Three brawny muscle cars make comeback
by Paul Brand
For me, the highlight of this year's Twin Cities auto show is the return of Detroit's "pony cars."
We first saw Ford's "retro" Mustang at last year's show, and it instantly flashes me back to Steve McQueen buckling the seat belt in his Mustang as he starts the chase with the black Charger in "Bullitt." This year, it's even hotter. Wait 'til you see the reincarnation of the Shelby GT500. This special Mustang is sitting atop a rotating turntable, but the instantly identifiable "snake" -- the tall Cobra emblem on each front fender and the grill -- and the distinctive blue stripes on the white paint complete the time capsule back to the '60s. The production version of this 450-horsepower supercharged 5.4-liter Mustang is scheduled to reach dealerships this year.
My first glance at Dodge Challenger stopped me in my tracks. The car is so true to its '70 Challenger heritage that you'll think you've stepped back 36 years in time.
My first glance at Dodge Challenger stopped me in my tracks. The car is so true to its '70 Challenger heritage that you'll think you've stepped back 36 years in time. I was standing there as the crew fired up the Hemi under the hood and drove the Challenger into the display area at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The functional buttery-fly induction valves in the hood cracked open with each burst of V8 growl from the twin rectangular exhaust outlets. Precisely what a muscle car should sound like!
Chevy's new concept Camaro isn't as true to its late '60s heritage as the Challenger, but it's definitely got "muscle car" written all over it. To my eye, I see a '69 Camaro on steroids -- more of a modern interpretation of the early Camaro than a true retro car. But this car looks scary-fast just sitting still.
I couldn't leave the show without sliding behind the wheel of the new Z06 Corvette. This vehicle is, I think, the world's best sports car -- bar none. Here's a completely civilized automobile with every amenity, totally comfortable, remarkably quiet, and amazingly efficient -- until you pull the trigger on 505 horsepower under the hood. Instantly, you're strapped into an incredible performance car on par with the fastest cars from around the world -- Ferrari, Porsche, Viper. Compared with most "exotics," the Z06 offers world-class performance for a fraction of the cost, about $70,000 completely decked out.
This is an automobile you can drive to work -- rain, snow or shine, year-round -- then head to the racetrack on weekends for a little extra-curricular work.
Something that has changed at the auto show is the diversity of vehicles. Today, the choices among 40 manufacturers from around the world makes shopping more fun than ever.
Decades ago, you could shop for a new car -- sedan or coupe, full-size or compact. Or you could look for a full-size pickup or van. Yes, there might have been a sports or performance car or two to drool over, but few to choose from.
Today, beyond the scope of sedans and coupes in every size, price range and performance capability, you'll find every size and shape minivan, crossover SUV, SUV and, of course, "truck" -- in 2WD, 4WD and all-wheel drive. Sports cars, performance sedans, stylish station wagons and convertibles -- the array of choices is impressive. You'll even find a half-dozen or so "retractable" hardtop vehicles.
I am continually impressed with the fact that in light of the stringent requirements for safety, emissions, efficiency, utility, reliability and durability, automotive engineers continue to design and build vehicles that fulfill our requirement for transportation, yet still grab us emotionally.
by Paul Brand
March 15, 2006