Detroit automakers have recently rolled out some of the hottest new muscle car options to have ever hit the market. The horsepower wars of the 1960s and 1970s were waged fiercely amongst domestic car companies, and while those vehicles were strikingly styled and impressively endowed in the engine compartment, their handling, fit and finish and overall ride quality left a lot to be desired. Most modern muscle cars have managed to preserve the classic styling of these hot rods while simultaneously throwing in a healthy dose of technological wizardry that keeps fuel mileage reasonable, cornering and braking good, and comfort exceptional.
The new Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger have set the imaginations of would-be horsepower junkies on fire. Unfortunately, for the everyday car buyer the high price tags associated with these dream rides keeps them out of reach. While the most recent muscle cars might not fit everyone's budget, there are certainly plenty of used muscle car options out there that do. The past several years have seen a variety of different manufacturers try their hand at stuffing a powerful V8 engine into an attractive package, with some of them pushing the boundaries of what might be considered a muscle platform.
This article takes a look at some of the cheapest - and the best - muscle cars to be found on the secondhand market.
2005 - 2008 Ford Mustang ($13,845 - $19,215)
The 2010 Mustang might be taking the pony car formula to the next level in its evolution, but the vehicle that helped kick off the modern muscle craze was the 2005 edition of this venerable model. Building upon the impressive sales volume of the previous generation Mustang, the 2005 edition was a return to the marque's roots as the originator of pony car segment.
The 2005 Ford Mustang exterior was designed to mimic the aggressive lines of the very first Mustang to roll off the assembly line in 1964, while still featuring some current touches such as angular lines and a wider, tougher stance. The inside of the car is also appropriately retro, with circular gauge pods, old school fonts for the speedometer and tach, and a three-rotor steering wheel. The dash itself is divided into two distinct pods, one on the driver's side and one of the passenger, and the top dash overhang that shields each pod is reminiscent of 1960's styling trends.
Under the hood, the 2005 Ford Mustang is anything but pre-historic. The GT model makes use of a 4.6 liter V8 that has been updated with both 3 valves per cylinder as well as variable-valve timing to help it push out 300 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is the gearbox of choice for driving enthusiasts, but a 5-speed automatic is also available. Available 3.55 rear gears help the GT accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 4.9 seconds and run the quarter mile in under 14 seconds, trapping around 104 miles per hour. Tire-shredding smoke shows are par for the course, and the coupe's dual exhaust produces a gut-wrenching rumble when provoked.
The solid rear axle may be more suited for drag racing than carving up the twisty parts of the road, but for most buyers the 2005 Ford Mustang GT is a bargain muscle car that will have them cruising their local strip in both style and nostalgia.
2005 - 2008 Dodge Magnum RT ($12,501 - $20,551)
When Chrysler and Dodge released their lineup of rear-wheel drive LX-platform sedans in 2005, they also included a wagon variant that would bear the Dodge logo. Named the Magnum, this full-size family hauler harkened back to the long-lost big American station wagon, a vehicle which had gone extinct almost a full decade earlier. Not only did the Magnum possess thickly muscled good looks, but Dodge also saw fit to offer a version of the car that sported a powerful V8 engine.
Dubbed the Dodge Magnum RT, the vehicle shrugged off the image that a grocery getter had to be civilized. The 2005 - 2008 Dodge Magnum RT is built around a 5.7 liter HEMI engine that squeezed out 340 horsepower and a fantastic 390 lb-ft of torque. Matched with a 5-speed automatic transmission, the Magnum is a highway terror and a stop-light instigator, capable of hitting 60 miles per hour from a standing start in 5.8 seconds and breezing down the quarter mile in just 14.6 seconds. The automatic transmission provides an AutoStick feature which simulates a manual transmission.
The Dodge Magnum RT is both traditional and uncommon in its approach to the performance car question. Its brawny appearance, sensational power and slick performance place it squarely in the muscle car category. 1960's drag strips were thick with station wagons, which were prized for their rearward weight distribution and for the fact that as full-size family cars they could be special-ordered with enormous motors.
Given that the Magnum RT can be ordered with all-wheel drive, traction might not be as much of an issue now as it was back then, but the practicality of all that extra cargo space is a nice aspect of the overall package. With such an appealing price, it's hard to ignore the Magnum RT as both a fun muscle car and useful daily driver.
2005 - 2006 Pontiac GTO ($15,397 - $17,622)
When it came time to jump into the modern muscle car fray, not all automakers chose to celebrate their retro roots in quite the same manner. The 1964 Pontiac GTO is often celebrated as the very first muscle machine, the product of crafty Pontiac dealers attempting to work their way around the horsepower restrictions imposed upon them by General Motors. The GTO was the prototype for the large engine / small car blueprint that would define that particular era of automotive performance.
Pontiac's decision to revive the GTO nameplate was not accompanied by any vehicle designs intended to pay tribute to the car's history. In fact, there was no new design at all - General Motors simply imported a coupe built by its Australian subsidiary Holden and renamed it the GTO. Originally sold as the Holden Monaro, the vehicle was a ready-made V8 package that could be easily adapted to the North American market.
The aerodynamic two-door was criticized for being visually a bit boring and having little to do with the spirit of its famous namesake. Performance of the first-year models was also characterized as lackluster, but that all changed in 2005 with the introduction of a 6.0 liter, 8-cylinder motor as the Pontiac GTO's only engine option. This improved power plant gives drivers of the 2005 - 2006 GTO 400 ponies and 400 lb-ft of torque to play with. A 6-speed manual transmission helps the car leap to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds, and rip through the quarter mile in a very quick 12.8 seconds, trapping 110 miles per hour.
Despite the addition of an improved exhaust system, hood scoops and more power, the 2005 - 2006 Pontiac GTO never really caught on with buyers. This is a boon to anyone searching for a low-buck muscle car that can also double as a composed and comfortable highway cruiser. The coupe's low production numbers - only 11,069 were made in 2005 - combined with the recent demise of the Pontiac brand also make it a prime candidate to become a collector's item in the not too distant future.
2005 Cadillac CTS-V ($19,000)
It might seem strange to see the words 'Cadillac', 'cheap' and 'muscle' all in the same sentence, but the 2005 Cadillac CTS-V manages to provide a serious amount of horsepower and performance for under $20,000 on the used car market.
The CTS-V first went on sale in 2004, and it was initially developed to compete with the high performance vehicles offered by BMW's M division as well as Mercedes-Benz's AMG-badged products. The vehicle's chassis, suspension and computer-controlled stability systems enable the sedan to hold the road like a car half its size, but to true muscle car fanatics the most interesting part of the CTS-V is located between the front fenders. This is where Cadillac installed the same 6.0 liter LS6 V8 that can be found pulling duty in the Chevrolet Corvette. With 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque on tap, the CTS-V is a monster when it comes to acceleration and top speed, easily nudging up over the 150 mile per hour mark to settle at 163 miles per hour. 60 miles per hour arrives in a brisk 4.6 seconds when accelerating from a dead stop, and the quarter mile disappears in just 13.4 seconds with a trap speed of 109 miles per hour.
There are some out there who will appreciate looking like a million bucks while they sit in the lap of luxury incinerating their rear tires. Even better for gearheads is the fact that a 2005 Cadillac CTS-V in good condition can be had for less than the cost of a new Honda Accord. The depreciation on these cars has been nearly as quick as their performance numbers, but that won't matter when sliding sideways, oversteer-style through all of the corners on the way home from work. The CTS-V is a luxury car that really wants to be a muscle car - and for once, has the grunt to match its aspirations.