For many shoppers, the choice in a performance car is a simple function of the most possible performance and power for the least possible price.

These relatively-affordable, extreme-performance models leave pricier machinery in the dust when it comes to power output and all-out velocity.

When it comes to delivering conquering speed on the (relative) cheap, two specific American models come to mind. These relatively-affordable, extreme-performance models leave pricier machinery in the dust when it comes to power output and all-out velocity.

When it comes to cheap speed well below six-digit pricing, these choices from Ford and Chevrolet have the market cornered. You’ll find lightly used copies of both in the used market today. Here’s a closer look at each, and a few tips on how to shop smart for the one that interests you.

Model: Ford Shelby GT500

New Starting Price: $61,699

Overview: The highest-performing factory Mustang model to date wears the late Carroll Shelby’s name proudly, while offering shoppers an unparalleled level of power and torque for the money. Take $62,000 to your favourite BMW, Porsche or Audi dealership, and you’ll get a middle-of-the-line model with about 300 hp. Take it to Ford, and you got a simply sinister 5.8L V8 engine with a supercharger the size of a toaster oven. Result? 662 horsepower and 0-100 km/h in under four seconds, and the (at the time) most powerful V8 engine on the road under your hood. That’s good for a top speed past 200 miles per hour!

All GT500 models came with a six-speed manual transmission, track-ready chassis and brake upgrades and exhaustive attention to aerodynamic performance for maximum high-speed stability.

The latest in infotainment and connectivity technologies are fitted, as are a slew of Track Apps designed to optimize the Shelby GT500 for action in a motorsports setting. Drivers can recalibrate the steering and suspension feel in real time, as well as activating a Launch Control function for drag-race starts right from the steering wheel.

As of writing, this model was recently discontinued to clear the way for the new-generation Mustang – though a reliable source tells me you might be able to find a dealer eager to move a brand new, unsold copy. Numerous models are available in the used market, too.

Pros: Bragging rights, style and all-out aggression are tops with this latest Shelby ‘Stang. Among the most powerful production cars in the world, performance is truly world-class. The GT500 is also surprisingly good on fuel during highway cruising, as well as laid-back and relaxing enough to drive every day. Stopping power and handling match the power output, which leaves anything near this price in the dust.

Cons: With 662 horsepower on tap, a large amount of the GT500’s performance is wasted on public roads with speed limits. Additionally, heavy-footed drivers will experience lofty fuel bills and a high likelihood of license revocation.

Noteworthy: GT500 can achieve over 100 km/h in first gear after four seconds or less. From there, five gears remain. As such, owners opting to participate in motorsports will experience the best return on their investment in the GT500’s performance services. Xenon headlights and sequential LED taillamps add exclusivity, and the GT500 has no front grille, since engineers say that’s better for cooling. The exhaust note sends nearby children, frightened, to hide under a blanket in their closets.

Used Buying Tips: Assume the seller is trying to pass off tires and brakes that need replacement, until you prove otherwise. Feel the clutch and shifter for signs of slippage, grinding or biting back, which could indicate somewhat common clutch problems, or gearbox trouble. Scrutinize the paint finish too. Beyond that, most owners report solid reliability and minimal issues. Track down a model at a Ford dealership as part of a Certified Pre Owned program for maximum confidence. A full mechanical inspection by a Ford technician should be considered mandatory.

Model: Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

New Starting Price: $61,360

Overview: Named after an experimental engine from years gone by, the new ZL1 designation is worn by Chevrolet’s highest-performing Camaro yet. The bulged hood, carbon fiber accents and super-sticky tires are no empty threat on the visual front – as the front half of this rip-snorting muscle car is stuffed with a 6.2L LSA V8 engine. To that, engineers bolted a supercharger, and managed to turn in 580 horsepower. Brembo brakes, integral transmission and differential cooling and magnetically-adjustable suspension are all on board, too.

Drivers can have the ZL1 in either coupe or convertible configurations, and with automatic or manual transmissions. The ZL1 rolls on 20-inch wheels and features sport-alloy pedals, special seats and quad-pipe exhausts for added exclusivity. Xenon lighting and a multi-mode traction control system add confidence to any driving situation. This range-topping Camaro is completed with extensive aerodynamic and cooling optimizations for stability and durability.

You’ll find the ZL-1 available new, or slightly used, if you’re shopping.

Pros: Easy to drive, comfortable and boasting a set of front seats friendly for even larger drivers, the Camaro ZL1 is a wickedly fast, track-ready muscle coupe that can be comfortably driven every day. Looks gather crowds, and the exhaust note drops jaws. Decent fuel mileage during gentle driving, too.

Cons: A low-budget interior and very limited rearward visibility don’t do the ZL1 any favours.

Noteworthy: The Magnetic Ride Control shock absorbers work with the carefully-calibrated suspension to deliver a no-compromise balance between performance and comfort. Many times per second, the shock absorbers can electronically read the road, and self-adjusting their damping in accordance with the road conditions. Drivers can select Tour or Sport modes for the suspension, fine-tuning system operation for the job at hand. This remarkable technology makes the ZL1 remarkably comfortable on city roads, and remarkably agile on a track setting.

If Buying Used: Start the used ZL1 when it’s cold, ensuring the seller hasn’t pre-warmed it ahead of your arrival. Pop the hood and listen for a whining or rattling sound from the supercharger (which sits on top of the engine). Any unwelcome sounds could be the result of a supercharger issue, which can result in engine damage. Apparently, Chevrolet dealers are replacing superchargers on affected models. Check the air conditioner for proper operation, and scrutinize the alignment of body panels and the condition of the paint.