In 83 Years the Family Sedan Has Gone From 40 to 563 Horsepower
Where else but at the Detroit Auto Show would you hear such a gratuitous falsehood about the new crop of performance cars? Upon the release of the Lexus RC F Coupe, which boasts “more than” 450 horsepower, Toyota Chief Engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi said, “There’s a misconception that race cars are hard to drive. In fact, they’re easy in the right hands, because they’ve been purpose built for the skill level of their drivers”. So there you have it, the chief engineer at Toyota unabashedly admitting that Lexus is selling racecars for the street.
At the same auto show General Motors 625 horsepower, Z06 Corvette made its debut. Last year, Shelby American, based in Las Vegas, Nevada announced a conversion plan for the production model Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500. With its stock 662 horsepower not considered sufficient by Shelby, they offer to raise its vector thrust to 1,100 horsepower. I could go on, but you get the idea. The horsepower race that started in the 1930s, with the widespread acceptance of V-8 engines goes on unabated.
Formula 1 racecars, which are the fastest driveable vehicles in the world, have a mere 750 horsepower. If such were the case, why would anyone need 1,200 horsepower in a sport coupe that will rarely see a legal speed limit above seventy miles per hour? The first answer is “look at me” ego gratification. The second answer is illegal street racing and demonstrations of power and speed.
I grew up in Southern California and got my first driver’s license in 1964. At that time, the car culture centered on power and speed. By 1970, perhaps epitomizing the muscle car era, the Oldsmobile 442 boasted 365 horsepower. Although you could use it to cruise Van Nuys Boulevard, it had two main purposes, legal and illegal drag racing.
Today, you can watch any number of TV shows where builders will recreate or resurrect old muscle cars for the nostalgia market. Ironically, even the fastest of the restored muscle cars cannot hold a candle to the power and maneuverability of a current high-end production vehicle. For instance, The BMW M6 Coupe weighs almost two tons, features a twin-turbo V8 that cranks out 560 horsepower and goes from zero to sixty mph in four seconds flat. Goodbye Oldsmobile 442; you are left in the dust.
If you drive in Los Angeles, where a disproportionate number of supercars find their homes, you know the trouble that they can cause. A quick trip down almost any LA freeway will expose you to the wrath and fury of the everyman supercar. Whether it is a Dodge Avenger with a 5.7 liter Hemi V8 or a 426 Horsepower Camaro SS, you can expect to be overtaken by someone “blowing out the carbon” from their supercar engine.
The original 1962 Volkswagen Beetle featured a four-cylinder engine producing 40 horsepower. The 612 horsepower 2005 Porsche Carrera GT in which actor Paul Walker recently died was a racecar by design. As such, it only tacitly met the legal requirements of for registration as a street vehicle. It could do zero to sixty in 3.8 seconds and zero to one hundred in under seven seconds.
About seven seconds after driver Roger Rodas put his foot down on the accelerator of the Rodas/Walker death vehicle, he hit a street reflector and went airborne at one hundred miles per hour. With no stability control to save them, both the driver and passenger faced near instant death in a fast and furious single car accident. The only thing we can be thankful for is that there was not a Volkswagen Beetle noodling up the street at that time.
Typically, drivers of supercars see themselves as fully capable of handling whatever happens on the freeways of California. They will tout safety features, such as bigger brakes and elaborate stability control features built into their cars. Horsepower, they say, helps get them out of trouble, not into it. For some that may be true. Other supercar drivers are nothing more than a menace on our roadways. The problem is that even the most mild mannered driver can become ticked off and turn into a road-raging maniac.
Since 1978, the U.S. has had a gas-guzzler tax for low efficiency vehicles. Depending on how poor the mileage actually is, the tax ranges from $1,000 to $7,700. Since no one in Congress or any state legislature is planning to limit the horsepower in street-legal vehicles, we need to take another tack. What we need is safety training and mitigation fees for high horsepower vehicles, similar to what the State of Missouri already assesses. Depending on the horsepower of any particular passenger car, I propose the following:
Beginning at 400 horsepower, each new passenger vehicle owner should be required to take a one-day driver-training course, which would focus on performance car driving. They would also pay a $1,000 fee that would increase the number of highway patrol officers and vehicles on the road. A vehicle with 500 horsepower would require a two-day course and a $2,000 highway patrol mitigation fee. Likewise, a 600 horsepower vehicle would require a three-day course and a $3,000 fee. For each additional hundred horsepower, add a day to the driving course and $1,000 in fees.
In the case of the Shelby GT 1000, with 1,200 horsepower, we might top out with a five-day driver-training course and $6,000 in highway patrol mitigation fees. With the total cost of that supercar estimated at $210,000, it would be a small price to pay. Rather than putting a dangerous weapon in the hands of an unskilled driver, we would know that the driver had received sufficient training to handle the power available under foot. Then, if the driver misbehaves on the freeways, blowing an unsuspecting Volkswagen Beetle off the road, there would be a better chance that the highway patrol would catch and reprimand the errant supercar driver for his indiscretion.