But what is past is prologue. These days, even the entry-level iterations offer up actual sporty good times. And the midgrade versions—Camaro SS and Mustang GT—can bloody the lip of Europe’s finest. For not a ton of coin, either. Then you have the even more potent and more track-focused stuff, the battle that has raged for 50 years. You need your biggest guns; you want to go into battle with your heaviest weapons. For team Camaro, that’s the ZL1. For the Ford Performance folks, it’s none other than the Shelby GT350R. These are extreme machines, in both monstrous function and opulent excrescence.
Is this the perfect comparison test? No. The naturally aspirated Shelby makes a healthy 526 horsepower from its lovably cacophonous 5.2-liter flat-plane crank V-8. Whereas the Camaro’s relatively subdued 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 produces a mighty 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque—which is over 200 more lb-ft of twisting force than the naturally aspirated Voodoo motor can manage (429 lb-ft). Comparing forced induction to natural aspiration is always a sticky wicket. Not quite apples to oranges—more like apples to pears. You can make cider from both, but there is a difference. At least both feature six-speed manual transmissions—the ZL1 is also available with a 10-speed automatic. Further complicating this test is that Chevy has announced the 1LE version of the ZL1—the nearly palindromic ZL1 1LE. One could argue that the Shelby GT350 is to the ZL1 as the GT350R is to the ZL1 1LE. But as Donald Rumsfeld so sagely said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want.”