Top Tuners for American Muscle

2015 Yenko Camaro

2015 Yenko Camaro

Today’s war among American performance cars easily rivals the one waged so fiercely during the 1960s and early ’70s. In addition to the factory muscle car offerings, you had upgraded versions offered by certain dealerships. Owned by rapid enthusiasts, these dealerships were hell bent on giving their customers (and themselves) a reputation for street battle supremacy.

These dealers — such as Yenko Chevrolet, Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge and Tasca Ford — would gladly build up your Camaro, Challenger or Mustang to a performance level seemingly limited only by your nerve and financial status. Pavement burners such as a Yenko Camaro sporting a 427-cubic inch big block gave acceleration junkies serious one-upmanship on their buddies who had “settled” for a stock SS396 Camaro. Likewise for Dodge fans who wanted a hopped up Dart and Ford fans who, before the factory made it available, wanted nothing less than a 428 Cobra Jet V8 in their Mustangs.

Nowadays, modern factory performance cars leave little argument for such improvements. Does anyone really need more than what we’ve seen show up in Chevy, Ford and Dodge showrooms the last couple of years? Specifically, how could you possibly want more than a 580-horsepower Camaro ZL1, a 662-hp Mustang Shelby GT500 or a 707-hp Challenger Hellcat? For those performance buffs who live by the “too much is not enough” credo, there are a number of companies around who are more than willing to boost these beasts beyond their already crazy capabilities.

2012 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Super Snake

2012 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Super Snake

Mustang fans who were disappointed to see the Shelby GT500 absent from the all-new 2015 Mustang family need only contact Shelby American. Click away and you’ll see they offer the newest ‘stang in the 750-horse “Super Snake” version that along with all that go-power sports upgraded brakes and suspension as well as various carbon-fiber body components. If you do own a 2011-2014 GT500 and you’ve deep enough pockets, you can have them turn your car into a 1,200-hp track day monster.

1969 Yenko Camaro

1969 Yenko Camaro

On the other side of the battlefield, Chevy Camaro enthusiasts can once again hit the streets with a Yenko Camaro, thanks to Special Vehicle Engineering who acquired the rights to use the hallowed dealership’s name. Just like the good old days, a 427 cubic-inch V8 is stuffed under the hood, only this time it’s the modern small-block “LS7″version. Formerly used in the Corvette Z06 and currently seen in the new Camaro Z/28, the LS7 normally makes 505 horsepower. For the Yenko, it is supercharged and further tweaked to make a thumping 700 horsepower. Proper homage is paid to the original Yenko Camaros via a scooped hood and 1969-style “YSC” (Yenko Super Car) body graphics.

2015 Challenger Hellcat

2015 Challenger Hellcat

As it did in the early ’70s, the Dodge Challenger faces off against those rivals from Ford and Chevrolet. Right off the showroom floor, you can get over 700 horsepower in a new Challenger, provided you spring for the Hellcat version. That’s enough thrust to sling you down the quarter mile in just under 12 seconds. Should you find that somewhat lacking, you can have the good folks at Hennessey Performance beef up your Hellcat to the tune of 852 horsepower. Short of strapping a Space Shuttle’s Booster rocket to the trunk lid, there’s not much else that you could do to turn your Hellcat into one of hardest accelerating vehicles wearing four tires and a license plate.

Whether you keep your modern performance car bone stock or choose to have it modified by an aftermarket tuning firm, there’s no denying that today’s car wars make this a great time to have a license for us with 93 octane flowing freely through our veins.

Note: Get quality auto parts for everything from regular vehicle maintenance to special car projects at Advance Auto Parts.   


Reflections from the Racetrack

You know what, this writing gig has its perks. First I got to go to the 2013 LA Auto Show, and now I’m here to tell you about this annual track-day event for auto writers that I was privileged to attend.

I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about driving the world’s best cars, so it was truly humbling to show up at the track that morning and see pretty much all of them lined up in front of me, just waiting to be driven. Jaguar F-Type V8 S? Check. Mustang GT? Check. BMW M6 Gran Turismo? Oh yes. I didn’t know events like this even existed, but boy, was I happy to be on the list.

So I did what any red-blooded car enthusiast would do: I kept going around that track as fast as I could, in as many cars as I could. I drove until the sun went down and they closed the gates. It was transcendent. The only problem is that they don’t do it more than once a year. I could talk your ear off all day, but for brevity’s sake, here are the three cars that really got me going.

3. 2014 Chevrolet Corvette

2014 Corvette Coupe

Photo credit: Chevrolet

I’ll be upfront with you, as always, and say that I don’t like how the new C7 Corvette looks. Never have; maybe never will. The greenhouse reminds me of a GT-R, and so do the headlights. The rear end with its odd black lower valence reminds me of a Lexus LF-A. All the vents and strakes everywhere remind me of a Mercedes McLaren SLR. The square taillights look like they came from a two-year-old Camaro.

If there’s one thing that the C7 Corvette does not remind me, it’s all the beautiful, iconic Corvettes that came before.

But then I drove it, and I decided that as long as I don’t have to look at the thing, it’s awesome. The new V8 pumps out 455 horsepower and makes the car fearsomely fast: try 3.8 seconds to 60 mph, plus chest-flattening thrust from 60 to triple digits. The steering is quick and direct, making this the most nimble Corvette ever. The interior is massively improved, with nice materials everywhere and finally some seats that you won’t want to swap out for aftermarket replacements. As a sports car, the new ‘Vette is a perfect 10, and that makes its challenging styling a lot easier to swallow. Can the Corvette engineers improve on perfection? Of course they can. That’s why there’s a Corvette Z06.

2. 2014 Cadillac CTS

Photo credit: Cadillac.

Photo credit: Cadillac

Now here’s one that I definitely didn’t think would make the cut. I hopped into the new CTS 2.0-liter turbo with a “ho” and a “hum,” figuring I might as well try it out while I was there. After a few hot laps, I hopped out with a “Yeehaw!” You’ve probably heard a lot about the redesigned CTS, but did you know they’ve turned it into a bona fide sport sedan? I drove the M6 Gran Turismo shortly after the CTS, and I couldn’t tell you which one has more responsive steering, or a sharper chassis. It’s that good.

The turbo four-cylinder engine, however, is not that good. It yanks the CTS around capably enough, but acceleration isn’t linear, and it doesn’t sound great either. This is a decent motor that does yeoman’s work in the lesser Buick Regal, for example, but it seems a bit out of place in a $50,000 performance car. The CTS I really want to try is the Vsport with its twin-turbo, 420-horsepower V6–but they didn’t have one on hand, so for now I’ll hold onto the four-cylinder CTS as a tantalizing glimpse of this car’s capabilities.

1. 2014 Dodge Viper

Photo credit: Dodge.

Photo credit: Dodge

What, did you think my top pick would be some Euroweenie luxury car? Obviously, I’m going with the American sports car at its most essential: the purpose-built Dodge Viper. I say that even though the Viper has a much nicer interior now, with fancy materials everywhere and Dodge’s excellent 8.4-inch touchscreen interface. It’s got a new body, too, and the Italian influence of parent company Fiat is apparent in the sleeker front end and almost too-delicate headlights. But from the rear, the Viper’s muscles are as ripped as ever. If there’s a better looking posterior in the automotive world right now, I haven’t seen it.

On the track, the Viper is still enough of a handful that they had a trained race-car driver on hand to assist inexperienced pilots. But with (government-mandated) standard stability control onboard, it’s not the spinout-waiting-to-happen that it used to be. Of course, with a 640-horsepower V10 pumping under that endlessly long hood, disaster is always just an overzealous right foot away. That’s the charm of the Viper, though: unlike the cool, calm and collected Corvette, this Dodge still acts like it wants to tear your head off–so when you complete a few laps without incident, it feels like a real accomplishment. Not surprisingly, the Viper was the only car I lined up for again and again that day. Every other car was less daunting to drive, but none was nearly as much fun.

Let’s Talk

Want to know more about these cars? Ask me anything, my friends. Have you driven any hot new cars on the track lately?

Editor’s note: Whether you drive a fancy performance car—as our Gearhead so eloquently praises—or an old clunker, count on Advance Auto Parts to help keep it running right and looking good. Buy online, pick up in store.