2012 could turn out to be the High Water Mark of the modern muscle car era. We're now seeing power/performance levels that make even the hairiest brawlers of the late '60s seem a little tame. How much higher can it go?

Here's a sneak peak at what's coming soon:

* 2012 Chevy Camaro Z28 (estimated base price: $50,000) -

The Camaro made a comeback in 2010 but the ultimate Camaro - the Z28 - has been hibernating.

The same thing happened once before in Camaro's past. Back in 1975 - and through the '76 model year - Chevy sold Camaros, but not Z28 Camaros. The times just weren't right. In the mid '70s, it was because of high gas prices, inflation and a perceived wilting of interest in high-powered cars. In 2010, when Camaro made its comeback after an eight-year absence, it was because GM had recently flirted with collapse and also just been taken over by the government. It didn't seem good manners to bring forth a 500 hp, $50k - and likely 15 MPG - muscle car in thatvcontext.

But GM's back - and so is the Z28. Specifications were still preliminary at the time of this writing but there's no doubt the reborn Z will pack an even mightier punch than the current SS Camaro, which is powered by a 6.2 liter, 426 hp V-8 that can get the car to 60 mph in just under 5 seconds. Hints of what's to come can be found by perusing the specs of the current Corvette - from which Camaro sources its mighty V-8s. The standard Corvette engine is the same engine already doing duty in the Camaro SS. It's the optional 7 liter engine in the Z06 'Vette comes in at 505 hp that seems a likely transplant into the latest - and greatest - Z28.

Holy horsepower! That would be 215 more horsepower than the original 1967 Z28's 5.0 liter V-8 delivered. And with an expected 0-60 time around 4 seconds flat, the 2012 Z28 would be around 2-3 seconds quicker than the original Z, too.

So much for the good old days. They're here, now.

* 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 (base price $47,000) -

Too Much is Just About Right.

That's what Dodge muscle cars have always been all about. And muscle car fanatics love 'em for it.

Back in 1970s, the Challenger had the biggest of the big blocks - including the famous 440 Magnum V-8. And the most horsepower, too - in the form of the legendary 426 Street Hemi. This bruiser carried an official 425 hp rating but reportedly put out closer to 500 hp. (The numbers were fudged for the sake of buyer's insurance premiums.)

Fast-forward 40 years. The new Challenger is even more audacious than the original. And more muscular, too. The top-of-the-line SRT-8 will be packing a hogged-out 6.4 liter version of the current 5.7 liter Hemi V-8, producing a full-disclosure 475 hp - enough for pavement folding 4.5 second 0-60 times (and very short tire lives).

Order yours in Detonator Yellow - or, for that historic touch, Plum Crazy purple.

It's just like 1970 again - only scarier... for the competition.

* 2012 Cadillac CTS-V coupe (base price $62,165) -

Can a Cadillac be a muscle car? When it's packing a 556 hp supercharged V-8 and six-speed manual transmission it can.

Most definitely.

The CTS-V is even more powerful than the fearsome Dodge Challenger SRT8, outmuscles the steroidal Camaro Z28 and can even throw down with the Ferrari-killing Corvette Z06. If its 4.2 second 0-60 capability doesn't impress you, then it's hulking presence ought to do the trick. This coupe weighs in at 4,200 pounds - about the same as a mid-sized, four-door 4WD SUV - and a hefty 1,000 pounds more than a Porsche 911. Yet it can beat the 911's acceleration - and match its handling, too. With its driver-adjustable suspension set to Sport, the CTS-V is capable of pulling .9g on a skidpad.

This is truly the Caddy that zigs.

It also stops. In addition to its high-powered engine, the CTS-V comes equipped with high-performance Brembo brakes and oversized rotors to safely pull the beast back from the orbital velocities it's capable of achieving. But it's also still a Cadillac, so you get high-endfeatures such as a 40 gigabyte music storage hard drive/10 speaker Bose surround-sound stereo, LED accent lighting, real wood trim and Recaro sport buckets trimmed with ultra-plush microfiber suede inserts.

But this Caddy is fundamentally a muscle car. It's big, it's heavy, it's rear-wheel-drive and it has a monster V-8 under that hood.

Turn off the traction control, bring up the revs, sidestep the clutch and rip the asphalt a new one - twin 50 yards of rubber seared onto the surface the brutal evidence of your passing.

* 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 (base price $40,145) -

In 1982, Ford resurrected its muscle car franchise - crippled by the downsized (and Pinto-based) Mustang II of the mid-late 1970s - by bringing back The Boss. Featuring a high-output 5.0 liter, 302 V-8 (soon to be equipped with a Holley four-barrel carburetor, just like Back in the Day) and heavy-duty manual transmission, the Boss brought the Mustang back from the brink. Fast-forward 30 years. A new Boss is back - and it makes the old Boss seem like the summer intern.

The heart of the package is a supercharged version of Ford's new 5.0 liter, 302 V-8 (a much-massaged and larger displacement version of the 4.6 liter DOHC engine used in 2010 Mustang GTs) that produces 444 hp. For some perspective, that is more than twice the power of the 1982 Boss's 5.0 liter V-8.

You also get three more gears (a six-speed stick or six-speed automatic) and a 0-60 time in the high 4 second range. That's quicker than any classic-era Mustang - even if you pushed it over a cliff. Not even the Super Cobra Jets or Boss 429s of the late '60s and early '70s could touch this car's numbers.

The new Boss is also fuel efficient. Or at least, it can be - if you can keep your foot out of it. On the highway, the 2012 Boss is capable of pulling down 26 MPG - about the same as a V-6 Camry.

Not bad for a machine that can also run 12 second quarter miles and hit 160-plus on top.