So you think turbocharged engines are synonymous with imports? Think again. Here are a dozen American-made forced-air specials that waved the stars and stripes with pride.
Ford Mustang SVO
Any time someone mentions the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost, gearhead pundits wax poetic about this car, the Mustang SVO.
The first turbo Mustang showed up in 1979 with a 135-horse 2.3-liter I4 as an alternative to a downsized 4.2-liter V8. But it wasn't until Special Vehicle Operations got its hands on the turbo Mustang that it became something special.
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It had a factory Hurst shifter, Koni adjustable shocks and disc brakes at all four corners, a limited-slip differential, and up to 205 hp. Drivers also had the unique option of flicking a dash-mounted switch to toggle between fuel grades if they were stuck in a town with low-quality gas.
Chevrolet Corvair Spyder
The Corvair's air-cooled, rear-mounted turbocharged flat-six engine added a little extra zip with around 150 hp when it was added as an optional powerplant. Later hardtop models had up to 180 horses.
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Unlike other setups, the Corvair had no wastegate, the internal exhaust flap that opens at higher engine speed to prevent over-spinning the turbine. Instead, engineers simply built enough backpressure into the system to prevent overboost.
If there's a poster child for turbine-fed American cars, this is it: the all-black, tire-smokin', Testarossa-beating, quarter-mile-blitzing Buick GNX.
Buick first started turbocharging its 3.8-liter V6 in 1978 for the Regal and LeSabre, introducing the Grand National line in 1982 and culminating with the no-holds-barred GNX in 1987.
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Underrated at 276 hp, actual testing of the GNX revealed blistering performance. It even put the boots to the tuner twin-turbo Callaway Corvette, clipping through the quarter-mile in the low 13-second range.
Just 547 Grand Nationals were transformed into the mighty GNX. ASC/McLaren performed all the conversions for Buick.
1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Turbo Trans Am
The all-white machine picked as the pace car for the 73rd Indy 500 wasn't the first turbocharged Trans-Am, but its predecessor, the awful 1980s turbo, was all mustache and no Burt.
This 1989 powerhouse was something different—a Stormtrooper to the GNX's Darth Vader. Pontiac subcontracted an engineering firm to swap Buick Grand National engines into its KITT-style Firebird, but the story doesn't stop there.
Anniversary-edition Turbo Trans Ams got better-flowing heads than the GNs, stainless-steel headers, GNX-sized intercoolers, a cross-drilled crankshaft, and their own engine tuning.
The net result was a car that officially produced 250 hp but actually made closer to 300, a return to the horsepower-underrating days of the muscle car.
Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
To paraphrase the Beach Boys, it was fun, fun, fun, until Daddy introduced restrictive emissions legislation that took the T-Bird away. By 1982, the Thunderbird was a horrible, underpowered shoebox.
Happily, 1983 saw the bird's resurgence, its hood vented with twin nostrils that signified the presence of a forced-induction 2.3-liter inline-four. Aside from the amazingly-'80s FILA edition, the Turbo Coupe was probably at its best in 1987 and 1988, when manual versions of the Fox-bodied two-door came equipped with a full 190 hp, four-wheel disc brakes, and a limited-slip rear differential.
Those nostrils are functional, by the way, feeding air directly to the top-mount intercooler.
You can't get more square than the pedestrian little Dodge Omni hatchback, a blocky front-driver with all the sporting pretensions of a tasseled loafer.
Then you hand the thing over to Carroll Shelby. Early GLH (unofficially, "Goes Like Hell") cars weren't turbocharged, but by the mid-80s, they had enough punch to beat the VW GTI in almost any hot-hatch measure.
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For 1986, 500 cars were further tweaked by Shelby to become the GLHS (Goes Like Hell S'more): a 175-hp rocket-propelled breadbox with more boost, better suspension, and factory options like a roll cage and oil-cooler.
Possibly the best detail: the uprated top speed of the GLHS was too much for the regular 85-mph Omni speedometer, so Shelby simply added a sticker to the bottom of the gauge with increments up to 135 mph.
Based on the homely Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance, Shelby's CSX coupes initially packed 175 hp and, like the earlier GLHS models, went like stink.
A small run of 1001 cars was built for the Thrifty rental-car company with slightly less power. In its final year, 1989, the CSX included some unique technology: variable turbine geometry. Computer-controlled vanes moved to direct the exhaust gas stream to improve spool-up time, and while the CSX-VNT remained rated at 175 hp, it had much better low-end response.
The next time this tech would show up in a US-market performance car was more than a decade and a half later in the Porsche 997 Turbo.
In 1990, Banks Engineering cracked the 200-mph mark on the Bonneville salt flats in a compact GMC pickup with no turbos. In 1991, the streetable version of that high-powered pickup showed up in dealerships. Its 4.3-liter Vortec V6 engine was turbocharged with Banks's help and came with standard all-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes.
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You couldn't haul much with the Syclone, as it was rated at just a 500-lb carrying capacity. Too bad, as you'd quickly fill the bed with the egos of pretty much every other driver on the road.
This all-black, one-year-only mini-truck was the fastest-accelerating production car in America, easily getting off the line and up to 60 mph in the mid-4-second range.
A spin-off of the one-year Syclone, the Jimmy-bodied GMC Typhoon also had 280 hp (that's the official number, and somewhat underrated), and could easily eat a Ferrari 348 off the line.
Just under 5000 were sold between '92 and '93, and unlike the all-black Syclone, you could get the Typhoon in a variety of colors. In fact, Clint Eastwood used to drive around in a Forest Green Typhoon in his Dirty Harry days, presumably lining up at stoplights and asking punks if they felt lucky.
Dodge Neon SRT-4
In 2003, Dodge's in-house tuning group got hold of the friendly-faced Neon compact car and built the king of bang-for-buck performance.
A frog-eyed four-door with a functional front-mounted intercooler peeking out from the grille, the front-drive Neon SRT-4 beat up on everything from Porsche Boxsters to Nissan 350Zs. Chrysler claimed 230 hp, but that was underrated, as dyno-testing showed some SRT-4s to be making at least that much if not more at the wheels.
Moreover, the hoonish little Neon uses a neat trick to assist turbo flow: Dodge never installed an actual muffler. Resonators help keep the volume semi-sane, but the SRT-4 really bellows when pushed. Fun stuff.
Chevrolet Cobalt SS Turbocharged
Initially available as a supercharged coupe, the Cobalt SS did well in performance testing but never really captured the imagination. Later, you could get the car with a 2.0-liter turbo rated at 260 hp, and a sedan version was introduced in 2009.
Take the badges off and swap the showy rims for something a little more discreet, and you'd have the makings of one hell of a sleeper. With its no-lift-shift system—just keep your foot flat to the floor so that you don't lose boost—the SS sedan cracked the 13-second range in the quarter-mile and performed well on road courses.
This article originally appeared on Road & Track.