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Home/News and Feature Articles/Special Features/ The Performance Car Chronicles/

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As the horsepower wars heated up -- the Pontiac Trans Am (and sister Camaro) received LS power -- and they weren't shy about it !

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1998 Pontiac Trans Am Ad "To a bug - it's a 320 horsepower blender."

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1992 - 2000 ----- The Heat is On !
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Story by Society Staff
Reprint with permission only.

By 1992, the technology and innovations by the automakers ushered in the new era of performance cars. The main technological elements of this renaissance were .. Electronic Fuel injection systems, computer controlled ignition systems, roller camshafts, and free flowing cylinder heads. These advancements made the Mustang, Camaro and Firebirds more powerful and better performers.  In addition to the cars from Ford and GM – Chrysler was back !  And back with a new beast and old friend!

From the time in 1982 that Ford resumed performance with the Mustang GT, the automobile industry began another round of “can you top this”. The main players were (again) Ford, GM and Chrysler. Let’s look at what was happening in this decade. Let's take a look by year.

1992 – The big news in 1992 was that Chrysler was back !  The Dodge Viper – first shown as a concept car in 1989 -  was in full production. With a V10 power plant (a 360 CID LA small block with 4 cylinders added) and a to-die-for shape, this 2 seater directly challenged the Corvette as America’s most powerful sports car. Corvette responded by introducing a new version of the LT1 small block. This was rated at 300 BHP.

Lest we not forget, in 1990 GM, in association with Lotus Engineering developed an all new engine for the ZR-1 version of the Corvette. This engine, rated at 375 BHP made the ZR-1’s the most powerful Corvette since the late 60’s.

1993 – GM introduces the 4th generation of the Camaro/Firebird platform. These cars, equipped with the 350 cu.in. LT1 small block and 6-speed transmissions were formidable competitors capable of running 14.0 sec quarter mile. Ford continued to develop and refine their venerable 5.0 small block. With SVT versions in both the Mustang SVT Cobra and F150 SVT Lightning truck powered by the Ford 351 Windsor. Additionally, SVT released a race-only Cobra R that immediately took on collector status.

1994 – GM continued to leverage the power of the LT1 small block by installing it in the full size Impala sedan. This huge 4 door was christened the SS and was a very fast highway cruiser and surprisingly quick (15.0 ) in the quarter mile. Camaro refined its earlier platform. This was the year the Mustang was brought into the 90’s with the 4th generation Mustang.

1995 –This was the final year for Ford's 5.0 small block.  The 1995 Mustang Cobra R marked the return of the 351 engine in the Mustang. Chevy’s Camaro and sister Trans Am continued with the 350 cu.in. LT1 small block with upgraded suspension and handling packages. This would be the final year for the Corvette ZR-1 package.

1996 – Ford introduces the 4.6 liter SOHC V8 in the Mustang replacing the pushrod 5.0 small block. This engine (first introduced in the Lincoln Town car of 1991) produced as much horsepower as the 5.0 with more potential for improvements.  Mustang Cobra versions received the DOHC version of this engine for a 305 hp rating. Chevy’s Camaro Z28 retained its 350 cu.in. LT1 power plant – rated at 305 HP with suspension and gearing upgrades. The awesome ZR-1 Corvette was replaced with the Grand Sport option featuring an improved version of the LT1 small block called the LT4.  The Dodge Viper squeezed 20 more horses from its V10 to a total of 420 HP.

1997 – In the eternal competition between Chevy & Ford, Chevrolet introduced a new series of small block engines – the LS family. Chevrolet LS1 and LS6 series engines were the third generation of Chevy small-blocks and were first introduced in the new for 97 C5 Corvette. The LS engines featured an all aluminum block/head with a roller camshaft and direct coil ignition. At 350 cu.in., they made 345 hp. Over at Dodge, the Viper GTS Coupe debuted with a sledgehammer V10 belting out 488 HP.

1998 – Camaro/Firebird receives the LS1 engine, upgrades to 4-wheel disc brakes and a slight front end refresh.  Ford pushed hard to keep up with the Camaro bumping the Mustang’s HP to 225. Still not enough.  Over at Dodge, the newly restyled (in 1997) Dakota pickup (a “mid-sized”) offered an R/T version with Chrysler’s venerable 360 cu.in. V8 rated at 250 HP.  Hot Rod magazine tested on and got 14.85 quarter mile times… that was Mustang GT country.

1999 - For 1999, the Ford SVT Lightning returned after a three-year hiatus. As with its 1993-1995 predecessor, the design of the Lightning used the F-150 as a basis with a number of suspension modifications. Instead of a model-specific engine, the Lightning now used the 5.4L engine from the F-150; fitted with a supercharger, it produced 360 hp (increased to 380 hp in 2001). The Mustang GT ushered in the “New Edge” look with refreshed sheet metal AND a boost to 260 HP. Also, for the first time on a Mustang, IRS was standard on the Cobra variant.

Over at the Bow Tie brigade, the Camaro /Firebird’s LS1 power plants continued to outpace the Mustang. Both cars refined their handling as well.  While not a performance car in the true sense of the word. Plymouth/Chrysler produced the Prowler, a tribute to the open wheeled roadsters of the 30’s. With a V6 for power, it was not in the performance category – but the cool factor was high.

2000 – As we entered the new millennium, things got hotter. Over at Ford, the standard 2000 Cobra was cancelled due to problems with the 1999 Cobras, the Cobra R was SVT's only high-performance Mustang for the 2000 model year. This limited-edition Mustang was powered by the DOHC 5.4L V8 which produced 385 horsepower and 385 ft-lbs of torque. This power was routed through a Tremec T-56 6-speed manual transmission. The Cobra R's handling was also upgraded to match the increased power output. The standard GT  soldiered on with the SOHC 4.6 liter V8. The same story with the Camaro/Firebird camp. No real changes to the powerful 5.7 liter LS1.

So, this decade saw the heat turned up by (primarily) Ford and GM. But as we enter the next millennium, a lot was going to happen – and happen FAST – hint: can you say HEMI ?

Mustang introduced the Cobra version, in 1993, and it would always be more sophisticated and powerful than the GT. Starting in 1996, it would feature DOHC 4 valve heads that would be part of its image for its model duration.

Chrysler came back in a big way - the awesome Dodge V10 Viper. Here is the cover of the 1996 GTS Coupe Brochure.

Ford finally put the 351 in a performance car -- only it was the SVT Lightning F150

The 1995 Camaro Z28 -- talks back !!

Dodge wanted you to know there was fire under the hood of the Viper !

And in this ad Camaro made sure you knew they had horsepower as well !

The Plymouth Prowler while not a powerful car was Chrysler's retro-cool car entry

The 2000 SVT Cobra R could boil the hides -- easy