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Just a few years ago, production cars with more than 500 horsepower were extremely rare, with the players limited to not-terribly-practical rides such as the Lamborghini Murcielago and Dodge Viper. Today there are at least a dozen brands that offer a U.S. production vehicle with 500 or more horsepower, with prices starting as low as $40,930—the base MSRP of the V8-powered 2007 Ford Shelby GT500.

With the AMG arm of Mercedes bringing its new 6.2-liter V8 online (and BMW answering with its new 5.0-liter V10), the number of models in this powerful club continues to proliferate as these new mills spread throughout those manufacturers' lineups.

Photo Gallery: 500-Horsepower Club

Raging horsepower isn't exactly the politically correct topic of the day, with environmental issues and fuel economy taking center stage. So what's driving the latest horsepower surge? Generally speaking, power has taken on more significance as a key factor in the luxury equation.

Let's face it: The 604-horsepower Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG isn't much more lavish than the already luxurious 302-horsepower Mercedes-Benz S500. The S65 AMG is the top-level S-Class primarily because of the twin-turbo V12 under the hood—it's all about bragging rights and performance. You just dropped 90-large on a sedan. Do you want to get dusted at a stoplight by someone in a Civic?

The biggest shift on the horsepower front is the types of models where you can find such prodigious output. No longer limited to performance coupes, 500-plus horsepower is available in nearly every body style: SUV, coupe, convertible, sedan—even in unexpected platforms such as Mercedes' minivan-esque R63 AMG.

Thanks to Mercedes' new mill, a number of the models in the 500 horsepower arena are four-door sedans. This subset still includes a wide range of sticker prices, from more stratospheric outlays such as the Bentley Continental Flying Spur (552 horsepower) and Maybach 62 S (604 horsepower), to more familiar models such as the BMW M5 (500 horsepower).

A pair of SUVs meet the club's horsepower criteria: the updated Porsche Cayenne Turbo boasts a 500-horsepower direct-injected twin-turbocharged 4.8-liter V8 and the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG sports the new 503-horsepower 6.2-liter V8.

Mercedes leads the way with 14 models that exceed 500 horsepower, with three of those models exceeding 600 horsepower (S65 AMG, SL AMG and McLaren SLR). Bentley, and Maybach tie for second, with four models each that make the 500 Club.

Of course, the 500 Club still hosts plenty of performance coupes, which form a slim majority in the clubhouse. The Mustang Shelby GT500 (500 horsepower), Corvette Z06 (505 horsepower), Dodge Viper (510 horsepower) and Saleen S7 (750 horsepower ..!!) form the domestic membership, with the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish S, Lamborghini Gallardo and Ferrari GTB adding some European flavor.

Porsche's upcoming 911 GT2 is expected to break the 500 horsepower mark, and don't forget the granddaddy of them all, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4. The Veyron would earn two membership cards in the 500 Club, courtesy of its 1000-horsepower quad-turbocharged 8.0-liter 16-cylinder powerplant.

Here is the list of current members of the 500 Club as of July 2007

Bugatti Veyron 16.4 1000-hp W16
Saleen S7 750-hp V8
Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 640-hp V12
Ferrari 599 GTB 620-hp V12
Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren* 617-hp V8
Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG 604-hp V12
Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG 604-hp V12
Maybach 57/62 S 604-hp V12
Bentley Continental Flying Spur 552-hp W12
Bentley Continental GT 552-hp W12
Bentley Continental GTC 552-hp W12
Maybach 57/62 543-hp V12
Ferrari 612 Scaglietti 540-hp V12
Lamborghini Gallardo* 520-hp V10
Aston Martin V12 Vanquish S* 520-hp V12
Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG 518-hp V8
Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG 518-hp V8
Mercedes-Benz SL600 510-hp V12
Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG 510-hp V8
Mercedes-Benz S600 510-hp V12
Mercedes-Benz CL600 510-hp V12
Dodge Viper SRT10* 510-hp V10
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 507-hp V8
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Wagon 507-hp V8
Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG 507-hp V8
Chevrolet Corvette Z06 505-hp V8
Mercedes-Benz R63 AMG 503-hp V8
Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG 503-hp V8
Porsche Cayenne Turbo 500-hp V8
Ford Shelby GT500 500-hp V8
BMW M6 500-hp V10
BMW M5 500-hp V10
BMW 7-Series Alpina B7 500-hp V8
Bentley Arnage T 500-hp V8

* indicates information for 2006 model year

A Boston native covering motorsports and consumer electronics for the past 17 years, Paul Seredynski has been the Editor of Sportbike magazine, press officer for Kawasaki's World Superbike Team, Senior Editor at VIDEO magazine, and Leader of Automotive Media Relations for Porsche Cars North America.

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