Spring Rally 2009-American Muscle at Road America

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In a time when the American car companies are holding on for dear life, consumers’ savings have all but evaporated, and more stringent CAFE regulations looming in the future, the Big Three are giving us power-hungry, tire-thrashing car lovers a goodbye party with the cars listed below. I’m sure there will be fighting for supremacy from loyalists of each brand, but what we all have to remember is this may be the last time we see anything like this from Detroit.

I hope everyone gets a chance to enjoy one of these vehicles, because I certainly did…

2010 CHEVROLET CAMARO

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After an eight year abcense, the 2010 Camaro is back on the streets using General Motors’ Zeta platform. Compared to the previous generation, this new one has 11.2 more inches in its wheelbase, but is three inches shorter overall. It’s also an inch wider.

Grunt comes from two engine choices, the 3.6-liter, 304 horsepower DOHC V6 out of the Cadillac CTS will power the LS and LT trim levels. Or for those of you with gas running your veins, check out the 426 horsepower 6.2-liter LS3 V8 in the SS. Each can be had with either an automatic or manual transmissions pushing power to the rear wheels.

The Camaro SS loaded to the gills with leather, twenty-inch wheels and the six-speed manual was taken out for a drive around the country roads surrounding Road America. First impression are the ungodly amount of thrust produced. From a standstill, there is a touch of wheel spin, but the tires hook up quickly and you are gone. This car is unbelievably powerful, and its V8 roar sounds terrific.

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In the corners, you can certainly feel the 3700 lbs. the Camaro has to hustle, but it feels very capable of handling anything you can throw at it. The standard Brembo brakes felt up to the task of stopping you in short distance, and the steering, while having to use a ship’s helm for a wheel, delivers good force and acceptable feel.

But the looks are what will pull people in. It is a mixed bag of love and hate for the new Camaro from others, but I love the look. This has been the only car in recent times that has pulled off the whole “modernizing retro” look. It mixes yesteryear nostalgia with modern touches. It got that intimidating front end, high lines and a blunt rear end. This thing screams power. Even the interior plays on that theme, but is not as successful. I love the gauges and the old-school gauges below the center stack, but it’s illumintated with this hideous green glow. Make it red, make it angry.

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The only fault, outside the slightly off-key interior is the manual transmission. It was impossible for me to drive this car smoothly. Hustling a one-two shift caused the imprecise shifter to not fully engage and pop out of gear. The clutch was also a nightmare, with an odd engagement point at the top of the pedal. I stalled more than once. I’m going to chalk it up to being a pre-production model and will report back with a full review when I take delivery of one later this summer.

2009 DODGE CHALLENGER SRT8

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While not the freshest vehicle you see in this article, it certainly is worthy of mentioning. It may not be as aggressively styled like the Camaro, but it carries the old-new look over at about 70 percent. It looks good with it’s tight lines and that rear taillight bar really sets off an otherwise boring rear.

The Challenger has an impressive level of different options to meet any buyer’s needs. The base Challenger SE comes with the well-known 3.5-liter, DOHC V6. Then there is a choice of two V8s. The mid-range R/T has the 5.7-liter pumping out 372 horses and 400 lb. ft of torque. But those who want the cream of the crop, look no further than my test vehicle, a fully-loaded SRT8 six-speed. This puppy with its 6.1-liter Hemi sends 425 horsepower and 420 lb. ft of twenty-one inch wheel shredding power. Either engine can be had with a five-speed automatic or the aforementioned six-speed manual.

This is a big car, there’s no denying it. With a curb weight of over two-tons, it may be as well be the elephant of the muscle cars. But it doesn’t feel quite as big as most expect. The big lumbering V8 will move the SRT8 with authority and produce a sound God would envy, but it lags behind the Camaro’s brutal acceleration. The transmission and dual-plate clutch are much better than the BowTie’s, with an excellent feel to the clutch pedal and much more positive shifts using that big pistol-grip shifter.

Handling is good, but it wasn’t as much fun pushing it hard. The SRT8 is capable of running on a track, stringing itself out in the straights and taking longer, wider corners with aplomb. In tighter turns, though, you can really feel every single ounce in this car. Cornering very flat and with plenty of grip, it feels unsure with all that girth, and the unfortunate lack of steering feel doesn’t help the situation much. The brakes don’t feel very reassuring either. This will all be analyzed more thoroughly in a full test next month, but for now, just stick to cruising down your favorite boulevard or a road with soft curves.

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The interior gets a well-needed bump in quality. The dash is now covered in a soft vinyl and most of the plastics have been upgraded. The seats are La-Z-Boy comfortable and offer excellent support all-around. There’s even room for regular people in the backseat. If you can get over the black hole of the interior, this is a nice place to be.

2010 FORD MUSTANG GT

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Not to be outdone by the new Camaro, Ford has retuned and retooled their pony car to better handle their competition. From the sleeker, more modern body on the outside to the wonderfully redone interior, the 2010 Mustang will not be left in the dust.

The new body looks infinitely better than last years. The Mustang looks as though the design team hit the old model with a heat gun to shrink it down, making it look much more aggressive and cleaner. The rear still retains that 1969 look, but it’s sculpted cleaner, making the rear have a more distincitive look.

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Inside, everything has been thrown out from the old car and replaces with good feeling materials throughout. Even the center stacks looks much better, getting away from the carryover controls for radio and ventilation which was found in almost every other Ford vehicle.

The suspension has been tuned for better body control and improved handling characteristics. It has paid off ten-fold. This new Mustang feels so much smaller now, so much more chuckable in the corners. There is still too much body movement in the corners, but that can be overlooked by the more positive feel from the better steering, stronger-feeling brakes and how light it feels compared to is competitors. This was the easiest of the three to fling around the racetrack.

The only disappointment with this car is the engine. The carryover 4.6-liter, four-valve V8 gets a very modest power and torque boost, to 315 and 325 respectively. The 110 horsepower difference over the other two by the light weight, but it doesn’t feel as quick as the others. It doesn’t feel an urge to run all out. Thankfully, the 2010 Mustang has a very good clutch, with a nice progressive engagement, and the five-speed manual with it’s white ball shifter is very easy to shift and find the right gear.

Luckily when driving it, a feeling of Frank Bullitt trying to catch that Challenger in his GT Fastback washes over the interior when the throttle is opened. Why? Because this GT will barely stay with the Challenger, but it will sound piped in will instantly remind you of what you’re after.

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About The Author

Hello everyone! My name is Nick and I am a freelance journalist who is trying to make a mark in the automotive world. I try to learn as much as possible about vehicles on my own simply by reading, tinkering and asking far too many questions. The current car in my garage is a 2005 Mazda3 that is modified and is continually being worked on.

2 Comments on "Spring Rally 2009-American Muscle at Road America"

  1. That is a tough one. I liked the Mustang’s handling ability, I enjoyed giving the Camaro a boot in the butt, and I felt cool, and loved to fire up that 6.1 liter (it really felt like that old-school classic you’ve lusted after.)

    If I really have to choose, I’d have to say the Mustang simply because it offered everything I needed but was much more fun to toss around than the other two.

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