Muscle D Class Revisited

The muscle D class comparison test in our last issue of Cart & Drivel magazine had barely hit the stands when readers starting sending mail, chastising us for leaving out their favorite car. In our defense, not all manufacturers responded to our requests for test vehicles last time. For this round we managed to snag some Mopar muscle as well as a few other popular models. Also invited back was the winner of our first comparison test, the all-conquering Firebird Formula.

As in our first installment, we wanted to answer two questions. For those intent on chasing a spot on the Top Ten leader board, could any machine come close to the popular Formula? And assuming that you either don't have the big bank roll required to purchase one, or simply don't want to follow the herd, what lap times could you reasonably expect when racing one of other muscle cars?

All cars were configured to meet class D limits. If the reader is curious about the exact setups used, they are available on our web site. Substantial differences between cars meant we could not simply copy a single D class setup from one to another. We concentrated on achieving a similar 'feel', then worked with spoilers and suspension to see if lap times could be improved. All were tested on 335-width tires except the Formula. If you can afford the pricey 345-width rubber, our experience indicates it can lower your time at Goose Point by one to two seconds.

The Goose Point track is becoming increasingly popular with racers, but we managed to book some time for our comparison test. Arriving very early in the morning, we had to rub our bleary eyes, so strange was the sight that greeted us. A huge 5800-pound pink flamed '59 Eldorado was hurtling around the twisty circuit. When was the last time you saw a D class car with a blower on it? Amazingly, the beast even came in under the track time limit, recording a 6:25.34 for the two-lap run. It was like watching an angry rhino charging through the proverbial china shop, but without knocking over a single cup or saucer.

When the tire smoke dissipated, our Chief Road Tester went out and established a base run of 5:14.65 in his usual '73 Formula. There are many hot shoes in Motor City who can easily better this time, but the intent is to give the reader a basis for comparing the other cars' performance. After the camera crew took some beauty shots of each contender, it was time to hit the track. Could any of them topple the king? Cart & Drivel magazine’s coveted first place honor lay in wait for the victor. Read on to see how they ranked, from worst to best.

Ninth Place: ’64 Impala
Best Run: 5:42.50

Comments: For this comparison, we managed to secure an ex-competition Impala from a wealthy collector. Due to its historical significance, we did not modify the car too much. A racer with less concern for authenticity might improve the D class setup somewhat, but probably not enough to change the standings here. The Impala certainly felt its age. A fine car in its day, it seems a little disconnected from the road compared to more modern machinery.

Eighth Place: ’67 Chevelle
Best Run: 5:32.65

Comments: The Chevelle is not quite as nimble as newer muscle cars. It has no real vices, and is easy to drive, it just isn't very fast. Nevertheless, its predictability has gained it many fans amongst those looking for something different to race. Our tester's convertible top likely cost it a few MPH in top speed but made for pleasant cruising.

Seventh Place: ’70 El Camino
Best Run: 5:32.56

Comments: During our lunch break, one of the crew decided to take our faithful camera car out for a few hot laps. After the removing the photo gear from the pickup bed, the El Camino actually managed to get around the course in semi-respectable time. Certainly its weight (3700 lbs) meant one had to brake earlier for corners, and the tail end could come around in sweeping turns, but all-in-all it behaved better than expected. An intriguing choice if you are looking for a Q-ship.

Sixth Place: ’69 AMX
Best Run: 5:31.65

Comments: We had high hopes for the AMX, but it just didn't seem suited to the twisty Goose Point circuit. The steering was slow, lending the car a ponderous feel, as if each of its 3373 pounds had invited along a friend. The AMX does better out on the open road.

Fifth Place: ’70 Hemi Cuda
Best Run: 5:31.18

Comments: The Cuda felt very solid, very stable, and very heavy. There's a good circuit car here, trapped inside an over-built body. If only it could shed about 250 pounds, the Cuda could be right in the thick of the battle. Rear seat accommodations were quite limited, but passengers could be thought of as just extra ballast anyway, so no points were deducted in our scoring.

Fourth Place: ’69 Charger
Best Run: 5:30.06

Comments: Looking at the spec sheet, we were expecting another overweight, ponderous Mopar. It was somewhat reluctant to turn into corners, but not nearly as heavy-feeling as the AMX, despite actually weighing more. Maybe the Dukes of Hazard were onto something.

Third Place: ’71 340 Duster
Best Run: 5:25.96

Comments: The Duster seems to be an unloved child in Motor City, perhaps because the certain car dealerships are filled with endless rows of them. But this machine turned in a very respectable performance. It was stable and easy to drive, with forgiving understeer, but not too much of it. Compared to the Firebirds, when the back end breaks away it does so more quickly, so you have to be ready to catch it.

Second Place: ’70 Mach 1
Best Run: 5:22.31

Comments: The Mustang felt much more nimble than the muscle cars above. Its turn-in is a bit more abrupt than the Formula, and the tail doesn't stay planted quite as well when exiting a corner, but in general it is easy to go fast in the Mach 1. It is moderately sensitive to spoiler balance. Not as much as the '65 Mustang in our last test, but you'll want to make any adjustments during a test day, not the night before a big race.

First Place: ’73 Formula
Best Run: 5:14.65

Comments: The king still rules at Goose Point. This is the car that can make almost any driver look good, and make good drivers look invincible. As in our last test, we were amazed at how the Formula tolerated a wide variety of setup variations. Squeezing out the last few tenths still requires skill in configuring the car, but it's difficult to make it so bad that it bites you on the first bumpy corner.

After reading these results, the Mopar maniacs may already be lighting their torches. But before storming Dr. Formulastein's castle, remember that our testing concentrated on just one particular circuit. There are other tracks in Motor City where the extra stability of the Hemi Cuda or Charger could be an asset. And don't forget the 340 Duster ran quite good times. It could be just the weapon you need to surprise an unwitting opponent. Race wins don't always go to the hottest car, but often they do fall to the smoothest, most consistent driver.

Postscript: To save you the trouble of looking up our previous comparison test and checking the results, here's a complete list of all muscle cars we have tested and how they fared:

Best Run: 5:46.46
'63 Thunderbird ........
Best Run: 5:42.50
'64 Impala .................
Best Run: 5:32.65
'67 Chevelle ..............
Best Run: 5:32.56
'70 El Camino ...........
Best Run: 5:31.65
'69 AMX ....................
Best Run: 5:31.18
'70 Hemi Cuda ..........
Best Run: 5:30.28
'66 Pontiac GTO .......
Best Run: 5:30.06
'69 Charger ...............
Best Run: 5:26.18
'70 Mustang ...............
Best Run: 5:25.96
'71 340 Duster ..........
Best Run: 5:24.65
'65 Mustang ..............
Best Run: 5:23.28
'70 Boss 429 ............
Best Run: 5:22.31
'70 Mach 1 ................
Best Run: 5:19.96
'67 Camaro RS .........
Best Run: 5:19.34
'73 Firebird ...............
Best Run: 5:14.65
'73 Formula ..............