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5 American Performance Cars Too Badass to Pass Up

Going wheel-to-wheel with Europe’s finest at half the price.


Editor’s Note: We love scouring the internet for reasons to spend money we don’t have on cars we daydream about owning, and these are our picks this week. All prices listed are bid amounts at the time of publishing.

When it comes to performance cars, America’s calling card is unashamed affordability. That doesn’t mean a Mustang can’t keep up with an M3 on track because Ford was working on a tighter budget than BMW; it means the ‘Stang can go wheel to wheel with the Bimmer yet carry a price tag half the size. Sure, overall refinement suffers a little and comes in below the European standard, but leather quality and interior lighting don’t help when it gets down to the business of cornering and clipping apexes. American performance gets the job done just as well for a whole lot less — here are five examples too badass to pass up.

1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302

Mileage: 45,000 (restored)
Location: Wallingford, Connecticut

What we like: The Boss 302 was the first Mustang to be a track-honed customer car, and it shows. It’s stripped down, sounds legendary and this particular example was painstakingly restored to an incredible fit and finish. This Boss 302 was affordable when it first rolled off the factory floor, but judging by the immaculate condition it’s in right now, it won’t be affordable for too much longer.
From the seller: “This 1970 Ford Mustang Boss was built in September 1969 and features a 302ci V8, four-speed wide-ratio manual gearbox, and a 3.50 rear end. Finished in Bright Gold Metallic, the car was also equipped from the factory with black bucket seats, a front spoiler, quick ratio steering, competition suspension and more.”
What to look out for: It’s tough to say with this particular Boss 302 since it was restored so meticulously. The frame-off restoration has essentially made this car brand new.
Expert opinion: “Ford’s Boss 302 Mustang is a real-life supercar in every sense. None of the “if you do this” or “after you add that” nonsense. It starts out good and outclasses most of the world’s big-engined muscle cars. The Boss 302 looks good, performs well, and handles even better.” — Steve Kelley, Hot Rod Magazine, 1970

Bid Now: $37,500

2001 Pontiac Trans Am WS6

Mileage: 18,350
Location: Naperville, Illinois

What we like: Full disclosure: This pick is entirely biased. My first car was almost a Firebird and I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since, especially the Trans Am WS6. It’s armed with a Corvette engine and oddly enough outpaces the similarly powered and weighted Camaro Z28 of the same vintage — not to mention looks a hell of a lot better (R.I.P Pontiac).
From the seller: “This is a collector-grade Trans AM Ram Air w/ WS6 Package. These cars don’t come by often in this condition. We purchased this car from the second owner, [who] was an avid car collector and always took care of the car”
What to look out for: As with most American performance machines, the drivetrains are rock solid unless you really start to wringing it out on a regular basis, but that’s true for most cars. The most common problem that pops up is the power windows failing due to the motors giving out.
Expert opinion: “Around town, the Trans Am has a few quirks besides its rough ride. The Computer-Aided Gear Selection ‘skip shift’ mechanism (required to help the Camaro and Firebird meet EPA fuel-mileage standards) is a major pain. It forces you to shift directly from first to fourth if the engine isn’t revved high enough in first gear. A second every-time-you-drive-it annoyance is the large rear blind spot that makes lane changes a crap shoot. However, the T-A is loads of fun to drive on twisty roads. It has just the right amount of throttle-induced oversteer, assuming you’ve deactivated the optional traction control system. And, oh, that perfect ’60s exhaust note that’s equal parts Woodward Avenue and Daytona 500.” — Chuck Schifsky, Motor Trend, 2003

Bid Now: $24,500

Continuation 1965 Shelby Cobra CSX6000

Mileage: 2,982
Location: Shreveport, Louisiana

What we like: Some may knock continuation cars, but in reality, they’re almost better than the originals. They may not have the racing pedigree, but a Shelby American certified continuation Cobra like this one is practically identical to the examples going for six and seven figures. If you’re not a collector, continuation cars are the way to go.
From the seller: “This 1965 Shelby Cobra is a CSX6000 continuation model that was ordered by the seller from Shelby American, Inc in Las Vegas, Nevada. CSX6108 features a fiberglass body over a tube chassis and has been finished in Ferrari Rosso Corsa with navy blue stripes. Power comes from a period 484ci big-block Ford V8 that produces an estimated 518 hp and 569 lb-ft of torque, with power sent to the rear wheels through a Ford NASCAR four-speed Toploader transmission. Now showing just 2,982 miles on the odometer, the car is offered with a documented build log, service records, and a Shelby statement of origin.”
What to look out for: This is a fairly special car and is tough to say what problems it could have since it is a continuation that’s reliably built and certified by Shelby American. It’s not an original Shelby, but it is built to modern standards and only has 3,000 miles on the clock.
Expert opinion: “The 427 Cobra does accelerate and decelerate at unbelievable rates, as the above figures should imply. What’s more, it is a more civilized machine than the original 289 Cobra that brought the fabulous Shelby organization into being four years ago. It handles properly, thanks to a completely new all-independent suspension system that is traceable to the deft hand of Klaus Arning, the Ford Motor Company genius re­sponsible for the impeccable handling of the Ford GT.” Car and Driver, 1970

Bid Now: $55,000

Factory Five Racing Shelby Cobra

Mileage: 18,000
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington

What we like: Conversely, home built kit cars are the furthest thing from the originals. But they do embody the ‘affordable performance’ mantra better than most. Like the certified Cobra above, this home-built Factory Five Racing Kit car has a 427 V8 and loads of the same performance, but with the DIY assembly, you run the risk of the builder instilling shoddy DIY quality, if they’re not experienced mechanics.
From the seller: “This Factory Five Cobra replica was built by the seller in 1996 and is powered by an injected 347ci V8 mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. Donor parts sourced from a 1987 Mustang were reportedly rebuilt or replaced as needed during the build, which took approximately seven months to complete. Just over 18K miles have been driven since by the seller, a life-long enthusiast and weekend racer who describes the car as ready to drive or show.”
What to look out for: This isn’t certified Shelby but a full-replica. And even though Factory Five racing is a trusted car building outfit, like some replica kit cars this was assembled by the owner. The listing says the owner is a “life-long enthusiast and weekend racer,” but there’s still a gamble that the car is not up to factory standards with a risk of mechanical issues.
Expert opinion: “Assembly times are dictated by the experience of the builder, but FFR estimates 250 hours to build its replicar. If that’s a job you want to avoid, FFR can recommend a builder in your area, but it will add about $5000 to your cost. Although we didn’t have the pleasure of building the car ourselves, after driving it, we were impressed. The car felt solid, not flexy, as we expected. There was enough legroom for a six-foot test driver. The pedals were a bit tight but not unmanageable. Shifting is via a forward-facing lever, as in an original Cobra, and it moved through the H-pattern with satisfying crispness.” — Larry Webster, Car and Driver, 2000

Bid Now: $16,200

1998 Dodge Viper GTS

Mileage: 13,600
Location: Hopkins, Minnesota

What we like: It’s hard not to like a Dodge Viper of any generation. Its V10 howl and side-exit exhausts helped it become an over-the-top American icon, but it had serious performance to back it up to garner global acclaim (sadly, yet another R.I.P).
From the seller: “This 1998 Dodge Viper is a mildly modified example that shows just 13,600 miles. It was acquired by the selling dealer in the fall 2017 and has had only two previous owners. Power comes from an 8.0-liter V-10 paired to a six-speed manual gearbox, and modifications include a Stage 1 cam, ported and polished heads, a set of exhaust Y-cutouts, a K&N intake, and SCT handheld tuner. Output has reportedly been raised to 488 hp and 522 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels.”
What to look out for: Viper engines tend to run hot but that’s down to factory water pumps that didn’t really cut it. If that’s not taken care of, obviously that can lead to larger problems. As far as regular maintenance goes, it’s not terribly expensive, but bodywork and larger components are the usual culprits in when it comes to inflated service bills.
Expert opinion: “This, the ‘civilized’ version of the famous Viper RT/10 roadster, has modern conveniences such as actual door handles, roll-up windows, and an everyday driving demeanor just within the bounds of conventionality. But dip deeply into the brimming reservoir of torque under the GTS’s giant hood, and ‘civility’ will be the last thing on your mind. The Dodge people claim a 490-pound-foot wallop out of the 8.0-liter V-10; believe them. In a car that weighs just 68 pounds more than the diminutive Porsche 911 Turbo, this torque translates into immediate, brutal-almost terrifying-throttle response. Mercifully, the GTS has a better composed, far more predictable chassis than that of the original RT/10. But it’s still pure, unvarnished, wet-your-pants performance.” — Motor Trend, 1997

Bid Now: $22,907

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