The muscle car is typically an American trend started by the moonshiners of the 1930s and 1940s, and popularized by the Plymouth Barracuda and Ford Mustang in the 1960s. While the muscle car was all the range in the US, Europe saw many vehicles which follows the same trend – even if they weren’t classified as ‘brutish’.
The European muscle car is mostly categorized as a sports or GT car, often featuring luxurious touches and fancier technologies. These attributes are combined with massively powerful engines which produce enough of a punch to give traditional muscle cars a run for their money. Older examples of these include the De Tomaso Longchamp – and the Pantera for that matter – and the more modern Aston Martin V8 Vantage and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG with its huge 6.2-liter V8. These cars compete nicely with the likes of the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, and Chevrolet Camaro, but still have a more premium feel to them – especially in terms of price.
The US may be the master of the muscle car, but Europe has produced some models which are just as good at shredding tires. Here are ten of the best muscle cars to use in a US versus Europe automotive battle.
10/10 The US – Ford Mustang GT500
The Ford Mustang is considered by many to be the best American muscle car around. Whether this is true or not, the Mustang is the model that popularized the whole idea. The various Mustang models were great, but the absolute pinnacle was always the special Shelby version.
The current Shelby GT500 is the most powerful yet, featuring a 5.2-liter supercharged V8 producing 760 hp. It is also the first Mustang model to feature a dual-clutch transmission – as opposed to the traditional manual. It is one of the coolest Mustangs ever made.
9/10 Europe – Mercedes-Benz E60 AMG ‘Hammer’
Back in the 1990s, Mercedes-Benz wanted to compete with BMW in the still-fresh sport sedans segment and so took its humble W124 sedan and kindly asked Porsche to re-engineer it to fit its big 5.0-liter V8 under the hood. The result was the glorious 500E.
Then AMG got a hold of it and turned it into the E60 AMG, enlarging the engine to 6.0 liters and blacking everything out. It also gained the nickname, ‘Hammer’, thanks to its brutal performance. The Hammer was available in both sedan and coupe body styles.
8/10 The US – Dodge Challenger Hellcat
The revival of the Challenger name was a big moment for Dodge and the initial model had a lot to be desired. The Challenger was built on the same platform as the Charger and the Chrysler 300C, so it gained the same 3.5, 5.7, and 6.1-liter V8s mated to 4- and 5-speed automatics.
With the 2015 update, Dodge improved the Challenger and Charger with new interiors, driving dynamics, and, most importantly, new engines. The best of the lot was the new 707 hp 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat V8 – an engine that will go down in history as one of the coolest.
7/10 Europe – De Tomaso Longchamp
The De Tomaso Longchamp is an Argentinian-Italian take on the GT car, but due to the 5.8-liter Ford V8 under the hood, the Longchamp is more muscle car than the Italians care to admit. It had the proper American muscle style and even had a muscle car transmission.
The Longchamp did have a more premium feel and the interior was far fancier than anything from the US. When the V8s began drying up from Ford US, De Tomaso sourced the same engines from Ford Australia, creating a weird Argentinian-Italian-American-Australian hybrid.
6/10 The US – Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 may not be the most powerful of the current breed of American muscle cars, but it is the fastest around a track. The supercharged 6.2-liter V8 produces ‘just’ 650 hp, but the clever magnetic suspension system makes sure to keep the car stable and controlled at all times.
The Camaro ZL1 is now nearly seven years old, but it is still dominating current head-to-head reviews, even ending up on top over some European sports cars and lower-end supercars. It may not be a proper muscle car anymore, but it is better in every way.
5/10 Europe – Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series
The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series is probably the closest the Europeans ever got to building an American muscle car. Everyone was stunned when AMG unveiled the 6.2-liter M156 V8 as they weren’t sure the Germans could have that kind of humor, but we certainly are glad they did.
The normal C63 was already a sideways machine, but the Black Series added a wider body kit, stickier tires, and a large rear wing on the trunk. The result was pretty much exactly the same, as the car would go sideways at the slightest provocation. Still, it is a gloriously impressive car.
4/10 The US – Buick GNX
The Buick GNX was an oddball when it was launched in 1987 – and only in 1987. Unlike other muscle cars – or even the normal Grand National on which the GNX was based – it did not have a V8 under the hood. Instead, it had the engine out of a pickup, with a turbocharger bolted to the side.
The 3.8-liter turbo V6 produced 276 hp – although it was closer to 300 – and it turned out to be faster to 60 mph than a Ferrari F40, measuring in at just 4.6 seconds. Just imagine it – a square American muscle car beating a sleek Italian supercar in a drag race.
3/10 Europe – Aston Martin V8 Vantage
The Aston Martin V8 Vantage may be a sporty GT car by the looks of it, but it is a British muscle car underneath. Granted, it can actually go around a corner and is mighty fun on a back road or mountain pass, but it is definitely a muscle car.
The V8 Vantage featured either a 4.3 or 4.7-liter Jaguar V8, producing between 380 and 430 hp – depending on the model. The car came with a 6-speed manual, or a choice of either a 6-speed or 7-speed automated manual transmission – although many went for the manual.
2/10 The US – Shelby Cobra
The Shelby Cobra’s story is now immortalized within the automotive history books. Shelby took the humble, yet underpowered British AC Ace roadster, stuffed a V8 in it, and gave it some stripes down the middle, creating one of the most well-known American cars ever made.
The Cobra first got either a 4.3 or 4.7-liter Ford V8, before later gaining a massive 7.0-liter V8 and becoming the famous Cobra 427 with the rollover bar and the side-exit exhausts. Today, a real Cobra 427 can cost anywhere between a few hundred thousand dollars, to a few million.
1/10 Europe – Aston Martin Vantage V600
The Aston Martin Vantage of the 1990s was much different from the 1970s or the 2000s model. For one, it wasn’t nearly as pretty, but it had quite a large trick up its sleeve. The 5.3-liter V8 may have come from the 1970s, but it had not one, but two superchargers.
The V600 model produced an amazing 600 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual. All the power was sent to the rear wheels, and apparently, it was quite a handful to drive quickly. Still, it may not be the greatest-looking car, but it is one of the coolest European muscle cars ever made.