Trying to figure out who's got the best muscle car is kind of like trying to herd cats or declaring which color is the best looking. Whatever scheme you use, there are bound to be losers and disagreements; nevertheless, we do these kinds of things because we have a competitive nature. In the hot rodding universe, there are well-established ways of measuring cars, all of them fun. On the performance side, we have racing of all descriptions, including drag racing, autocrossing, vintage road racing, and even our own AMSOIL Engine Masters Challenge. On the aesthetic side, we have car shows like Goodguys Street Machine of the Year and the Detroit Autorama. These two halves of the same coin seem so opposite of each other that you'd think they are mutually exclusive, but we beg to differ. What if we could establish some middle ground on which both looks and performance are on equal footing, and then throw in some basic requirements to ensure that these top cars remain relevant to our active street-biased lifestyle?
That's what we've created with Popular Hot Rodding's annual Muscle Car of the Year (MCOTY) competition. Or at least we hope so. If we select the right performance criteria, invite the right cars, and set the minimum requirements for street equipment in the right ballpark, we have a really good chance of capturing the essence of what it means to build and drive the ultimate Pro Touring street machine. MCOTY isn't about finding the quickest car, the hardest cornering machine, or the trickiest piece of fabrication—while that's certainly important stuff, it's really about finding the car or cars that push all of your hot buttons.
Like we said, this endeavor is fun—but that doesn't mean it's easy. At last year's inaugural MCOTY, we set up the tests—drag race, speed-stop, and autocross—with what we thought was equal scoring weight. The top three laps in each of the three tests were averaged, then added together to get an aggregate lap time for each car. The shortest (numerically lowest) score was the winner. Unfortunately, due to the fact that a quarter-mile run is so short in duration, the scoring system automatically gives a greater weight to the autocross laps, which are more than three times as long on the stopwatch as a drag pass. Last year's competition therefore resulted in a winner that was heavily weighted toward cornering ability and not raw power. That was pointed out emphatically by some readers, so this year we've given the drag portion of our regime more weight by counting the average of the best three drag passes three times in the aggregate final score. It works out like this: shaving a second off your average quarter-mile e.t. is now equivalent to shaving 3 seconds off your autocross average. We don't know if that's the perfect solution, but it's in the right ballpark. Those who shed tears over last year's scoring will be happy to know that this year's overall winner, Jeff Schwartz, had the quickest car in the drag portion of our testing.
When this issue hits the street, we'll no doubt get email saying we couldn't possibly have tested the best cars out there. We made our level-best effort to find as many of the right kind of cars as we could, and that included a major casting call in our biggest-selling, most widely read issue of the year (May 2013). We also followed this up with regular blogs on the PHR website and numerous posts on Facebook. Moreover, we approached many cars at the Goodguys events we attended, asking those with the better performing machines to consider coming. In the end, we cast a wide net, and captured some really great cars, some built by pros, some built at home by hobbyists, some driven by veteran hot shoes, and others by enthusiastic beginners. There may be other cars out there worthy of the honor, but they did not step forward to be counted. Like the saying goes, put up or shut up. Our 14 MCOTY invi1tees put it all on the line for all to see, some in the face of long odds, and we would like to thank them for taking the time to be at our test venue. If your favorite kind of car isn't here (cough, Ford), we suggest that instead of complaining, you think about applying next year, or putting the word out to car owners who fit the bill.
The thing that had perhaps the most profound effect on the performance of the cars at MCOTY was our criteria that all cars needed to be street legal, and look the part. We checked insurance, registration, headlights, interior, and tires—which needed to have a treadwear rating of 180 or higher. An "almost race car" might be quicker, but what would be the point if you couldn't drive it on the street—or worse, you didn't want to drive it on the street because it's too inconvenient, uncomfortable, or ill-mannered? We also wanted cars that could score high points for sex appeal, so our screening process for all invitees had a "beauty" component. That part was a little tricky as it's really subjective, but surprisingly there was little disagreement among the staff during the selection process, so we're feeling pretty good about our choices.
Win or lose, all of our competitors and their teams had a great time the day of our competition. After arriving at National Trail Raceway at 7 a.m. and getting teched in, cars eagerly hit the staging lanes for the quarter-mile drag test. Jeff Schwartz's twin-turbo 1981 Trans Am quickly emerged as the fastest, slithering and swooshing its way to trap speeds in excess of 130 mph—all on street-legal 19-inch radial tires. Once everybody got a maximum of 10 runs in (with a minimum of three required), the course was modified to an eighth-mile for the second set of tests: the Speed-Stop challenge. Like a drag race, it's a race to the finish line—only you've got to stop right at the finish line without sliding out the back of the coned-off stop box! Here, Travis Hartwell's 1977 Trans Am beat all comers, averaging 8.985 seconds—an e.t. most readers would love to hit without having to stop at the eighth-mile!
After a relaxing hour-long catered lunch in one of National Trail's air-conditioned suites, drivers queued up for the autocross, a high-speed jewel that was set up in the pit area by the corner-carving speed demons from the American Street Car Series. These are the same guys who bring you fun Pro Touring events like Run Thru The Hills and Run To The Coast. Our 14 competitors made so many laps on the autocross, it was like kids taking over the candy aisle at Wal-Mart. When the two hours allotted for the autocross was up, all 14 cars were still running strong, but most of the drivers were used up—it was almost too much fun for one day! In the autocross portion, Danny Popp put his 1972 Corvette in the winner's circle to pick up the Autocross trophy, but it was not enough to garner the overall victory, which went to Jeff Schwartz and his turbo LS-powered 1981 Trans Am.
If you've got a car that deserves recognition in PHR's Muscle Car of the Year, we would love to hear about it. We will be announcing the 2014 MCOTY details next spring, so keep an eye out for it. Comments or suggestions about this year's MCOTY should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (all email will be assumed suitable for publication). Also, check out PopularHotRoddding.comfor the video coverage of this year's MCOTY—it's a blast! In the meantime, here are the competitors for the 2013 Muscle Car of the Year in the order of their overall finishing positions from First to Fourteenth.