America loves speed. The 1960s and 1970s might have produced the wildest and rarest muscle cars packing giant torque-rich V-8s, but the 1980s brought its share of powerful machines to the street, too—cars that were quick and met the more stringent emissions controls. And behind the horsepower there are some surprising stories.
1 1968 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
The first two years of Carroll Shelby’s Mustangs are the most desirable to many Mustang purists. Those 1965 and 1966 GT 350s were light, simply styled, and perfect for track work. But the later 1967 and 1968 cars offered more fun under the hood and were the machines of choice if you wanted to win drag races.
For the first time, ’67 to ’68 GT 500 Shelbys came with 355-hp 428-cubic-inch big-block power under the hood. Car testers of the day saw quarter-mile time slips in the mid-to-low 14-second bracket—quick for the day. The Shelby Mustangs received more scoops and flashier styling than the older cars to match the new-found power and torque. And the even quicker KR (King of the Road) high-performance model was available in 1968 too.
Little-Known Fact: The 1967 Shelby Mustangs used Mercury Cougar tail lamps, but the 1968 models used lamps from the ’66 Ford Thunderbird.
2 1984 Chevy Corvette
The third generation of America’s sports car, the Corvette, had an incredibly long run: 1968 to 1982. So when it came time for GM to launch the next-generation C4 Corvette, there was wild speculation about the car. Some predicted it would use a midengine chassis, like an Italian exotic. And others thought it might use a rotary engine, like Mazda’s.
In the end, the next Vette wasn’t radical. It still had a small-block Chevy V-8 up front driving the rear wheels. That first year, it cranked out a meager 205 hp. But after a switch to a new, tuned port fuel-injection system in later years, horsepower jumped—and so did performance. Five years later, Chevy debuted the first ultra-performance Vette since the 1960s: the 375-hp ZR-1.
Little-Known Fact: There is no production 1983 Corvette. Although 1982 was the last year for the third-generation Corvette, Chevy decided to wait until the 1984 model year to launch the all-new car. Why? Some sources claim tighter emissions regulations necessitated more time for development. Others say that quality glitches at the factory were the real reason. All we know is every 1983 Corvette prototype was destroyed, except one: a white car that now lives at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky.