Unlike the muscle cars of the past, the Charger R/T, the Mustang GT, and the GTO can be driven to work each day without betraying the presence of a beast under the skin. The Charger is quiet and composed on its 235/ 55WR-18 Michelin MXM4 tires (in contrast to the harsh-riding twenty-inch tires on the SRT8), and the self-leveling rear dampers help the car bear up under the load of four people. The steering wanders a bit, though, as if the tires were a little too wide for the steering geometry. Inside, the car is very austere, just like the muscle cars of the '60s, and there are hints of trucklike styling to help younger guys make the transition into civilized sedan transportation.
The GTO proves decidedly supple on the roads of the real world and far from the monster its speci-fications suggest. The Opel- and Holden-engineered chassis dates from the 1990s and makes the car heavy at 3705 pounds, but GM development has made the GTO feel mature and sophisticated. It's also surprisingly roomy inside, al-though the high seat and low beltline make it seem compact.
If you're after an authentic muscle car, the athletic, somewhat stiff-legged Mustang delivers the character you want. It's coiled up for action at every second, as if bristling with steroids. The surprise is its ability to achieve such a feeling of latent energy without making you uncomfortable with suspension harshness or chassis flex.
Every generation has its muscle cars. The '32 Ford with its flathead V-8, the '55 Chevy Bel Air with its small-block V-8, and the '68 Plymouth Road Runner with its Hemi V-8 all spoke to the soul of a generation, and their rapidly escalating values as collectible cars prove it. Maybe it's a little too much to ask the same of the Charger R/T, which will be transformed in-to a 425-hp SRT8 this fall. Maybe the Mustang GT is only the start of something great, as the GT500 holds out a promise of 500 hp. And maybe the GTO just isn't the right kind of American-bred package, as poor sales suggest.
Yet our drive on Woodward Avenue shows that these cars measure up to the ghosts of the past. The Charger R/T liberates itself from utility-bound sedan-think of the past, and its test numbers prove it can run with cars as serious as the Mustang GT and the GTO. It can even be had as a winged Daytona R/T with eye-popping 1960s-style colors. Meanwhile, the GTO shows that GM was too quick to cave in to the enthusiasm for fast pickups by canceling the Chevy Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird, as the American GT car clearly remains a relevant and compelling concept. Finally, the Mustang GT is the best evidence yet that muscular cars with V-8 engines still have a profound appeal that cuts across all generations. A car with real American muscle is meant to be affordable, fast, and more than a little bit raw, and the Mustang meets the criteria better than any other car in this group.
This summer, when the Woodward Dream Cruise comes around again, there should be no weeping for the ghosts of the past. American automakers can still make muscle cars with serious V-8 engines, and we've got the proof right here.
Dodge Charger R/T
Price (base/as tested): $29,995/$35,625
Engine: 5.7 L V-8, 350 hp, 390 lb-ft
0-60: 6.1 sec
Ford Mustang GT
Price (base/as tested): $26,330/$27,825
Engine: 4.6 L V-8, 300 hp, 320 lb-ft
0-60: 5.6 sec
Price (base/as tested): $32,995/$33,690
Engine: 6.0 L V-8, 400 hp, 400 lb-ft
0-60: 5.1 sec