Detroit Muscle Cars Are So Pricey And So Fast

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Last fall, when Ford hurried the debut of the 2013 Shelby GT500 in order to land the car at the Los Angeles auto show rather than the early 2012 Detroit auto show, we were a bit surprised. That element of surprise left us all, however, when Ford announced that the latest top shelf Mustang was equipped with a supercharged 5.8L which generates 650 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque, numbers which would embarrass many a Porsche and Ferrari. Even the surprise fostered by those numbers was forgotten when the true shocker hit us: the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is allegedly capable of breaking the 200 miles per hour barrier.

It’s a Mustang. It will do 200 mph. This is not your uncle’s 1989 5.0 with a mass airflow sensor. Ford’s director of Global Performance Vehicles, Jost Capito, says the latest Shelby GT500 is, “on the cutting edge of technology.” That’s a bit of a stretch – have a look at the steering wheel in Ferrari’s 458 Italia if technology is what you seek. But Capito also says the Shelby, “takes muscle car performance to new heights.” And that’s unquestionably true. Only weeks before the 202-mph Mustang was dropped, Chevrolet had introduced what they thought would be a class-munching Camaro. The ZL1 produced 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft of torque via a supercharged V8 powerplant. The Shelby GT500 has now written off the ZL1 as, well, weak.

Here’s the thing, and it’s an important thing. This move toward massive, outrageous performance in vehicles which were once plenty quick enough for the average paying customer brings with it a very undesirable side effect. Prices of American muscle cars are rising to levels many sports car fans feel are in conflict with cosmic order. We can accept that a Mustang GT at $30,300 won’t be as refined an experience as, say, a Porsche Boxster S, but its tens of thousands of dollars cheaper. When American muscle cars begin approaching a pricing stratosphere in which they are unaccustomed, will they still stand proud and strong?

They will, at the very least, continue to sell well. See, the target market for a hi-po rear-wheel drive V8-engined Detroit machine isn’t necessarily the target market Porsche is seeking out for the new third-generation Boxster. Oh, a true car fan will appreciate the merits of both. But when one new car is going to be added to the garage, it’s unlikely that there’s a debate between the Shelby GT500 and the Audi TT RS. Moreover, a car like the Shelby GT500 is, as likely as not, intended to be a collector’s car, meaning the market will tolerate the lofty price.

Nevertheless, to the typical buyer of a regular 305-hp Mustang or 323-hp Camaro, the dollar figures are terrifying, all the more so because we’re not dealing with premium German badges (and their premium soft-touch interiors) but mainstream Detroit brands that have a value-oriented role to play in most segments of the market.

If you opt for the rare convertible version of the Shelby GT500, Ford will ask you to fork over $59,200. The SVT Performance Package adds 20-inch rear wheels, adjustable dampers, and a Torsen differential. It costs $3495. Throw in another $1595 for proper Recaro seats, interior accents, and exterior stripes. A thumping audio system is $1295. The MSRP of a thoroughly equipped Mustang Shelby GT500 now stands at $66,380. That’s precisely three times the cost of a basic V6 Mustang, or 2.4 times more costly than a basic V6 Mustang droptop. Of course, the Shelby does have more than twice the power. Say what you want about muscle car convertibles as poseur cars, they look a lot better than the latest SUV convertibles.

Over at Chevrolet, the ZL1 hardtop starts at $54,095. Ford didn’t make one available with the Shelby, but Chevrolet is offering a six-speed automatic for $1185. Other smaller options can add a total of $2470 to the base price. That will bring the grand total to $57,750 before delivery. If lesser Camaros are anything to go by, the Camaro ZL1 convertible could add as much as $7000 to the MSRP. The Corvette – do you remember the Corvette, Chevrolet’s halo sports car? – starts at $49,600 and at $59,600 can be had in Grand Sport convertible configuration.

Dodge hasn’t been left out of the high-priced stratosphere, although they like to keep the Challenger closer to the ground. For 1.9 times the price of the basic Challenger SXT, the SRT Yellow Jacket is a $46,490 muscle-bound rear-wheel-driver with 470 horsepower thanks to a naturally-aspirated 6.4L V8. While Chevrolet tells the tale of the ZL1’s run around the Nürburgring in 7:41 and Ford says the Mustang will do 202 mph, Dodge is more reluctant to get down and dirty with the Challenger’s numbers. Their website almost embarrassingly points out that the SRT8 Yellow Jacket will do “0-60 mph in high 4-second range.”

Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge don’t release sales figures by their specific muscle car model lines. We do know, however, that these are immensely popular cars; that the profits earned on ubiquitous V6 cars can be partially extracted from the parent company coffers in order to develop cars like the more exclusive SRT8, ZL1, and  GT500. Spotting an auto transporter filled with these bad boys isn’t bound for your local dealer’s forecourt. Overall, Chevrolet sold 88,249 Camaros in America last year and 6923 in February of this year. Ford sold 70,438 Mustangs in America last year and 7351 in February 2012. Dodge Challenger sales reached 39,534 in 2011; 3669 in February.

At this point, the Mustang Shelby GT500 and Camaro ZL1 don’t appear to be overpriced. Even if the Audi TT RS costs $56,850, the BMW M3 starts at $60,100, and the new Porsche Boxster S goes out the door for $60,900. Detroit no longer feels their fast cars need to represents sporting value. Quite apparently, Detroit feels their fast cars are simply M3 and Boxster alternatives. Different strokes for different folks.

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