Some say the manual transmission is a dying breed; from a performance standpoint, today’s automatics simply do the job better. But there are many who feel that the muscle car experience isn’t complete without a clutch and shifter, and fortunately many modern automakers agree. Here are the 10 best muscle cars (and a few that push the muscle-car definition) that can still be had with a “manny tranny.”
10 Best Manual Transmission Muscle Cars
Photo Credit: Ford
We’ll start with the longest-running muscle car on the market: The Ford Mustang, which has been on sale continuously (for better or for worse) since 1964. The Mustang has always been designed to appeal to a variety of audiences, from economy-minded to performance-oriented, and the same is true of the latest iteration, though muscle is in evidence on every new Mustang: Even the entry-level engine, a 3.7 liter V6, brings 300 hp to the table. Ford also offers a 325-hp turbo four and a 435-hp V8, and in keeping with tradition, all three engines can be had with a 6-speed manual transmission.
Photo Credit: General Motors
Freshly redesigned just last year, the Camaro has joined the Mustang by offering a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (albeit as the entry-level powerplant rather than an option). Though less powerful than the Mustang’s four at 275 horsepower, the new 2.0T engine is a gem, especially now that the Camaro has shed size and weight. Also like the Mustang, the Camaro offers a manual transmission with all three of its available engines—not just the 4-cylinder, but the 335-hp 3.6-liter V6, and the 455-hp 6.2-liter V8 as well.
Photo Credit: Dodge
The Dodge Challenger has proven its mettle as one of the great modern-day muscle cars, not least for the way it mimics the shape of the original Challenger of the early 1970s. Dodge offers a wide variety of engine choices for the Challenger, and while the entry-level V6 doesn’t offer a manual transmission—bummer!—all of its V8s do: The 375 horsepower 5.7-liter engine in the R/T, the 485-horsepower 6.4, and even the King of the Hill, the 707-horsepower supercharged 6.2 in the Challenger Hellcat. As any devoted stick-shifter will tell you, not all manual transmissions are created alike, and we love the one in the Challenger: With its heavy clutch and precise throws, it really brings back the classic muscle car era.
Photo Credit: Ford
Ford Focus RS
Here’s where we begin to stretch the definition of muscle car a bit: The Focus RS certainly isn’t a traditional muscle car with a big V8 designed expressly to turn its rear tires to dust. Instead, this is modern-day muscle: A modest 2.3-liter engine turbocharged and tweaked to an incredible 350 horsepower. Consider that back in The Day, 1 horsepower per cubic inch was considered a lot; the Focus RS develops two and a half horsepower per cubic inch! With all of that power delivered to all four wheels, the Focus RS jets to 60 MPH in well under five seconds, quick enough to leave most classic muscle cars of the 60s and 70s staring at its taillights. Naturally, the Focus RS comes with a manual transmission; in fact, a stick-shift is the only choice.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
Volkswagen Golf R
Another high-tech muscle car along the lines of the Focus RS is the Volkswagen Golf R, with 292 horsepower from just 2.0 liters and a 0–60 MPH time just over five seconds. What sets the Golf R apart from traditional muscle cars is its handling: The R can keep up its speed around the corners in a way that seems to defy the laws of physics. VW was one of the pioneers of the dual-clutch automatic transmission (called DSG), and you can get one in the Golf R. Dual-clutches have all the advantages of a manual, including a direct engine-to-transmission connection, with no clutch pedal and lightning fast shift times. It’s a superior transmission—but it’s no substitute for a regular manual, and as a nod to purists, VW offers a traditional stick-shift in the Golf R.
Photo Credit: General Motors
Now we’re back to something more like traditional muscle—a 464-hp rear-wheel-drive American car, offered as both a 2-door coupe and a 4-door convertible. But that’s not a big honkin’ V8 under the hood: The Cadillac ATS-V is powered by a thoroughly modern twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6, and yes, you can get it with a good ol’ fashioned 6-speed manual transmission. The ATS-V has the personality of a muscle car, too: It’s ridiculously loud and ridiculously fast, but thanks to an exceptionally well tuned suspension, it’s a lot less scary to drive on a curvy road.
Photo Credit: BMW
The BMW M3 (and the coupe variant, now called M4) are the closest things BMW has ever had to a muscle car; they even had V8 power for a while, though today’s M3 gets a turbocharged inline-6. Like the other German vehicles on this list, the M3 can be had with a twin-clutch automatic transmission—but fantastic stick-shift transmissions are part of BMW’s legacy, so it’s natural that the M3 (and M4) can still be ordered with a clutch pedal. Given a choice, we’ll take our M3 (or M4) with six-cylinder power and a manual transmission—after all, that’s the formula that put BMW and the M3 on the map.
Photo Credit: Dodge
Since its inception, the Viper has aimed to be a European-style supercar with American muscle-car attitude. The current Viper has a little Ferrari DNA—both Dodge and Ferrari are now owned by Fiat—but there’s nothing smooth or suave about the 645-hp 8.4-liter V10 under the hood. It’s noisy, poorly mannered, and will make you grin so big you’ll feel like your jaw is broken. Many supercars now come with fancy automated transmissions, but not the Viper: It comes with a manual transmission that shifts as if it were hewn from stone. Driven correctly—and bravely—the Viper will get to 60 MPH in just over three seconds. Top tip: Before buying a Viper, make sure your life insurance is paid up.
Photo Credit: Porsche
A lot of Porscheophiles would be upset with us for including the 911 in a list of muscle cars; after all, the Porsche 911 is a legendary sports car (that has been in production since 1963), and the idea of a muscle car is so… bourgeois. But 911s are packed with power—370 hp at a minimum in the latest iteration, up to 580 or so—and a well-driven 911 will give any muscle car a run for its money in a stoplight-to-stoplight drag race. Like the Volkswagen Golf R, Porsche has been pushing the dual-clutch automatic (it's called Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, mercifully abbreviated to PDK), but Porsche also offers a traditional manual transmission with a plain ol’ clutch pedal. Sadly, though, the dog-leg first—a shift pattern in which first gear is left and down, and a hallmark of classic Porsche manual transmissions—is long gone.
Photo Credit: Chevrolet
The Corvette came to prominence in the days when the line between American sports cars and American muscle cars was blurred—often they shared the same hardware. The Corvette has matured, and today’s C7 Vette really is a sports car that can go toe-to-toe with the best from Europe and Asia. But the Corvette has never lost its muscle-car roots, and aside from the first couple of years—when, believe it or not, the Vette was powered by Chevy’s economy straight-6 engine, it’s always gone in for big V8 power. Today’s Corvette comes with 455 horsepower at the bottom end, using the same 6.2-liter V8 as the Camaro, while the Z06 delivers 650 horsepower. As for transmission choices—the Corvette is a sports car, and of course it can be had with a manual transmission, a 7-speed.