Camaro Beats Mustang; America Wins

For the first time since 1985, the Chevy Camaro outsold the Ford Mustang over an entire year, with 81,371 buyers to the Mustang's 73,716. It's a great day not just for muscle cars, but for America. Here's why.

To many people, focusing on which Rust Belt relic sold more two-door sports cars seems as misguided as a mullet-growing contest. Big V8s are an endangered species, and rear-wheel-drive shreds fuel economy. For goodness' sake, the 2010 Ford Mustang has the same rear suspension technology as a Conestoga wagon. Who cares?

We all should, because the Camaro and Mustang (and Dodge Challenger) are no longer rolling museums of automotive technology, old bits in shiny packages sold to young men with too much money. They're as advanced as anything GM and Ford build without an electric motor, and they're evolving fast.

It's worth noting that its just the accident of timing that the Camaro won the 2010 sales race; it's beaten the Mustang for much of its 2009 rollout as well. Designed in Australia, built in Canada, styled in Detroit, the Camaro is the example of how General Motors needs to draw on its global resources. Its looks are polarizing; visibility compares unfavorably to an armored car and the trunk is more like an envelope, but it's still one of the most fun vehicles at the price.

Legions of 'Stang enthusiasts are already writing off 2010 as a mistake; they blame Ford for announcing the new models too early, including the return of the 5.0-liter V8 and the V6 in the 2011 model that can get 30 mpg on the highway. Even Ford has taken to pooh-pooing the whole competition, despite a flurry of press releases earlier this year touting a few victories over the bow-tie brigage, proving once again that denial is more than just a misspelled name on a GM SUV. Somewhere in Dearborn, there's a bulletin board with a giant "BEAT CAMARO" sign next to the goals for 2011.

It wasn't just the Camaro and Mustang that picked up new customers in 2010 (by 32% and 10% from 2009, respectively.) The Dodge Challenger, handicapped with the largest chassis of the three, saw its sales rise by 42% to 36,791.

A few years ago, Ford, GM and Chrysler would be content to count their money and let hot-selling vehicles coast along with a few new paint colors. Instead, the Camaro will get a convertible, a new Z28 edition and apparently an upgraded V6. Ford's already talking about the changes on the 2012 Mustang, along with a never-ending parade of special editions. The Challenger will also get the new V6 and hi-po top-end versions. The bare-bones models of Camaro and Mustang will offer more power than their top-end models did a decade ago, and with better fuel efficiency.

There's a real muscle-car battle in Detroit, not between two companies but two groups of enthusiasts who don't have to make life-changing compromises to own a worthy sports car. Last year, more than 190,000 people enlisted themselves in the cause of enjoying what they drive through these three models. That's how you win a war.