One of the most compelling automotive industry competitions occurred more than 50 years ago with the debut of the Ford Mustang. It was followed in quick order by the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. The trio represented affordable sporty coupe sensations.
The Firebird ceased production in 2002, but the Mustang and Camaro remain rivals. The Dodge Challenger is a newcomer foe now in its third iteration.
As muscle cars, the trio represents a polarizing segment. Loud, powerful, masculine gas-guzzlers have loyal followers and equally passionate detractors. Sales figures give the latter group some boasting clout.
Ford sold 75,842 Mustangs in 2018, followed by the Challenger (66,716) and the Camaro (50,963). The Pontiac’s sales increased three percent; Ford and Chevrolet’s options respectively had sales losses of 7.4 and 25 percent.
The Mustang’s best year was the original 1964 1/2 model with 385,993 sold. The Camaro’s best year occurred in 1979 with 282,571 vehicles sold. Neither the Dodge Challenger or Charger has ever had yearly sales of more than 100,000. The Pontiac Firebird’s best year was 1999 when 33,850 vehicles.
New and vintage muscle cars still have their place as automotive wonders. But by the numbers, they’re many years and miles removed for their heydays.
Chevrolet’s effort to rekindle interest in the Camaro intensified in 2017 with the ZL1, the high-performance replacement of the Camaro SS. For the third year of the Camaro’s sixth generation, the 2019 ZL1 is all muscle and beauty.
It features improved cooling, a lower-positioned grille, a new front splitter, a carbon hood and an improved suspension. Wider fenders surround wider tires; the result is better handling.
The review vehicle’s garnet red exterior ideally match the black interior with red accents. The car attracted lots of attention, particularly with its black ragtop recessed and efficiently tucked into place.
The Camaro has exquisite, sharp lines. There’s nothing subtle about it and nor is it ostentatious. It defines a modern-day muscle car, handsome and confident. The Recaro front bucket seats add to the comfort and fun.
Attractiveness aside, the new Camaro defines power. It features a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 with 650 horsepower and an optional 10-speed automatic transmission ($1,595). It accelerates from 0-60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds and has a top speed of 195 miles per hour. The engine growl is extraordinarily loud and more of an annoyance than pleasing.
Like many convertibles, when the Camaro’s top is up, rear vision is awful. Flick a switch underneath the rear mirror and the glass mode becomes camera mode. It’s an odd look at first, but the improved vision makes sense. Also unique, the Camaro’s two large dashboard air vents also control the air conditioning levels.
With its power, acceleration and overall aggressive traits, the new ZL1 is rip-roaring fun. If billowing down the road in a muscle car with its top down is appealing, the Camaro is ideal.
But bravado comes at a cost. A muscle car buyer is not likely looking for economy. But the ZL1 averages 13 miles per gallon in city driving, among the lowest of any mainstream vehicle in the United States. The freeway average is 21 miles per gallon.
Drive 100 miles in combined city and freeway situations and the Camaro will consume 6.2 gallons of fuel or about $25. The putrid tally means the vehicle’s owner is assessed a $2,100 gas-guzzler tax.
The Camaro has an extensive list of standard and optional features. Nifty items like a wireless charger, a suede microfiber shifter and steering wheel are conveniences. Safety items like lane change and rear cross-traffic alerts are real-world driving pluses.
Will the improved Camaro help a resurgence is muscle car sales? The new ZL1 costs nearly $73,000. It seems like a price point that will further hurt, rather than improve, segment sales.