From horse trailer haulers to pony-car battles, this year's Chicago auto show inspired some reminiscing about the good ol' days when fuel was cheap and readily available for all manner of internal-combustion machismo.

Chrysler makes news in the pickup segment by announcing an 800 lb.-ft. (1,084 Nm) torque rating in the Cummins 6.7L turbodiesel inline-6 that powers the Ram heavy-duty. The prodigious output ties the Ram with the Ford Super Duty in the battle for spec-sheet supremacy.

Couldn't Chrysler and Cummins wait a little longer until their engineers could push the engine a little further, say, to 801 lb.-ft. (1,086 Nm), for undisputed heavyweight champion status?

“We probably could, but I don't want to play that game,” says Fred Diaz, CEO and brand president of Ram Truck. Going on sale in the second quarter, the improved High Output Cummins turbodiesel gets a new engine controller with revised performance calibration that allows peak torque to be achieved by 1,600 rpm. The old Cummins engine reached 650 lb.-ft. (881 Nm) by 1,500 rpm.

A new higher-rated torque converter improves engine/transmission integration for better towing capability on grades and optimizes engine performance. Also integrated is a new crankshaft damper that reduces engine noise and vibration. Maximum horsepower (350 at 3,500 rpm) remains unchanged.

Another skirmish in the pony-car wars broke out on the show floor as Chevrolet introduced a high-output version of the Camaro designed to stand toe-to-toe with the Ford Shelby GT500.

The Camaro ZL1 arrives in early 2012 and will be assembled in Oshawa, ON, Canada, the same plant producing coupe and convertible versions of the resurrected muscle car.

The ZL1 is intended only in a coupe body style, but General Motors design chief Ed Welburn says a convertible version is “technically possible.”

The ZL1 gets its power from the all-aluminum 6.2L supercharged LSA V-8 shared with the Cadillac CTS-V, in which the engine is rated at 556 hp and 551 lb.-ft. (747 Nm) of torque.

The power ratings for the Camaro ZL1, while estimated at 550 hp, surely will come in higher as GM attempts to one-up Ford, and vice-versa, in a combative segment.

As a coincidence, Ford's all-new GT500, with its smaller 5.4L supercharged DOHC V-8, is rated at 550 hp and 510 lb.-ft. (691 Nm) of torque.

Meanwhile, Ford Group Vice President Jim Farley says he is keeping one eye on gasoline prices and another on a surging rival from Korea as 2011 unfolds.

Farley tells the Midwest Automotive Media Assn. that Ford is paying more attention to Hyundai.

“I'm impressed with (the) Sonata and new Elantra,” Farley admits. “It was Ford and the South Koreans who grew last year.

“We've focused attention on the South Koreans for a while,” he continues, then takes a jab at his former employer, Toyota.

“South Korean cars are already better than those from Toyota. They've executed new product very well and have very well-designed, fuel-efficient, affordable vehicles that have been more successful than other imports from Toyota and Honda.”