Muscle cars vs. Supercars
If you were a red-blooded teenage enthusiast in the 1980s, you may have had one of those “Body by Lamborghini. High fidelity by Alpine” posters on your bedroom wall. Few contemporary cars were able to touch the Countach in the usual performance benchmarks, but when high-compression was king, American sports cars and muscle cars could show their rear to the exotics.
You can thank Car and Driver for having the temerity to actually compare a Pontiac and a Ferrari in 1964. While that GTO was a ringer, here are a few other comparisons between the good ol’ USA and Italia that better make the point:
Pontiac stole more than one pedigreed name from the Europeans in 1964: The 2+2 was a nice buckets-and-console package for the Catalina, but for 1965 it became the GTO’s big brother, complete with standard 421. Car and Driver revisited the Pontiac vs. Ferrari comparison in 1965 with a Poncho massaged by Royal Pontiac and a Ferrari 330/GT 2+2, both driven by racer Walt Hansgen. The big Pontiac ran a 13.8 ET, which may suggest mid-14s for a stock 376-horsepower 421 HO. The 300-hp 242-cubic-inch V-12 ran a competitive 14.6, but it was 1000 pounds lighter. Around Bridgehampton, the Pontiac was within 0.5 seconds of the Ferrari—impressive for a car weighing so much more.
After several years of tracking the GTO’s progress, Plymouth stormed into 1967 loaded for bear with the GTX. Not only did it have the largest engine in the performance arena (440), but its standard horsepower (375) was better than most performance cars’ optional engines. Car and Driver tested a mild combination (automatic/3.23 gears) for its 1967 Yearbook and pulled an impressive 0–60 sprint in 6.0 seconds and a respectable 14.4 seconds in the quarter mile—interestingly enough, the same times as the first-generation Lamborghini Miura, as tested by Motor. The Sant’Agata tractor company changed the rules on what an exotic sports car could be and set the template for supercars as we know it today. With a 350-hp 239.8-cu-in V-12, it was the fastest car of its day but not enough to make the Plymouth “win-you-over” heartbeat stop. And, of course, the 426 Hemi was available for those interested in a faster metabolism.
The Larry Shinoda-penned 1965 Mako Shark II was the basis of the all-new 1968 Corvette. Despite over-the-top styling, the new C3 was completely familiar under the hood, including the race-bred L88 and the L89 aluminum heads for the L71 435-hp 427. New was the availability (finally!) of the Turbo Hydramatic three-speed automatic, which replaced the two-speed Powerglide that limited the flexibility of even the big-blocks. Also new was the coupe with standard T-tops, which would render the convertible to play second fiddle after 1968. Car Life tested two Vettes in June 1968; the L71 convertible hit 60 from a standstill in 6.5 seconds, with an ET of 13.41; the coupe with the standard 327/300 ran 8.6 and 15.82, respectively. For a lot more money—$18,900 (or about $137,443 in today’s economy)—you could buy a Maserati Ghibli. In February 1968, Car and Driver claimed the Ghibli was “the most visually spectacular car of 1968” while admitting that its 288-cu-in 330-hp V-8 was of a “Proterozoic design.” But “this doesn’t mean it’s a stone.” With 0–60 in 6.4 seconds and the standing quarter mile in 14.9 seconds, that certainly was true. But it wasn’t enough to keep up with the 427.
The Mustang was drastically redesigned for 1971, taking on some 1969–70 Shelby cues with an extra dash of raciness. The first engine worth its salt was the 285-hp 351 Cleveland, with the 429 Cobra Jet being the new choice for 7.0-liter fans. However, it was the solid-lifter 330-hp Boss 351 that really impressed, offering the best balance between power and handling. In February 1971, Car and Driver pulled off 13.9 seconds in the quarter mile “using the approved Ronnie Sox method of driving.” By comparison, the exotic DeTomaso Pantera, which was sold at cross-town Lincoln-Mercury dealers, featured the hydraulic-lifter 351 with short-branch headers for 310 hp. Car and Driver tested one in August 1971 and ran 14 flat, so the 400-pound weight advantage was not enough to offset the power differential.