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Make way for the new muscle cars

It's 1969 all over again.

Americans are still infatuated with power, and for 2004, car manufacturers are re-introducing automobiles with more muscle than the street has seen since the Summer of Love, when the Beach Boys were singing about their Little Deuce Coupe (which, by the way, was a Ford).

Baby boomers love muscle cars best of all. They grew up with them in the '60s and early '70s until the first oil crisis forced Detroit to design smaller cars with smaller engines. But lots of boomers never stopped lusting after power under the hood. And with the changing economics and politics, Detroit is happy to make their wishes come true.

Have you driven a Ford lately?
If you're looking for retro, Ford is a good place to start. This summer, Ford re-introduced the Mustang Mach 1, a designation first used on the pony car in model year 1969. Back then, the Mustang sported a fastback body style and the famous "shaker" hood air scoop, so named because it shook when the engine was revved. The revival also has a shaker scoop and like before, it is functional. It's connected to the 4.6-liter V-8's air intake so it can feed air directly into the combustion chambers. Ford says channeling fresh air to the intake boosts horsepower and torque. The faster you drive the Mach 1, the stronger that flow of air will be.

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The Mach 1 exterior looks like the car Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt -- flat-black scoop, hood and body stripes and a wing spoiler. The seats are black leather and there's a 150-mph speedometer. For more realism, go for the five-speed manual transmission. If you want one of these cars, better hurry. Ford's only making 6,500 of them.

Mustang Mach 1 specs:

  • MSRP: $28,370
  • Engine: 4.6-liter V-8
  • Transmission: Four-speed automatic or five-speed manual
  • Power/torque: 310 hp
  • Acceleration (0-60): 5.3 sec.
  • EPA mpg, city/highway: 17/24

If cruising in a Mach I seems too laden with testosterone, Ford is also reintroducing the Thunderbird, including a Pacific Coast Cruiser collector edition, complete with special paint and exterior accents. Unlike the original T-Bird, this isn't a sports car, although it does look sporty and its big plush seats would be perfect for drive-in movies.

Thunderbird specs:

  • MSRP: $36,925
  • Engine: 3.9 liter V-8
  • Transmission: 5-speed automatic
  • Power: 280 hp
  • Acceleration (0-60 mph): 7.0 sec.
  • EPA mpg, city/highway: 17/23

If you really have a Jones for a Ford muscle car and money's no object, wait until mid-2004 when Ford debuts its GT. Two of them have already been built, just in time to celebrate Ford's 100th anniversary this year. The early line is 0-to-60 in under 4 seconds with top speeds in excess of 190 mph. The car was created in record time, thanks to Ford chairman Bill Ford's mandate, by a team of engineers from Ford Racing, some of whom actually remember the glory days at Le Mans.

Ford GT specs:

  • MSRP: $150,000 (estimated)
  • Engine: Supercharged and intercooled DOHC 32 valve V-8
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Power/torque: 500 hp
  • Acceleration (0-100): 8.6 sec.
  • EPA mpg, city/highway: 12/21

German engineering and Detroit torque
For the first time since Daimler ate Chrysler, the company is putting out a car that combines the style of American design and the precision of German engineering. The result is the 2004 Crossfire. It has a Mercedes engine, suspension, chassis and other parts, but it looks sleek and a lot like a street rod with its curved boat-tail rear.

Chrysler Crossfire
Click image for larger view
Crossfire specs:
  • MSRP: $33,620
  • Engine; 3.2 liter V6
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual or optional 5-speed AutoStick
  • Horsepower: 250 hp
  • Acceleration (0-60 mph): 6.5 sec.
  • EPA mpg, city/highway: 21/28

If that's not enough power for you, DaimlerChrysler plans to bring back the rear-wheel-drive passenger sedan when it reintroduces the Chrysler 300C in mid 2004. The 300C will be powered by a Hemi V-8 engine. This legendary engine powered Chrysler's "letter series" cars in the 1950s and is what made Chrysler a force to be reckoned with in the racing world in the '60s and '70s. Though details are still sketchy, Chrysler officials put the 2003 Hemi's output at greater than 300 horsepower, capable of going from 0-100 in about 7 seconds. Expect to pay a base price of at least $40,000.

And if that's still not good enough for you, consider DaimlerChrysler's 2004 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Combine the design of a McLaren Formula One Supercar -- arguably the sexiest sports car ever built -- with the speed-loving 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR and this is what you get: a car that Mercedes says will travel "over 200 mph comfortably." Only 500 will be made each year and the first two years' worth are already spoken for.

SLR McLaren specs:

  • MSRP: $300,000-$350,000
  • Engine/Horsepower: 5.4-liter V8
  • Transmission: 5-speed automatic with SportShift
  • Horsepower: 618
  • Acceleration (0-60 mph): 3.8 sec.
  • EPA mpg, city/highway: Not available

From 'Vettes to GTOs, GM knows muscle
The Pontiac GTO was the king of the muscle cars when it debuted in 1964. By the time the model was discontinued 10 years later, more than 500,000 were sold. Thirty years later, the GTO is back. The 2004 GTO is based on the Monaro, a car that's built and sold in Australia by General Motor's Holden division. The new GTO will be built at the Holden factory in Australia and shipped to the United States. The rear-wheel-drive coupe has the same six-speed manual V-8 engine as the Corvette. Pontiac says it's the most powerful GTO ever sold. And it even sounds like the old GTO; Pontiac added resonators so it would have a respectable rumble.

Pontiac GTO
Click image for larger view

GTO specs:

  • MSRP: $33,000
  • Engine/Horsepower: 5.7 liter V8, LSI
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Horsepower: 350
  • Acceleration (0-60 mph): 5.5 sec.
  • EPA mpg, city/highway: Not yet available

And don't count out a guy's (or gal's) first love, the Corvette. The sixth-generation Corvette, or the C-6 as it's being called, will be introduced in January at the 2004 North American Auto Show in Detroit and will be on the market by fall 2004. Chevy's been hiding its new 'Vette, but the early line is that the engine is much more powerful than the Z06's 405 horsepower and the body is lighter with a more finely tuned suspension to improve the ride. But it's still a naturally aspirated engine: no turbo chargers, no super charges. And the C-6 looks a lot like the old Stingray. As Reilly Brennan, manager of trackside communications for Corvette Racing, says, "Corvette lovers are very particular about their heritage."

Corvette C-6 specs:

  • MSRP: $60,000 (estimated)
  • Engine/Horsepower: 5.7 liter V8
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Horsepower: 425
  • Acceleration (0-60): 3.4 sec. (estimated)
  • EPA mpg, city/highway: 19/28

Finally, you may not think of the Cadillac as a muscle car, but the 2004 Cadillac XLR isn't your father's Cadillac. General Motors has hooked up with Led Zeppelin, the British rock group best known for hard-driving heavy metal music. The ads feature the song "Rock and Roll," which actually seems OK when you take a look at the XLR, a sleek two-seater that shares a body and a frame with the new C-6. Not that you should confuse this car with a 'Vette. It's a brawny, rear-wheel-drive luxury car with adjustable shocks that make it ride easy enough to please a Caddy customer, especially one who can appreciate a lot of muscle and a little rock 'n' roll.

Cadillac XLR
Click image for larger view
Cadillac XLR specs:
  • MSRP: $76,200
  • Engine/Horsepower: 4.6 liter V8
  • Transmission: 5-speed automatic
  • Horsepower: 320
  • Acceleration (0-60 mph): 5.8 sec.
  • EPA mpg, city/highway: 17/24 mpg

Jennie L. Phipps is a contributing editor based in Michigan.

-- Posted: Dec. 9, 2003

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