output was 280 hp, which is not that impressive today. But back in 1991, it was a nice number. However, the automatic transmission, performance-oriented all-wheel drive system, and suspension helped the performance. The Typhoon could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds. Even today, that’s fast for an ordinary SUV. The rest of the package included special trim, luxury interior appointments, color and wheel choices, and minimal production. Since then, this model has achieved collector car status and is worth more than its original sticker price of $29,000.

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Oldsmobile Achieva SCX W41

Despite the fact Oldsmobile was near the end of the road at the time, engineers knew that the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine had the potential to be more than just a footnote in the company’s history. Since the Cutlass Calais was discontinued in 1992 and replaced by the all-new Achieva model, engineers decided to introduce another W41 model. This further developed the concept of a compact front-wheel drive sports car. For the 1992 and 1993 model years, Oldsmobile offered the SCX W41 model, the last W-named performance version ever built by Oldsmobile (via Motor Buiscit).

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The SCX W41 was heavily based on the previous model and featured the same 190 hp, 2.3-liter engine which revved to 7,200 rpm. Its five-speed manual gearbox was developed especially for this model and was the most significant improvement. The SCX W41 was the quickest car in its segment. But despite its qualities, it still flew under the radar of most enthusiasts and sold in just 1,600 examples.

Photo Credit: Hagerty

Chevrolet Corvair Monza

This model was a compact car in a time when compact cars were rare on US soil and produced mainly by foreign brands. Then it had the engine in the back rather than in the front as all other domestic vehicles had. Third, it was a six-cylinder boxer, not a straight six or V8 as everybody expected. Overall, it was a bold and unusual move by the normally conservative Chevrolet (via Car and Driver).

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The Corvair Monza was a two-door coupe or convertible that was a performance car in the Corvair lineup and featured one of the most unusual power plants Detroit has ever produced – a turbocharged boxer engine. Think of it as Chevrolet’s four-seat Porsche 911 Turbo roughly 15 years before Porsche even thought of the idea. The heart of the car was a 2.4-liter, flat-six engine with the turbocharger mounted on top. The result was 150 hp. Despite the fact it wasn’t a big number, the small weight of the Monza helped produce some lively performance for the standards of the compact car class.

Saturn Sky
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Saturn Sky Red Line

American manufacturers don’t usually do roadsters. Apart from the first-generation Ford Thunderbird, Corvette, or Viper convertible, there were no small, two-seat open-top models in production. That is why GM’s decision to introduce a small, turbocharged roadster to American buyers in 2005 with the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky was quite strange (via Edmunds).

Saturn Sky
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These models were the US versions of the Opel GT from Europe. GM thought that having a cool little two-seater roadster would help bring back Pontiac sales and work magic for Saturn’s image. Unfortunately, it didn’t do any of those things despite the Solstice and Sky being a powerful, exciting car to drive. Compared to the BMW Z4 or Mercedes SLK, for example, GM’s roadster had a much lower price. It also had up to 290 hp in the Pontiac Solstice GXP version and excellent handling. After a few years on the market, the sales numbers just weren’t impressive. Buyers didn’t understand the model so GM killed it. A few years later, neither Pontiac nor Saturn was on the market.

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Ford Mustang McLaren M81

We know that the late ’70s and early ’80s were terrible times for muscle cars. But there were some still unique muscle car versions produced in that period. One of those is the famous M81 McLaren Mustang. This exciting car was built with the help of the well-known McLaren racing team, their American operation office from Michigan (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Automobile Mag

The idea behind the project was to take the 2.3-liter turbo engine from the regular Mustang and transform it into a street racing beast with a race-tuned suspension, lightweight body, and many other modifications. McLaren and Ford did that by installing the tuned turbo engine with 190 hp. It was a significant number for the day, especially coming from only 2.3 liters. The result made for a good performance, driving dynamics, and a very high price tag. It cost $25,000, roughly three times a regular example’s price. Despite all the exciting stuff installed into the M81, it was a tough seller, and only about 10 left the factory before the project was dead.

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Ford Mustang Mach E

The Mustang has been a sports/muscle coupe or convertible powered by gasoline engines and with a rear-wheel-drive train for almost six decades. It’s a winning formula and it should stay the same. Most muscle car fans agree with that, but Ford doesn’t (via Ford).

Photo Credit: Ford

For the 2021 model year, Ford introduced the Mustang Mach E, a fully-electric, five-door SUV model with Mustang-inspired styling but technology straight from the Tesla Model X. To millions of Mustang fans, this was terrifying news and a precise attack on the holy legacy of Mustang as a proper muscle car. Some even thought it was a joke. But it wasn’t; the Mustang E configuration is up for pre-sale and you can reserve one now.

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Chevrolet Vega Cosworth

After the debacle involving the Chevrolet Corvair in the ’60s, the company was reluctant to enter the compact market again. But since the segment grew, Chevrolet needed to make a choice. So, a brand-new Chevrolet Vega was a 1971 model. The Vega was a modern model with three basic body styles, a two-door coupe, a two-door sedan, and a practical three-door wagon. The front end resembled closely to the design of the 1971 Camaro with a similar grille, headlights, and bumper (via Hagerty).

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In 1975, Chevrolet even introduced an interesting but unsuccessful Vega Cosworth. It was a model that featured a high-revving 2.0-liter four-cylinder twin cam motor with 110 hp. Although it wasn’t particularly fast or firm, the Vega Cosworth was good-looking, with its attractive black and gold paint job. GM produced the model in cooperation with the British engine engineering company Cosworth known for their Formula One engines.

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Ford Mustang Raptor

Numerous manufacturers have made off-road versions of their sports cars after the instant success of the Porsche 911 Dakar and Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato. Although it sounds impossible to match, the results are often stunning and fascinating (via Car and Driver).

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Ford is very close to presenting a similar variant based on the Mustang. It will be an off-road version, possibly with an AWD drive train, a 5.0-liter V8, an off-road suspension, and a special body kit. It could appear in showrooms in 2026 and could make the Raptor lineup complete.

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Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

Cadillac was without a proper performance series needed to compete with BMW or Mercedes for years. But finally, the V-Series was born. It was all that Cadillac lovers dreamed of powerful engines, world-class handling and suspension setups, and exclusive production. Even the competitors noticed when Cadillac rolled up the brand-new V-Series models (via Edmunds).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Under the hood was a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 with 556 hp, making the CTS-V the most potent performance sedan on the market. Cadillac produced three body styles – a sedan, a coupe, and a wagon. However, the wagon body style was something Cadillac buyers should have expected. The car was still a blast to drive and extremely fast. It was just that most customers turned to sedans or coupes.

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