It's also put to use in the Camaro V6, the middle-of-the pack, Goldilocks choice that makes 335 horsepower. This machine highlights one of the most critical things in engine evolution: direct fuel injection. Carburetors that mixed fuel with air disappeared from assembly lines long ago. But it was only in the 21st century that engineers perfected the practice of shooting a mist of gasoline directly into the cylinder. Less fuel is wasted and the engine is more powerful because it stays cooler. (The gas actually evaporates before it explodes, cooling the cylinder in the same way that sweat cools the skin of an athlete.)
"Today, we can model it, we can visualize it, and we can make sure the fuel ends up in the air, not on the cylinder wall," said Prabjot Nanua, director of GM's advanced engine and racing engineering.
Meanwhile, engineers figured out how to slightly speed up or delay when an engine's valves open, alternatively offering more power or lower emissions, depending on how much the driver is stomping the pedal.
"Even if you have that old, muscle-car philosophy, your fuel efficiency is pretty much a given these days," Nanua said.
The real miracles come in the smallest Camaro engine, a little four-cylinder package that makes 275 horsepower. Most small engines today have a turbo unit, one that bears little resemblance to the versions in 1980s Saabs. The Camaro turbo draws air via two channels, eliminating much of the notorious lag between when a driver requests a boost and when one arrives.
Finally, cars on a relative basis have become far lighter. Even as it was stuffed with computers, airbags, sensors, and bulky infotainment unit, the baseline Camaro went from roughly 4,000 pounds in 1976 to about 3,400 pounds in 2017. Almost every part of the car had a heavy material swapped for something lighter. Engine blocks and body panels evolved from iron and steel to lightweight aluminum alloys while intake manifolds and oil pans were poured out of advanced plastics. Meanwhile, more expensive cars -- like the Camaro's sibling, the Corvette -- are veined with carbon fiber.
And make no mistake, the same swapping has gone on across the industry's socioeconomic spectrum, from Rolls Royce to the Kia Rio.
In short: We are all faster now than we were 40 years ago, but only because some of us got a lot more clever.