Jim’s Blog – Big Power Daily Drivers: Five Best Bets in Modern Muscle

It’s a great time to be a car guy. While the ’70s and ’80s more or less killed the muscle car, technology has brought it back to life, and from where we sit now, the big three continue to pump out progressively more powerful monsters every year.

There are a lot of really great modern American performance cars in the secondhand marketplace. They were built in big numbers and have refined driving characteristics — no overheating or fouled plugs here. Used examples are reasonably priced for the fun they provide, and you can drive them as much as you want — even daily — and not feel too bad about doing it. After all, you only live once, right? And when it comes down to it, if you spend a lot of time in your car, there’s a lot of value in making the experience fun. This is the kind of car you should have in addition to your original LS6, Hemi car, or Cobra Jet Mustang.

Here are my five picks for the best modern daily driver muscle cars, in no particular order:

2006 Corvette Z06
The C5 was a good car, but it felt big outside and small inside. The C6 design fixed that, and when GM dropped the 7.0-liter under the hood in 2006, they built a monster. These cars make a true 505 horsepower, have 6-speed manuals and heads-up displays, and have huge brakes. These cars don’t tend to require much in the way of expensive maintenance (other than routine services). The best part? They’ll do upper 20 mpgs in 6th gear on the highway with the A/C running. Pick up a first-year C6 Z06 with miles for around $45k. That’s a deal considering they’ll keep up with a lot of European supercars.

2003 Dodge Viper convertible
The Viper has always been a no-compromise performance machine, and their V10 powerplants make really unique sounds. First- and second- gen cars are probably a little too raw for the daily grind, and the third-gen cars, built from 2003-2006, are only marginally better — although they are a slightly more tame in terms of refinement. With an ’03, you get 500 horsepower, a top that goes down (and up), and 0-60 times of under 4 seconds. Pick one up for around $35k. Go easy on the throttle and you might get 11 mpg city, but it’ll be worth it.

2003 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra “Terminator”
In the late ’90s and early ’00s, Mustang Cobra owners spent most of their time seeing F-body Camaro taillights. At least until SVT put an Eaton supercharger on top of the Cobra’s DOHC 4.6 V8 and dubbed it the “Terminator.” Terminators started with 390 hp, but forged internals allowed owners to up the boost and make other mods that could push power levels past 700 hp. These cars have a sinister look and a notorious shriek under throttle. Purists may hate you for driving one daily, but there’s no reason you couldn’t. Expect to spend $25k on a good one that hasn’t been too heavily modded.

2007 Shelby GT500
These cars brought the Shelby name back to the forefront of modern performance, and the package offers substantial punch: 500 hp supercharged V8s, 6-speed manual transmissions, and those oh-so-popular old-is-new-again looks of the fifth-gen (2005-present) Mustang. These cars are compliant in daily traffic and seriously fast when prodded. Quite a few 2007s were put away as collectibles when new, so finding low-mile cars isn’t too tough. Expect to pay around $35k for a good driver.

2005-2010 Chrysler LX/LC-platform SRT8
The LX platform consists of the Dodge Charger, Dodge Magnum, and Chrysler 300, while the LC platform is the Challenger. Both feature a lot of Mercedes suspension components thanks to the DaimlerChrysler merger, and the SRT8’s 6.1-liter Hemi V8 makes 425 horsepower in stock form. My personal favorite is the Charger SRT8, and I put my money where my mouth is here, as I drive one daily. It’s fast, comfortable, and easy to live with, even with a 2-year-old kid and all her kid stuff. The 300 SRT8 is great for flying under the radar, if that’s your thing, and there’s a lot to love about the Challenger, too — and it comes with an available pistol-grip 6-speed manual that the others don’t have. The 6.1 loves to rev and makes big power up high in the RPM band. Prices vary depending on year and model, but you can get a good Challenger SRT8 at around $30k, a good Charger or Magnum SRT8 around $25k, and a good 300 SRT8 around $20k.

Do you agree with the cars on this list? Have you ever driven one of these, or something similar, on a daily basis? What cars would you add or remove? Share your experiences and leave your comments below.