Crazy Euro Car Boy’s Muscle Car War

A brief exposure to the current gamut of muscle cars has left our Euro car boy with a new appreciation of European interiors and straight line Americana.

Crazy Euro Car Boy’s Muscle Car War

Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

This is the very last car I rode in on the American continent. Wert showed up with it just as I was heading out of Jalopnik publisher Gawker Media’s Soho offices to subway to JFK. Contrary to my preconceptions, it is a very nice car.

Much more compact than either the Challenger or the Camaro, the big Mustang is a surprisingly nice place to be in. The plastics are uprange Opel, meaning nowhere near Alfa Romeo Euro-poshness but perfectly okay.

While the doorframe is certainly on the high side, you can stick your elbow out without having to worry about the sudden onset of Saturday night palsy, which is very much not the case in neither the Challenger nor the Camaro. And what is a muscle car without an elbow out the window, after all?

It was a fun 20 MPH ride in bumper to bumper traffic, over the Manhattan Bridge and into Brooklyn. Ray will have a full road test up in the coming days. And I certainly hope he will mention the shift knob, which looks (cue Nascar-like Southern drawl) "totally awesome."

Photo Credit: Ray Wert

Crazy Euro Car Boy’s Muscle Car War

Dodge Challenger R/T

The Challenger faced impossible odds: it was our chariot of choice in heavy traffic on the Long Island Expressway on our way to see a Lamborghini Miura. While no earthly car can approach the magic of the Miura, the Challenger failed in every way. The inside is decked out in plastics I would not store leftovers meant for dogs in. The shifter is a wobblefest, the A/C is only good for causing sudden onset hypothermia and cocking an elbow out the window is not recommended if you’re worried in the slightest about the health of your radial nerve.

The car may look fun in the pages of a magazine, but in real life, it just does not work. Yes, every modern American muscle car is a clear derivative of 40-year-old designs but while the Camaro and especially the Mustang display elements of modern thinking, the Challenger is at best a cartoon approximation of a scene from Vanishing Point. It is not in visual harmony with its environment.

Riding in the car with me was Natalie Polgar of Hyperleggera, a svelte and attentive driver, who pointed out the lack of grunt from the very loud 5.7-liter Hemi and the curious lack of cornering finesse.

If you have no elbows—and, consequently, no fingertips for feeling materials—and like driving at night in a straight line, this might be your car. Otherwise, steer clear.

Photo Credit: Natalie Polgar

Crazy Euro Car Boy’s Muscle Car War

Chevrolet Camaro RS

A fleeting glance this was not: I spent two days in this car, riding from New York City to Detroit and back, a total of over 1200 miles. Pictured above is that most Detroit of scenes, the abandoned Michigan Central Station, which we approached on a late Sunday morning as inner city residents were tending to their vegetable plots set up in its forlorn flowerbeds.

While the Camaro’s interior is a notch above the Challenger’s, the materials used would never fly in Europe, except perhaps in the lowliest of vehicles. But most surprising is the utter lack of interior space in a 16-foot car weighing close to two tons. Fitting a 6'2" frame into the back seats of any coupé is a challenge, but I have never seen anything as bad as the Camaro. There is much more space in a 1973 Lamborghini Espada—or a Fiat Punto, a European supermini a full four feet shorter than the Camaro. There is room for neither knees nor heads. You might be tempted to say that the point of a muscle car is definitely not the rear seat transport of males in the upper three percent of the height curve—and you might be correct. Still, it is an egregiously bad use of space.

The 3.6-liter V6 in the RS is not the engine to get if you decide to buy a Camaro. It develops 300 HP, which is sucked up by the car’s osmium heft, leaving you with sluggish acceleration. The big LS3 V8 must be way more fun.

Still, despite its bad design, it was in the Camaro that I finally understood the point of the American automobile. It was late night in a straight line somewhere out in the Detroit suburbs, the landscaped forests causing the 90+ degrees of the afternoon to plunge, and at a dreamy 60 MPH Pink Floyd was on the radio. But more on that later.

The verdict? Avoid the Challenger, try the Mustang. And if you do pick up the Camaro, grab a Dremel and finish the job of cutting air vents for the rear brakes. They were there on the concept Camaro but regressed to fake indentations on the production model, which really is a shame but perhaps reflects on the creeping sense of sloppy design.