Battle of the factory drag cars: Turnkey racers prove muscle is still king in Detroit

In the golden years of the muscle car era talk was cheap. The Big 3 were underrating cars to sneak them onto showroom floors without raising too much of a stink in society, then slugging it out on the drag strip. The old adage of “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday” was more like “Buy on Monday, race on Sunday,” when you could pick up a turn-key drag car right from the factory and throw your lot in with the pros in NHRA Super Stock racing.

Bell bottoms and sideburns may be out of style today, but you can still order some serious racing hardware from your local dealership. Chrysler, Ford, and Chevy have been out to prove which can bring the most heat since the retro 2005 Ford Mustang rekindled the muscle car wars – including drag cars that can lift the front wheels with window stickers still on them.

In 2008, Mopar released a Super Stock version of the Dodge Challenger called the Challenger Drag Pak. The non-street legal coupe was designed for NHRA competition and featured a purpose built chassis weighing in at a whopping 1,000lbs lighter than its road-going counterpart. These limited run vehicles received extensive modification from the factory and were made to order – drag racing legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits was first in line.  In 2011 Mopar ditched its three Hemi V8 options for the Drag Pak and switched to the 600hp 8.4L V10 found in final edition Dodge Vipers. Mopar will build you one today starting at a cool $85,512.

Ford responded in 2008 by rolling out their modern homage to the Mustang Cobra Jet, a racing legend from the 1960’s, on its 40th anniversary. The NHRA special was codenamed the FR500CJ, and much like the Challenger it received extensive chassis modifications and racing gear right out of the box. Ford Racing offers an extensive options list for the 2013 Cobra Jet, including four engine options for various racing classes – the most robust being the Coyote 5.0L topped with a 2.9L supercharger and rated at 500hp. Another power plant to watch out for on the 2013 CJ is the 6.0L - curiously underrated at 330hp.

Chevy was late to show up to the game but came out swinging with the unveiling of the COPO Camaro concept at the 2011 SEMA Show. Much like the Cobra Jet, the COPO harks back to an old drag racing legend from the sixties. The COPO, or “Central Office Production Order” Camaro traces back to 1969 when GM started hopping up special models with 427 cubic inch motors for drag racing purposes. GM started delivering the new drag specials last month to select customers as 2013 models with a starting price of $89,000, and they’re expected to be a tough competitor at the strip. Of the many options to choose from, racers can select between a 7.0L 425hp naturally aspirated motor or a 5.3L with two supercharger options – the larger one cranking out 550hp. With only 69 set to be built, they are classics in the making.

Regulations for the various NHRA classing means that these cars will be very close performers, which will make for some hotly contested racing for the fans. Word on the street is the Viper-powered Challengers have been seen to be running quarter miles in the low 9-second range, while the Cobra Jets have been trapping in the mid-8s to low-9s. The COPO Camaro has officially run an 8.88 sec. quarter mile, which puts it smack dab in the middle of the three. With price tags in the near six figure range and absolutely no chance of being street legal, these cars definitely aren’t for everyone. But if you’ve got the cash, and think you’ve got what it takes, you can call up your favorite muscle car manufacturer and get in on the action.  One thing’s for sure – the muscle car wars are back and they’re here to stay.


Challenger Drag Pak NHRA horsepower and weight ratings:

  • 512 /8.4l Naturally Aspirated – 600hp / 3250 lbs.

Mustang Cobra Jet NHRA horsepower and weight ratings:

  • 302/5.0L Naturally Aspirated - 350hp / 3017 lbs.
  • 302/5.0L Supercharged 500hp / 3170 lbs.
  • 363/6.0L Naturally Aspirated 330hp / 3100 lbs.
  • 427/7.0L Naturally Aspirated 425hp / 3150 lbs.

COPO Camaro NHRA horsepower and weight ratings:

  • 327/5.3L Supercharged (4.0L) – 550hp / 3175 lbs
  • 327/5.3L Supercharged (2.9L ) – 500hp / 3250 lbs
  • 427/7.0L Naturally aspirated – 425hp / 3195 lbs