State of the Muscle Car, 2010

[Ed. Note: This article was written and sent in by Skitter. Thanks!!]

A spectacular color for a muscle car.

My consciousness of pickup trucks begins with the ‘new’ Dodge Ram. The Top Trumps mentality ruled the day, so occasionally I would remove the six-foot poster from the wall and pore over the spec sheets on the back. I would ponder how best to siamese two of the monster 8.0L V10s, extrapolating wildly optimistic power and torque figures. Packaging and sidewall loading were of no concern to my youthful imagination. Also of no interest, at least in 1993, was the already legendary Cummins diesel. For a lark, I ran the numbers on a twelve cylinder version, which resulted in appreciable torque, but still nothing to touch my double-V20. Since then, I’ve developed a much better appreciation for power curves. But even the bare numbers can do the talking. The 12V Cummins in the 1993 Ram, last of the squared-off solid steel pickups, was tuned for 160hp at 2500RPM and 400lb-ft at 1600RPM. By 2004, eleven years later, the high-output 24V Cummins was making 325hp at 2900RPM and 600lb-ft at 1600RPM. Forgive me for spouting specs like a buff book, but let that sink in for a minute: a One Hundred Percent increase in power, and half again as much torque, all while meeting ever more stringent emissions requirements.

The dreaded tiers may actually be the driving force behind this unprecedented progress, as they have required a substantial revamp or redesign of motors every few years, rather than every decade and a half. And light trucks have only just started to fall under fuel economy standards, despite the obvious interest in efficiency in the towing community. These factors have combined with more precise fueling, more revs, better breathing, and better anti-knock to make the heavy duty pickup the muscle car of today. They get things moving in the most spectacular manner, but like their pinks-racing forebears, do little else with the same vigor.

Allegedly towing 19,000 pounds since 1989. Stopping, then as now, is a different matter.
We celebrate their capabilities, but they are simply not built for the abuse that a commercial chassis can take. The brakes on a heavy duty pickup are impressive to look at, but don’t cash the checks written by the motors like they might in a sedan-flavored commuter. Consider a Ford F-450, which softly clatters out of the factory weighing roughly 8500lbs. A comparatively lightweight Chevy 2500 single cab still weighs in the neighborhood of 6000lbs with a Duramax, a bit more than a Bentley, whose brakes, tires and stopping distances put the one-ton to shame. This before five to ten more tons are hitched up and accelerated up a mountain pass at 85mph. The handling maintains the classic muscle car mix of wash-out understeeer and wild smoky oversteer, both thanks to the heavy motors. Yet unlike the Hemis, 427 Cammers, and solid lifter big block Chevies that existed mainly to win races and sell lesser models, diesels represent a substantial portion of the pickup market and are driven every day. And unlike a barely housebroken race motor, their power is accessible, the revs are low enough that ordinary drivers do not shy away from holding their foot in it. The access port has replaced the carburetor, the Super-Swamper the drag radial, but the loud, Detroit ethos remains the same.
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