Jim’s Blog: Five Modern Muscle Drivers

Driving old cars is one of my favorite things, but let’s be honest — sometimes you just need a car with modern air conditioning, decent brakes, and a no-nonsense cooling system. You’re probably not going to drive your ’70 Hemi Cuda to the doctor’s office when you’re sick, or use that ’69 Z/28 to take the wife to the airport on a rainy day. But you don’t have to drive something bland and boring, either — there are a lot of cars out there that are usable, exciting, and might provide some upside as part of the package. And you don’t have to spend $30k to get one, either.


If you’re interested in a fun driver for the daily grind that might not suffer too severely from depreciation due to use, here are five cars to consider:


5. ’92-’93 GMC Typhoon


1993-GMC-Typhoon 000FI 460x307


The Typhoon featured a special version of GM’s 4.3-liter V6. Fitted with a turbocharger and intercooler, it pumped out 280 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque. An all-wheel-drive system put the power to the ground, while uprated sport suspension and brakes rounded out the package. These things run to 60 in just over 5 seconds and can keep up with, or pass, pretty much everything else built around the same time. Plus, they’re relatively scarce, with only 4,697 built. On top of that, they have plenty of room to haul stuff in the back, and a decent rear seat, too.


What should you pay? $10k-$16k for a decent driver without modifications.


4. ’01-’02 Chevrolet Camaro SS


2002-Chevrolet-Camaro 000WC 459x344


The Camaro was upgraded in 1998 with GM’s then new LS1 V8, which offered a true 305 horsepower and helped nose out a performance lead over the Mustang. The SS versions, built by SLP, got a special cold air hood and rear hatch with a taller spoiler, and the LS1 was rated higher, at 320 hp. I like the ’01 and ’02 model years because they are slightly lower production and have higher power ratings — up to 325 hp — partially due to the EGR system being deleted from the LS1 engine. The newer fifth-gen Camaros have driven prices on older cars down slightly, but SS versions still carry a premium, and they make great drivers. Get one with a 6-speed manual and T-tops and use it. I had one as a daily driver for a few years and loved it.


What should you pay? $10k-$14k for a good driver with low miles.


3. ’03-’04 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra Terminator


2003-Ford-Mustang 000XF 460x270


That Camaro performance lead? It didn’t last long, thanks in large part to Ford’s John Coletti and his “Terminator” Cobra. Ford’s DOHC 4.6 returned with the Cobra in ’03, only now it was fitted with an Eaton roots-style supercharger pumping out 8 psi. Rated at 390 horsepower, it ruled the streets with a shriek, and could be modded well past 500 hp without a lot of effort. These cars also had 6-speed T56 manual transmissions and independent rear suspensions. In total, just under 20,000 were built through the end of 2004. These feature stout components and easy parts availability, and they’re just as usable as any Mustang — provided you don’t get pulled over constantly for screaming up to redline whenever you can.


What should you pay? $16k-$20k, but it’ll be worth it.


2. ’99-’04 Ford SVT Lightning


ford-lightning 139b3


Say you want that Cobra Mustang sound and performance but you need to go to Home Depot sometimes for an 8-foot 2×6 or something. Well, you’re in luck, because the SVT Lightning gives you the best of both worlds — performance and hauling ability. Starting in ’99, the Lightning was fitted with the 5.4-liter V8, also fitted with an Eaton blower, making a legit 360 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque. Later models were uprated with even more power. You also got special body panels, uprated sport suspension, and more. 28,124 were built through 2004. 


What should you pay? $10k-$15k, depending on year, mileage, and condition.



1. ‘03-’04 Mercury Marauder


2003-Mercury-Marauder 000MH 460x345


Ford’s Panther platform — the Mercury Marquis and Ford Crown Vic — saw a lot of fleet duty, which means you probably remember them best as police cars and taxi cabs. But in addition to that, there was also a performance version called the Mercury Marauder. Powered by the Cobra’s DOHC but naturally-aspirated 4.6 V8, it had 302 horsepower and 318 pound-feet or torque. Offered in all-black, these things look evil, and an added bonus is their strikingly similar appearance to a police cruiser, especially from the headlights at night. People will move right out of your way on the freeway when you roll up behind them in one of these. Plus, they’re as indestructible as a taxi and have both a huge back seat and a big trunk. Sales slumped when these were new, and only 11,052 were built, but they offer plenty of performance and a lot of usability.


What should you pay? $10k-$15k, depending on mileage.


What else would you add to this list and why? Let us know in the comments below.