Auto Show Trends – Pony Cars

Long Hoods and Short Rear Decks

2015 Mustang 5.0 Convertible
When the 2015 Mustang (5.0 GT Convertible shown) was introduced at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles for the Mustang Madness 50th Anniversary exhibit back in May, there was no Blue Oval “Ford” emblem anywhere on the car, nor did the name “Mustang” appear on it. When asked about this, the designers reportedly answered to the effect that if you could look at the car and fail to recognize it as a Mustang, they had not done their job. Now the production cars have “Mustang” on the door sill plates, abd a Ford Oval behind the mirro on the windshield. Oh, well.  The running horse in the middle of the grillewas a giveaway anyway.

The Pony Car field is broadening. There are affordable base cars for Camaro, Challenger, and Mustang buffs (respectable V6s with around 300 horsepower), track cars (Camaro Z28), a turbo 4 with an EPA rating of 21/25/32 (City/Combined/ Highway) mileage (Mustang Ecoboost), and in-your-face Muscle Cars (the Camaro ZL-1) and, appropriately, its “Challenger,” Dodge’s Hellcat, with a claimed peak horsepower (net) of 707.

How Times have Changed

The Ford Mustang’s 2.3 liter Ecoboost turbo four-cylinder is rated at 310 net horsepower, four more than the gross rating of the original Shelby GT350’s V8, and their 300 hp (net) base V6 has a 29 hp edge over the gross rating of the “K-Code” Hi-po 289 0f 1965, so all around, technology seems to have improved things considerably.

Hellcat Challenger at LA Auto Show

Dodge answered the Chevy Camaro’s 580 hp ZL1 with the Challenger Hellcat above, a throwback to the horsepower wars of the late ’60s when their 426 Hemi was top dog. The engine (inset top right) is topped with a supercharger that saps 80 horsepower at peak. That means the gross hp is probably closer to 800.

Camaro Z28 At Petersen

General Motors loaned a Camaro Z28 to the Petersen Automotive Museum a week before Ford’s “Mustang Madness” 50th Anniversary exhibit. Trying to steal some of their thunder? Barely noticeable is the Chevy “Bow Tie” in the grille that has been hollowed out to “increase air flow to the radiator.” Yeah. Right.

Chevrolet Camaro Z28 – Track Star

The designation “Z28” did not appear anywhere on the original version. That was just the order code for the Regular Production Option (RPO Z28) of a package of modifications intended to make the 1967 Camaro competitive in SCCA Sedan racing.

The package included a destroked version of the legendary 327 small block V8, shrinking it to 302 cubic inches (just under the 5-liter displacement limit, and the reason the cars carried a “302” on each cheek), that was rated at 290 horsepower, and numerous chassis and brake upgrades.

Marketing wonks noted the word of mouth among enthusiasts who knew that RPO Z28 was the hot setup, proving successful in racing, and put the label on 1968 models where the “302” had been the year before, and another legend was born.

For the latest z28, there would be no cushy magnetic ride control as used on the ZL1 to smooth the ride. It uses “spool-valve” dampers, previously seen on Aston Martin’s limited edition $1.8M One-77. The suspension is tuned with one goal in mind – fast lap times. Stripped of stereo (its one speaker is for the seat belt warning), standard air conditioning, trunk lining or tire inflator, with thinner rear window glass, it loses 300 pounds and gains almost $17,000 on its MSRP over the already pricey supercharged ZL1.

Some of that cost is in the carbon ceramic brakes that are so powerful that they had to roughen the insides of the rims to keep the front tires (widest on a production car at 300 mm – almost a foot wide) from turning on them under hard braking. It needs big front tires because there’s seven liters of V8 sitting on them – an arrowhead on a shaft that really wants to go straight ahead, and the product program demands that the car turn – now! It must work. In back-by-back track magazine comparisons it’s beat Porsche’s 911 GT3, and Godzilla – the Nissan GT-R.

Fifty Years Later

The late Carroll Shelby would no doubt approve. The first look at the new Mustang GT350 was bestowed on Shelby Club members at the site of the planned Shelby Museum in Gardena.

2015 Ford Mustang GT350

Ford counters Chevrolet’s $73, 305 stripped and track-focused Camaro Z28 with a more street-friendly and (it is to be hoped) more wallet-friendly GT350.

Details are sketchy, but Mustangs were always about value, so it’s a good bet that while not cheap, the new GT350 will undercut the Z28 by a wide margin. We made a stab and guessed it would be about 10% over the old Boss 302 Laguna Seca Edition’s $50,000.

The new 5.2 liter engine is expected to produce over 50o ponies and 400 pound-feet of torque, but they don’t say how much more. They make a point of the fact that, unlike Dodge’s Hellcat and the Camaro ZL-1’s supercharged engines, theirs is naturally aspirated. The Z28’s engine takes seven liters displacement to get its 505 horsepower, so that’s not where the emphasis was. It’s in its monster 481 pound-feet of torque.

It  appears Ford chose a middle ground between the single-issue (and outrageously expensive) Z28 and the garden-variety Mustang GT, to make a more approachable car with day-to-day usefulness.

The specialness of the GT350 will lay in its character. While the GM and Chrysler products use old-school Detroit-style huge engines with cam-in-block pushrod valve trains and the familiar burbley sound of American cross-plane crankshafts, the Ford will be a higher-revving engine with an angrier exhaust note in the style of exotic European V8s with an American industry first flat-plane crank.

Chassis tuning lowers the car, stiffens it in the roll axis, and adds a first-at-Ford magneto-rheological damping system, for real-time automatic suspension adaptability and adjustment. Brakes are likewise upgraded, with huge 15.5 inch rotors pinched by Brembo calipers.

Mustang GT350 Wheel Tire and Brake

Brembo calipers straddle the 15.5 inch rotors of the Mustang GT35o’s front brakes. Low profile 285 mm wide, 35-aspect ratio Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires ride on light 19 inch alloy wheels.

It’s an exciting time for people who enjoy driving. These are examples of a broad range of choices in just one segment of the market – and you can be sure there are more just around the corner. Stay tuned while we look at some other automotive types from the show that are gaining popularity and acceptance.

Carma is a publication of
The OM Dude Press
a service of
Options in Mobility

Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.


About carmacarcounselor

I'm one of those people that friends call "that car guy," except I've made it into a profession. Since 1988 when a friend found my help in choosing, finding, and negotiating for a new car was worth a fee, I've helped countless people, listening to their car questions and challenges, and helping with their car purchases, insulating them from the adversarial process that is the new car retail model today. Their word of mouth is my only publicity. My newsletter CARMA won the description "The clear crystal ring of truth" from award-winning automotive journalist Denise McCluggage. Now I'm going global!
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