Our Chief Road Tester has racked up many laps of Goose Point in the past. In his favorite mount, a ’73 Formula, he usually completes a two-lap run in the mid 5:14’s. Not quite fast enough to keep up with the pros on the Top Ten list anymore, but respectable. More important than outright speed however, is consistency. That’s the key to discovering the differences between our contenders. While the testing was not done double-blind, nor corrected for atmospheric conditions, our Chief Road Tester reverted to his reference Firebird Formula after turning his best lap in the other cars to ensure that simply running countless laps was not leading to better times. He informs us that, much to his dismay, he is still circulating at the same pace.
All cars were set up to meet the Muscle D class limits. With substantial differences between the various vehicles, no single set up could be copied from one to another. Instead each was tuned to provide approximately the same feel. Additional tinkering was done with suspension and spoilers in search of faster lap times. The astute reader will note that the less expensive models were tested on 335-width tires while the heavy hitters sported 345’s. We felt that someone opting for the cheaper muscle cars is likely not in the market for the pricey rubber either.
Someone with access to high-end components and better car tuning skills than our humble crew could likely improve each car’s performance. But again, it’s the relative ranking that we’re trying to illustrate in this comparison test, not absolute capability.
So which contender rose to the top of the heap? Only one can take home Cart & Drivel magazine’s coveted first place honor. Read on to see how they ranked, from worst to best.
Eighth Place: ’63 Thunderbird - Best Run: 5:46.46  (335 tires)
Comments: It may be last in lap times, but first in style! This was the only car we refused to put spoilers on, the rear one ruined a fine view of those vestigial tail fins. Our TBird certainly made a big impression, 4442 lbs worth. If you choose to run one of these, remember to move your braking points ‘way, ‘way back.
Seventh Place: ’66 Pontiac GTO - Best Run: 5:30.28  (335 tires)
Comments: A reasonably stable car, but when the back end finally decides to go, it ain’t comin’ back. A good choice for those who root for the underdog, and fast enough to surprise the unwary.
Sixth Place: ’70 Mustang - Best Run: 5:26.18  (335 tires)
Comments: Now we’re getting into the more modern muscle cars. The ’70 Mustang is easy to put into balanced, controllable slides. Unfortunately, sliding is rarely the fastest way around this track. The Mustang seems much more at home at the Motor City Classic circuit.
Fifth Place: ’65 Mustang - Best Run: 5:24.65  (335 tires)
Comments: A favorite in some of the higher-power classes, the ’65 Mustang was a solid mid-field runner in this D Class comparison. Its light weight makes it vulnerable to that dreaded bump at the entrance of the tunnel. Very sensitive to spoiler balance for both proper handling and safe landings on ‘yumps’.
Fourth Place: ’70 Boss 429 - Best Run: 5:23.28  (345 tires)
Comments: Is your million buck investment in a Boss 429 worth the three second improvement over the regular ’70 Mustang? Only you and your loan shark can say for sure. The 345-section tires may have contributed about a second to the disparity, and they’re not cheap either.
Third Place: ’67 Camaro RS - Best Run: 5:19.96  (335 tires)
Comments: The surprise of this comparison test. Our experience with the RS in higher-power classes led us to expect a twitchy, difficult beast. But in D Class it turned into a smooth, easy to control racer. Only the lack of cupholders kept us from scoring it higher.
Second Place: ’73 Firebird - Best Run: 5:19.34  (345 tires)
Comments: We set up the regular Bird exactly the same as our reference Formula model. The stats in the workshop were identical but the performance was not. Still, second place is not too shabby, especially considering the price difference.
First Place: ’73 Firebird Formula - Best Run: 5:14.93 (345 tires)
Comments: Still the muscle car to beat. Stable and forgiving to drive, it is also very tolerant of setup variations. We tested many combinations of spoilers, trading off grip for top speed, and could turn remarkably similar times no matter what the guise.
We can see the hate mail already for picking the obvious winner, but before you fire off that missive remember the stopwatch doesn’t lie. Besides, in the hands of a good driver almost any of these cars can be a race winner. Even the ’66 GTO can finish up front if you concentrate on running clean, tidy laps while your opposition is leaving paint on the armco. If you manage to win with the T-Bird, well, you have Cart & Drivel magazine’s undying respect.
For the curious, all of the D Class setups we used are posted here.