The Mercury Cougar was built on the same platform as the Ford Mustang but it never reached quite the same level of popularity. The Cougar moved away from performance and towards luxury but it did have an option for a larger engine making it a true muscle car.
The AMC Javelin came out in 1967 as the American Motors Corporation's answer to the Ford Mustang. The Javelin was a small car with a big, super-powerful engine which made it a force to be reckoned with.
The AMC Javelin went on to win multiple Trans-Am racing competitions which was no surprise to its devoted fans. Pony cars were smaller than intermediate models such as the Chevelle, GTO or Road Runner.
Due to the smaller price, vivid performance and unmistakable street presence, pony cars become famous as well as a crucial part of the muscle car culture. Pony cars started as sporty versions of small cars like the Ford Falcon or Plymouth Valiant.
Basically, they were born as a clever marketing trick to attract buyers with nothing but a fancy body style. Interestingly, the Mustang wasn’t the first pony car they ever made, despite the fact they named the whole segment after it.
Since the automotive world was anticipating the Mustang due to reports coming from Ford, Chrysler decided to introduce a car in the same segment. And they gave the 1964 Barracuda a big panoramic rear glass window.
However, it sold in promising numbers, so along with Ford, it led the pony car revolution on the American market. It was a massive undertaking which took more than a dozen people two work weeks (and several weekends) to accomplish all the testing, driving, photo- and videography.
For the sake of efficiency, we executed both comparison tests at the same time, which meant corralling all seven of these modern day pony cars for hundreds of miles and several days on the road. We also pitted the V-8s and the V-6s against each other in separate quarter mile drag races (Click on the videos on each page to see who took home the titles).
NBS Ron King Edward Low Frank Markus Nate Martinez 1 Mustang GT Mustang GT 2 Genesis 3.8 Challenger SRT8 Genesis 3.8 Genesis 3.8 3 Mustang V-6 Genesis 3.8 Challenger SRT8 Camaro SS 4 Challenger SRT8 Mustang V-6 Mustang V-6 Challenger SRT8 5 Camaro RS Camaro SS Musing V-6 6 Challenger SE Camaro RS Camaro RS 7 Camaro SS Challenger SE Challenger SE NBS Scott Mortar Kim Reynolds Arthur St. Antoine Overall: 1 Mustang GT Mustang GT 2 Challenger SRT8 Genesis 3.8 Genesis 3.8 Genesis 3.8 3 Genesis 3.8 Mustang V-6 Mustang V-6 Challenger SRT8 4 Camaro SS Challenger SRT8 Mustang V-6 5 Mustang V6 Challenger SRT8 Camaro SS 6 Camaro RS Camaro RS 7 Challenger SE Challenger SE That the new Mustang 5.0 stands alone atop the leader board is no surprise -- not only was it the runaway winner of the V-8 class, it was the only consensus pick amongst all seven.
No less impressive is how high up the Hyundai Genesis 3.8 finished; it managed to beat the Challenger SRT8 on five of the seven judges scorecards, and soundly trounce everyone else for a solid second place. Rounding out the podium is the loud and lovable Challenger SRT8, which was the judges pick for second place in the V-8 comparison.
Then, if you're still not convinced, check out a few more of the notes from our drivers' log books left on the cutting room floor: “I enjoyed the SS's engine and suspension balance, but it's no match against the GT.
Shoots out of corners like a rocket and gets to illegal speeds aggressively. Styling has grown old quickly -- the car looks cartoonist.
Interior looks cheap, and it has by far one of the worst steering wheels and shift knobs I have ever held; both feel terrible in your hands.” “The new 5.0-liter is a luscious V-8, with lovely sound, great power throughout, and torque down low.
Steering is light but linear and provides plenty of communication -- weights up nicely with speed. From the first time the first Barracudas and Mustangs roared off the assembly lines in 1964, Americans have had a love affair with pony cars.
Tighter government regulations on fuel economy led to lean times during the ’80s. Despite a few bright spots (the Iron Camaro comes to mind), it looked like pony cars might not make it to the new millennium.
Fortunately for those of us who love our ponies, the Big 3 have rediscovered the market for pony cars in recent years. Each of the major American automakers are now producing pony cars that show promise.
The new Fifth-Gen Camaro pack plenty of punch, with the 2012 SS “45th Anniversary” model boasting a supercharged 6.2L V8 that puts out a whopping 580 horses. Even purists will love the retro look, and this Camaro is the fastest to ever roll off the Chevrolet assembly lines.
After committing what some muscle and pony car enthusiasts considered the unpardonable sin by putting rear doors on the new Charger, Dodge got it right in 2008 with the new Challenger. The car looks like the grown up version of the Challengers that tore up the roads in the early ’70s.
The ’80s weren’t great years for pony cars, and the pony flagship, the Ford Mustang, was no exception. The black ’77 model, with the big chicken in gold, was forever etched on our consciousness in the Smokey and the Bandit movies.
Plymouth’s offering in the pony car class was a little shorter and lighter than Dodge and packs a bit more punch with collectors. Because Pontiac changed the body style of the Fire birds for the 1970 model, ’69 ½ is the only first-gen Trans Am available.
1985 Rock Camaro, if for no other reason than it was one of the few pony cars produced during the ’80s and ’90s that could hold its own with the ponies of the ’70s. With the elimination of the Pontiac brand, we’ll probably never see another true Fire bird Trans Am.
Gather together a group of car enthusiasts and ask them to pick their favorites and you’ll be in for a spirited debate. So when we decided to pick what we considered to be the most significant pony cars built from 1967 to 1970, we knew we’d be walking into a buzz saw of controversy.
But before you begin emailing your opinions, consider our criteria and reasoning, and we think you’ll agree that our choices certainly stand on their individual merits. Plymouth had released the Barracuda two weeks before Ford on April 1, 1964, however, it was a Valiant with a fastback, not truly in the Mustang’s pony car genre.
The second reason is, by 1967, all the major players had entered the pony car field except American Motors, who would come to market with the Javelin and AMX in 1968. Further evolution of the collective breed could be found in peripheral influences that helped accelerate pony car sales.
For the first time, large displacement engines were offered in pony cars, allowing them to enter and compete in the super hot muscle car market. The up and coming Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-Am series was just the ticket for Ford and Chevrolet to wrestle for dominance.
By 1970 every pony car manufacturer had smacked fenders in the Trans-Am, which had in three short years passed Formula 1 in popularity in America. Ridiculously under-rated at 290 horsepower, the Z28’s solid lifter, short stroke engine came alive at 3500rpm and easily zipped right up to 7000rpm.
Along with the 302 engine, the Z28 came standard with dual, low restriction exhaust, special heavy-duty suspension, heavy-duty radiator with temperature controlled fan, quick ratio steering, 15×6 wheels on 7.35×15 nylon red stripe tires, 3.73:1 rear gearing and black paint stripes on the hood and deck lid. Regardless, the ’67 Z28 established new standards for American performance sedans and laid the groundwork for a new generation of small block, high-performance engines from Ford and Chrysler.
Ford knew their arch-rival would be coming out of the chute with a large displacement engine option (Chevy didn’t get the 396 V8 out until November), so to remain competitive, Ford widened the front suspension’s girth to allow their 390 cubic inch FE series engine to fit. Using the “dumb four doors” 390 was an absolute disappointment to Blue Oval fans who had hoped to give the Camaro newcomer a solid shellacking on the street.
The 390 produced gobs of torque (427 lbs.-ft. @ 3200rpm) great for towing Air Streams but not for sucking the doors off Chevy's. From there, Ford would build a line of muscular Mustangs from 428 Mach 1s to Boss 429s that would take on the big block Chevy's, 455 Trans Am's and the dreaded Plymouth Semis.
From the time he was Chief Engineer until he was appointed Pontiac’s General Manager in 1965, John Z. Delores wanted to build a two-seat sports car. Pontiac was able to refine the brakes and suspension and with its 215-horsepower overhead cam six engines, the Fire bird was as close to a European sports sedan as Detroit could make.
The prize each pony car manufacturer eyed was the Trans-Am series, and Pontiac was ready to enter the fray against Chevy and Ford. An 18-month crash program to build a 303 cubic inch engine with special round port heads resulted in frustration, and Pontiac ended up never being a contender in the Trans-Am race series.
Pontiac developed an option for the 1969 Fire bird that used the series’ name and agreed to pay the CCA a $5 per car royalty for every Trans Am sold. It may have never raced, but thanks to that $5 spiff, the Pontiac Trans Am made a ton of money for the Sports Car Club of America.
Even if Plymouth hadn’t chosen to go racing in the Trans Am series, the AAR ’Cuba would still have been one of the most memorable muscle/ pony cars of 1970. Inspired by the American Racing team of Dan Gurney, the AAR ’Cuba was a preponderance of strobe stripes, matte black hood, side pipes and a 340 engine that boasted a trio of Holley two barrel carburetors parked on an Defrock intake manifold, right from the factory.
That was unusual since multiple carburetor was usually either lethargic under low acceleration or neck snapping when the wood was put to it with no in between. The Barracuda’s redesign in 1970 made it wider, lower and longer, and finally in a class with the Camaro, Fire bird, and Mustang.
Today, the AAR ’Cuba is more a testament of how Detroit could dress up a performance car with what many young drivers were doing on the street. Blacked out hoods, side exhausts and multiple carburetor were popular at Drive-In parking lots where high schoolers congregated with their cars on Saturday nights.
Not many 18-year-olds actually could buy an AAR ’Cuba, but it was a sure bet they had posters hanging on their bedroom walls. When Ford chose to give a pony car to the Lincoln/Mercury division, it was a foregone conclusion that it would be accorded a posh interior, soft ride, and luxury looks.
It featured disappearing headlamps, a 200-horsepower 289 cubic inch engines and sequential lighting rear tail lamps. Even Lincoln/Mercury couldn’t resist the temptation to jump into the muscle/ pony car market in 1969, even though the Cougar had no performance heritage to speak off.
To ballyhoo their drag racing efforts, Mercury commissioned “Dino” Don Nicholson to campaign a tube-framed Cougar funny car named “Eliminator.” Also, optional was the 335-horsepower, 428 Cobra Jet with Ram Air as well as the “Drag Pack,” which featured an engine oil cooler and 4.30:1 Detroit Locker differential.
It was virtually impossible to sell the youth market on the premise that their father’s Mercury was hotter than a Mustang, Camaro or Fire bird. It was a textbook lesson in how Mercury failed to understand it took more than a flashy name to establish credibility with a young, but very critical market.
And while the Charger hit its stride beginning with the beautifully redesigned 1968 model, Dodge still chomped at the bit for a pony car. The Challenger may have been the last pony car nameplate in the marketplace, and it couldn’t match the Camaro or Mustang in sales volume, but it still managed to outsell its Barracuda sibling by almost 50 percent.
Named for the design of its hemispherical combustion chamber, the Semi was fundamentally a race engine retuned for the street. With dual four-barrel carburetors, solid lifter valve train and 425 horsepower on tap, the Semi was finicky to run on the street.
Inside, the Challenger’s interior was driver oriented, with three large, round pods that, when ordered, contained optional gauges including tachometer. While the 440 cubic inch Six-Pack V8 with its 390 horsepower could beat the Semi like a drum, on the street, there was no other engine with the image or the heritage.
That ace in the hole was called the AMX, and it was the alternative card that AMC played not against the Mustang or the Camaro, but the Corvette. The AMX cost two grand less than the Corvette, and by 1970 had built a solid reputation with a small cadre of performance enthusiasts.
Inside, the cockpit was redone, with a flat, wood-grained instrument panel reminiscent of an English sports car. Large nacelles placed the instruments clearly in front of the driver, and a rim blow steering wheel and high-back bucket seats were standard.
In their December 1969 issue, Motor Trend put a 390 AMX to the test and netted 0-60 acceleration in 6.56 seconds and recorded a quarter-mile in 14.68/92 mph.