$15,000 is an interesting price point if you’re looking for a solid muscle car. You can have most of the early-mid 2000’s contenders with reasonable miles on them, or you can have one of the newer 400+hp options with higher miles.
I’m more on the high performance side of things, rather than wanting a muscle car for the style just to cruise in. I do intend to do burnouts, I do intend to explore the car’s high speed capabilities, and I do expect it to handle corners competently. Also, there is no such thing as a muscle car with 4 or 6 cylinders, so 8 cylinders is a given here. Lastly, a manual transmission is a must for me. This is a car to be driven, not an outfit to wear.
I should also state up front that I am pretty much non-partisan when it comes to American Muscle cars or American car brands. I know there are those who live and die by Ford, GM, or Mopar, and for them the $15k choice is a lot simpler.
My top 3 options for a $15,000 muscle car are as follows…
1998-2002 Pontiac Trans Am WS6
Of my 3 top picks, the WS6 Trans Am is most likely to hold it’s current value, or maybe even go up a little if you keep it pristine. The WS6 was the ram air package on the LS1-equipped Trans Am, that gave it a boost to over 320hp.
Also keep in mind, at under 3,500lbs, this Trans Am is also a good bit lighter than the newer muscle cars, which helps with handling and the effect of any power mods.
5th Gen Chevrolet Camaro SS
The Chevy Camaro made its return in 2010, and it helped bring the modern muscle car tot the next level. The Camaro SS is powered by the LS3 6.2L V8, and makes 426hp when paired with the manual gearbox. It’s platform also comes from GM’s Australian division, and they’ve proven able to make muscle cars really handle.
5th gen Camaro SSs in this price range have quite a few miles on them, though, like around 100k or more. That’s not a deal-breaker, but one has to consider the added maintenance of a higher mileage car.
5th Gen Ford Mustang GT 5.0
By 2010 the 4.6L V8 in the Mustang GT was pretty pathetic. I mean many V6s made as much power, and the Mustang GT wasn’t the car it once was. Ford knew they had to up their game, so they launched the 5.0L Coyote V8, adding nearly 100hp to the mix, and bringing the Mustang back to where it needed to be.
Additionally, the 5th gen was the last Mustang to have the traditional live rear axle. For those looking for the classic Mustang driving experience in a modern package, this has to be your choice, hands down.
Like the Camaro, though, 5th gen Mustang 5.0s under $15,000 have around 100,000 miles on them, so you’re taking the same gamble with high mileage maintenance.
Just out of range
If your budget isn’t a strict $15,000, and you can stretch closer to $20-25,000, there are some even more serious options for you. Many Mustang folks out there will be wondering where the 03-04 Supercharged 390hp Cobra is on my list, they’re a little higher than $15,000. That said, you may want to also consider a newer 500hp Shelby GT500, they’re in the mid-20s all day.
For the Mopar enthusiasts out there feeling left out right now (especially with the cover photo, I know), Challenger SRT-8s are also just above $15,000, and plentiful in the $20s. You can get a solid Challenger RT for $15,000, but for me it’s too heavy to consider if you’re serious about high performance. If you want a stylish cruiser with V8 power, and classic looks, the Challenger RT is great, though. It’s just not for me.
My choice: 5th Gen Chevrolet Camaro SS
It was a really close decision between the Camaro and the Mustang for me, but I have my reasons for choosing the Camaro.
First off, I chose to go with the newer cars with higher miles because lots of maintenance work is more related to age than mileage, and that Trans Am would be 15 years old at the newest. Collector wise, the WS6 would have almost surely been the best option, but I’d rather have a driver I can actually enjoy.
Why’d I choose the Camaro? It has an independent rear suspension and the Mustang doesn’t. I’m not really a traditional Mustang guy, and the live rear axle just represents a compromise on cornering performance to me.
Additionally, I know GM’s pushrod LS engines are simple and bulletproof, tried and true for quite some time. The 5.0L Coyote V8 in Mustang, on the other hand, was the first generation of a new engine, and it still has yet to be around as long today in 2017 as the LS had been in 2010 when the Camaro made its return. If you’re going to gamble on a car with 100k miles already on the clock, it’s best to make your bet as sure as possible.
So the Camaro is my $15,000 Muscle Car pick, but the others are great options as well, and I’m sure many of you may have strong feelings for or against my opinion here. Feel free to hit up the comments.