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America loves speed. The 1960s and 1970s might have produced the wildest and rarest muscle cars packing giant torque-rich V-8s, but the 1980s brought its share of powerful machines to the street, too—cars that were quick and met the more stringent emissions controls. And behind the horsepower there are some surprising stories.

The first two years of Carroll Shelby's Mustangs are the most desirable to many Mustang purists. Those 1965 and 1966 GT 350s were light, simply styled, and perfect for track work. But the later 1967 and 1968 cars offered more fun under the hood and were the machines of choice if you wanted to win drag races.

For the first time, '67 to '68 GT 500 Shelbys came with 355-hp 428-cubic-inch big-block power under the hood. Car testers of the day saw quarter-mile time slips in the mid-to-low 14-second bracket—quick for the day. The Shelby Mustangs received more scoops and flashier styling than the older cars to match the new-found power and torque. And the even quicker KR (King of the Road) high-performance model was available in 1968 too.

Little-Known Fact: The 1967 Shelby Mustangs used Mercury Cougar tail lamps, but the 1968 models used lamps from the '66 Ford Thunderbird.

The third generation of America's sports car, the Corvette, had an incredibly long run: 1968 to 1982. So when it came time for GM to launch the next-generation C4 Corvette, there was wild speculation about the car. Some predicted it would use a midengine chassis, like an Italian exotic. And others thought it might use a rotary engine, like Mazda's.

In the end, the next Vette wasn't radical. It still had a small-block Chevy V-8 up front driving the rear wheels. That first year, it cranked out a meager 205 hp. But after a switch to a new, tuned port fuel-injection system in later years, horsepower jumped—and so did performance. Five years later, Chevy debuted the first ultra-performance Vette since the 1960s: the 375-hp ZR-1.

America loves speed. The 1960s and 1970s might have produced the wildest and rarest muscle cars packing giant torque-rich V-8s, but the 1980s brought its share of powerful machines to the street, too—cars that were quick and met the more stringent emissions controls. And behind the horsepower there are some surprising stories.

The first two years of Carroll Shelby's Mustangs are the most desirable to many Mustang purists. Those 1965 and 1966 GT 350s were light, simply styled, and perfect for track work. But the later 1967 and 1968 cars offered more fun under the hood and were the machines of choice if you wanted to win drag races.

For the first time, '67 to '68 GT 500 Shelbys came with 355-hp 428-cubic-inch big-block power under the hood. Car testers of the day saw quarter-mile time slips in the mid-to-low 14-second bracket—quick for the day. The Shelby Mustangs received more scoops and flashier styling than the older cars to match the new-found power and torque. And the even quicker KR (King of the Road) high-performance model was available in 1968 too.

Little-Known Fact: The 1967 Shelby Mustangs used Mercury Cougar tail lamps, but the 1968 models used lamps from the '66 Ford Thunderbird.

The third generation of America's sports car, the Corvette, had an incredibly long run: 1968 to 1982. So when it came time for GM to launch the next-generation C4 Corvette, there was wild speculation about the car. Some predicted it would use a midengine chassis, like an Italian exotic. And others thought it might use a rotary engine, like Mazda's.

In the end, the next Vette wasn't radical. It still had a small-block Chevy V-8 up front driving the rear wheels. That first year, it cranked out a meager 205 hp. But after a switch to a new, tuned port fuel-injection system in later years, horsepower jumped—and so did performance. Five years later, Chevy debuted the first ultra-performance Vette since the 1960s: the 375-hp ZR-1.

Americans always have loved muscle cars, and they love muscle cars with big V-8 engines. With gas below $2 a gallon in many places, there might not be a better time to buy one. We tested muscle cars with V-8 monsters. They provided plenty of thrills, plenty of noise and lots to talk about.

Ride and handling: "The GT feels right at home on the road course with superb balance and a playful, tail-happy attitude, even if it doesn't have the outright grip and speed of the Camaro SS," Bruzek said. "The handling isn't quite as unflappable as the Camaro, but I think it's more fun," Wiesenfelder said. "It still has a lightweight, nimble feel to it," Robinson said. The Mustang was Kadah's favorite, even though it tied with the Challenger in points for him. "It's a coin toss," he said, but he thought "the Mustang definitely feels lighter and more responsive than the Challenger, but not as responsive as the Camaro."

The engine: "The 5.0-liter V-8 makes big noise and big thrust," Bragman said. "This thing feels crazy fast, especially on the track." "It may not be the most capable on the track," Robinson said, "but it is quite possibly the most fun."

The shifter: "The best of all the manuals," Robinson said, and Bragman added, "It feels very precise, with short, direct throws."

Room and visibility: 'The Mustang is the perfect size, with enough front passenger comfort and cargo room to be usable as a daily driver," Bruzek said. "It provides the best visibility of the three contestants, in all directions, which lends confidence on the track as well as in daily traffic," Wiesenfelder said.

And...: "The clutch pedal is crazy light," Kadah said, "like I'm just pushing air." "Ford's Sync 3 is a huge improvement," Bruzek said. "It has the most linear braking, on application and release," Wiesenfelder said, "with superior pedal feel." Kadah found the Recaro seats "crazy comfortable," but he may have been alone there...

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America loves speed. The 1960s and 1970s might have produced the wildest and rarest muscle cars packing giant torque-rich V-8s, but the 1980s brought its share of powerful machines to the street, too—cars that were quick and met the more stringent emissions controls. And behind the horsepower there are some surprising stories.

The first two years of Carroll Shelby's Mustangs are the most desirable to many Mustang purists. Those 1965 and 1966 GT 350s were light, simply styled, and perfect for track work. But the later 1967 and 1968 cars offered more fun under the hood and were the machines of choice if you wanted to win drag races.

For the first time, '67 to '68 GT 500 Shelbys came with 355-hp 428-cubic-inch big-block power under the hood. Car testers of the day saw quarter-mile time slips in the mid-to-low 14-second bracket—quick for the day. The Shelby Mustangs received more scoops and flashier styling than the older cars to match the new-found power and torque. And the even quicker KR (King of the Road) high-performance model was available in 1968 too.

Little-Known Fact: The 1967 Shelby Mustangs used Mercury Cougar tail lamps, but the 1968 models used lamps from the '66 Ford Thunderbird.

The third generation of America's sports car, the Corvette, had an incredibly long run: 1968 to 1982. So when it came time for GM to launch the next-generation C4 Corvette, there was wild speculation about the car. Some predicted it would use a midengine chassis, like an Italian exotic. And others thought it might use a rotary engine, like Mazda's.

In the end, the next Vette wasn't radical. It still had a small-block Chevy V-8 up front driving the rear wheels. That first year, it cranked out a meager 205 hp. But after a switch to a new, tuned port fuel-injection system in later years, horsepower jumped—and so did performance. Five years later, Chevy debuted the first ultra-performance Vette since the 1960s: the 375-hp ZR-1.

Americans always have loved muscle cars, and they love muscle cars with big V-8 engines. With gas below $2 a gallon in many places, there might not be a better time to buy one. We tested muscle cars with V-8 monsters. They provided plenty of thrills, plenty of noise and lots to talk about.

Ride and handling: "The GT feels right at home on the road course with superb balance and a playful, tail-happy attitude, even if it doesn't have the outright grip and speed of the Camaro SS," Bruzek said. "The handling isn't quite as unflappable as the Camaro, but I think it's more fun," Wiesenfelder said. "It still has a lightweight, nimble feel to it," Robinson said. The Mustang was Kadah's favorite, even though it tied with the Challenger in points for him. "It's a coin toss," he said, but he thought "the Mustang definitely feels lighter and more responsive than the Challenger, but not as responsive as the Camaro."

The engine: "The 5.0-liter V-8 makes big noise and big thrust," Bragman said. "This thing feels crazy fast, especially on the track." "It may not be the most capable on the track," Robinson said, "but it is quite possibly the most fun."

The shifter: "The best of all the manuals," Robinson said, and Bragman added, "It feels very precise, with short, direct throws."

Room and visibility: 'The Mustang is the perfect size, with enough front passenger comfort and cargo room to be usable as a daily driver," Bruzek said. "It provides the best visibility of the three contestants, in all directions, which lends confidence on the track as well as in daily traffic," Wiesenfelder said.

And...: "The clutch pedal is crazy light," Kadah said, "like I'm just pushing air." "Ford's Sync 3 is a huge improvement," Bruzek said. "It has the most linear braking, on application and release," Wiesenfelder said, "with superior pedal feel." Kadah found the Recaro seats "crazy comfortable," but he may have been alone there...