Not all muscle cars were bare-bones, big-engined toys. Plymouth continued the tradition started with the original 300 by adding power to the luxurious Belvedere. Mercury built their own high-optioned version of the Gran Torino. Which one was the better gentleman’s muscle car?
1971 Mercury Cyclone GT
Mercury may not be the first name to come to mind when discussing muscle cars, but their luxury offering borrowed a lot of Ford’s performance parts through the era. The Cyclone carried the performance torch throughout the 60’s. It began as a lackluster Comet-based offering with underpowered engines them moved onto the Ford Torino platform in 1969. The car was targeted at the Plymouth Road Runner in showrooms and in NASCAR races. It even got its own aero version, the Cyclone Spoiler.
Before concentrating fully on luxury vehicles, Mercury made one last stab at the sports market with 1971’s Cyclone GT. Now part of the Montego line, the car had been offered with the Cobra Jet 429 since 1969, but some new options brought peak power up to 375 hp. So equipped, the car could go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and had a quarter mile time of 13.86 seconds. The package accounted for two-thirds of Cyclone sales that year, but that only amounted to about 2,200 cars.
1969 Plymouth Hemi GTX
Like the Cyclone, the GTX mixed performance and luxury, combining the Belvedere with bigger power plants and stronger suspensions. Initially a sales success, it faltered on the release of the Road Runner, which was essentially a stripped-down GTX with a 20 percent lower price.
By 1969, just over 15,000 GTXs left dealers, despite being at the peak of the car’s design. The base engine was the street-friendly 440 that produced 375 horsepower with the “Air Grabber” cold intake. It had the option of a Hemi 426. Although the Hemi had a 40 horsepower advantage, the 440 had more low-end torque, resulting in contradictory results on the track. Hemis equipped with the manual transmission and lowest axle ratio hit 60 mph in under 5 seconds with quarter mile times in the mid 13s, while less track-oriented cars were almost evenly matched with the 440, taking an extra second to meet either performance benchmark. Just 209 cars were built with the Hemi engine.
A correctly equipped Hemi GTX is the clear winner, but unless it has the right axle ratio and transmission, it could be no faster than the Cyclone GT and even the lesser 440-equipped GTX.
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