This is a story that’s been told for the last 50 years, but yet it seems to get better as the years go on. And now it happens to be the best it’s ever been. I’m talking about the Mustang vs Camaro, Ford vs Chevy, one of the great automotive rivalries in history and again, both have brought their best examples that the world has ever seen. Well sort of, in the Ford corner we have the glorious Shelby Mustang GT350R and in the Chevy corner, you would expect to have the 2017 Camaro ZL1 1LE. But instead, it’s the standard ZL1, because the 1LE was not yet available at the time. Nonetheless, it’s still an epic muscle car shootout.
I think it might be the time to rename the muscle car segment, because with the exception of the Hellcat and Demon, that’s not what they are anymore. Muscle cars and loud and obnoxious, which is a good thing, but they were also “one trick ponies,” pun intended. They were good for one thing and one thing only and that was starting from a dead stop and going really fast in a straight line in a really short amount of time. But now, the Mustangs and Camaros are setting blistering lap times and should almost be considered sports cars, or sports muscle cars would work too. If you follow cars you’ve heard of both the GT350R and ZL1, but let’s recap some of the bullet points of each.
Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R
- Est. $68,000
- 5.2L naturally aspirated V8
- 526hp and 429lb-ft of torque
- 6-speed manual
- 3,713lbs curb weight
The Shelby GT350R is the top the line Mustang and is one that’s been developed with the racetrack in mind. It’s raw and rough around the edges and as Jason Cammisa so perfectly put it ” it sounds like Chewbacca” with the obnoxiously loud and throaty growl that comes from the 5.2L flat plank crank V8. Thanks to an intentional imbalance, the GT350R provides what I think might be the best sounding muscle car on the market right now. In the Motor Trend head-to-head shootout between these two cars, they measured the sound to get a numerical value behind it, and the Shelby screams at 110 decibels, which is apparently the equivalent of most rock concerts. According to Johnny Leiberman, it also provides one hell of a first impression when you get behind the wheel. He said the first time he drove the car he felt it was “as good as a Porsche 911 GT3.” Those words had never been used in the same sentence, ever.
Chevy Camaro ZL1
- Est. $65,000
- 6.2L Supercharged V8
- 650hp and 650lb-ft of torque
- 6-speed Manual
- 3,912lbs curb weight
The ZL1 is basically the top of the line Camaro, especially as far as power is concerned. It has the incredibly stout 6.2L LT4 V8 with a supercharger strapped on top that puts out a tire melting 650hp, and maybe even more impressive 650lb-ft of torque. As Randy Probst points out, the torque is what gives you the sense of speed and acceleration, not so much horsepower. So having that monstrous 650lb-ft on tap is more than enough to throw your but in the seat when you put your foot to the floor. To give you an example of just how “torquey” this motor really is, Cammisa was driving it along in 3rd gear at 70mph and put his foot down and the back tires broke loose. That is some serious power. It also sounds fantastic, and if it were in competition with almost any other car it would win by a landslide with a decibel reading of 104. But that Mustang sounds something special and sounds exactly like what a muscle car sounds like in your dreams.
If this was an old school muscle car test it would almost not even be worth having considering such a massive power difference between these two legendary automobiles. But since the cars are now sports muscle cars they should get a sports muscle car test. So rather than just a standard 0-60 sprint, the boys from Motor Trend lined them up and doubled the distance to make it a full half mile. This one is obviously a no brainer, the Camaro wins by a country mile and almost 10mph more in trap speed. Shocker, I know. However, when you get them out to the track the lighter more agile Mustang has a chance to show the Camaro what it’s made of. It did beat the Ferrari 458 Italia around Laguna Seca afterall.
Handling and Handling at Speed
So how do each of these cars handle and how does that translate into lap times? Based on the basic specs, the lighter more agile Mustang might have the advantage. From what I gather, the Mustang is a driver’s dream. It’s the kind of car that keeps you on your toes because it wants to kill you. It’s stiff on regular roads but not so much that it’s uncomfortable.
The Camaro on the other hand appears to be much more cool, calm and collective from the outside looking in. The Camaro stood out in the categories that you would expect it to stick out, such as power delivery and the overall sensation of going fast. But yet it almost appeared too easy to drive. Everyone that drove it said that the ZL1 would drive however you wanted it to drive. If you’re a little old lady just cruising to the market, and just so happen to know how to drive a manual transmission, you could do that without too much of a problem. However at the same time, if you have motor oil churning through your veins and want to get the thrill of a lifetime it could oblige to that as well.
When the keys to both cars were thrown to Randy Probst for a head-to-head hot lap comparison, I honestly had to think about which one I felt would come out on top. The faster, torquier, and heavier ZL1, or the more agile, lighter, and more track focused GT350R. It was a total toss up. In the end, it was actually the Camaro that came out on top with a lap time of 1:27.70 over the 1:28.29 put down by the Mustang.
In the end the Motor Trend boys picked the GT350R as the winner, even though it was slower in every single measurable way. They based their decision on the way the car made you feel while you were doing whatever it was you were doing. Even menial things like going to the gas station for a cup of coffee was a ball of excitement.
And honestly up until I finished writing that sentence I was going to have to agree with them because that’s exactly what I would want if I was spending almost $70,000 on a Mustang or Camaro. My reasoning for doing so was technically irrelevant at the time of this particular test. But here’s the way I look at it; if the GT350R is the baddest and most track focused Mustang and the “standard” ZL1 was able to beat it on a track setting, how badly will the ZL1 1LE destroy the Mustang thanks to its hardcore 1LE track package? It turns out that it’s a substantial amount. We recently reported the ZL1 1LE put down an incredible 7 minute 16 second lap time and the Nurburgring which bests the GT350R’s time of 7:32 by a full 16 seconds. Or in other words a whole lot of country miles.