I love modern American muscle cars. The ones with rumbling, throaty V-8s that offer gobs of torque and horsepower pushed through the rear wheels. Forget winding up the engine—I want the immediate feeling of power when I step on the gas at any rpm.
That means barrel-chested rides like Ford’s Mustang GT and Boss 302, or the Chevrolet Camaro SS or Corvette. Not to mention the Dodge Charger, Challenger, and Viper, which in spite of their corporate Italian accents still retain their red, white, and blue roots.
So imagine my excitement when I found out about a company in Las Vegas that lets you drive several high-powered cars in a single day. It’s called World Class Driving, and it offers a program called the “American Muscle Car Driving Experience” where you get to drive a Challenger, Mustang and Corvette back-to-back. And they're not the base-model, rental-car fleet versions. Oh no. You get to drive some of the very best muscle cars available today.
The Challenger is the top-of-the line SRT8, its 392 HEMI V-8 making a whopping 470 hp. Its Mustang is a Shelby GT500 with a 5.8-liter, supercharged V-8 monster that has 662 hp and can propel the car from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds. And the Corvette is the mighty Z06 with its massive 7.0-liter V-8 generating 505 hp, good for a 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds. A new 580-hp Camaro ZL1 was unavailable at the time but was ordered and is on its way.
The experience started with a visit to its showroom on Dean Martin Way, a few minutes drive from the main Vegas Strip. It’s a dream garage where they keep all of these American cars plus some European exotics (Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Bentley Continental GT, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, Audi R8, to name a few) used with their other driving experience.
After a quick sign-in at the front desk, we gathered for a 20-minute orientation where the staff went over the operation of the cars — mostly so the green drivers wouldn’t get nervous behind the wheel. Since we were driving on roads and not on the track, they emphasized that we should remember the speed limit in case we are asked (50 mph in the Red Rock Canyon State Park, our destination for the 30-mile drive). After that, we headed out to the cars.
I started out in the Corvette Z06 and was told to stay close to our lead car driver, Warren, a friendly part-time MMA fighter and one of the drivers at World Class Driving. We merged into midday traffic and headed for the highway. Instructions from the two-way radio were frequent and Warren and Darren, pulling up the rear in the trail car, did a great job of herding the throttle-happy flock together, directing us to the correct lanes, and letting us know when our next turns were coming. About half way through our journey we switched cars and I got into the driver’s seat of the Shelby GT 500.
Several times during the trip, when traffic and road conditions permitted, we were allowed to put the hammer down and experience the acceleration these cars provide. The highway leading out to Red Rock Canyon is long and straight, so getting to speeds above the posted limits took only a matter of seconds. However, at no time did I feel anxious or concerned about driving these cars. Most of the time it was a beautiful and scenic drive, and not a day to flog the cars on a road course.
I had not driven a Z06 before and, as expected, it was fast and the grip was amazing. Smooth, controllable power was available at any rpm, and braking before a turn was completely unnecessary. This car inspired a lot of confidence. I felt like I was far from testing the Corvette’s limits, but I loved how easy it was to drive. The clutch engagement was smooth, the ride was comfortable, and when pushed gently it cruised along with no fuss--amazing considering what it's capable on the race track. My only gripes were the challenging climb into and out of the seats, a narrow and compressed view looking out of the rearview mirror, and a low, persistent drone heard while driving on the freeway. Plugging my iPod into the auxiliary input and cranking up the volume was not enough to offset the noise. Hopefully these shortcomings will be addressed when the 2014 models are released later this year.
I was lucky enough to have driven the Shelby GT500 before from our press fleet, so the Mustang was familiar territory. Relative to the Corvette, the GT500 was much quieter on the freeway and the sound system sounded fantastic. Of course, the lasting impression with this car is its insane power and torque. Anything less than a gingerly application of the throttle gets the rear 285s chirping. A full mashing on the gas, especially if you dare to turn off the traction control, gets things squirrelly quickly. A firm grip on the wheel and lots of small steering adjustments are required to (barely) keep things under control. But it is this insane power that makes the car so fun to drive. Also, I am sad to report that since I have driven the GT500 everything else feels slow. Poor me.
I would like to say that I got a chance to drive the Challenger too, but one of the participants in our group could not drive a manual transmission; since the Dodge was the only automatic in the fleet, he drove that the whole time. Bummer for me but, for the record, he did say it was great.
So next time you are in Las Vegas should you look these guys up? Absolutely. At $299, the muscle car tour isn't quite an impulse purchase, but it’s also not everyday that you get to drive three phenomenal cars like these, and the people at World Class Driving provided a great experience. My only advice to those of you who might be interested: Make sure you can drive stick.