Sunday, November 22, 2009

Another Golden Age about to end?

The late '60s and early '70s were a high water mark for automotive performance, at least looking back from my time in high school. Safety regulations had piled on weight while emissions and fuel economy standards had sapped horsepower to the point that early '80s "performance" cars were shadows of their former selves; decal-and-spoiler performance packages wrapped around asthmatic powerplants without enough torque to yank a greased string out of a cat's ass.

This was forcefully brought home to me one day some years back when I was able to show the taillights of my Porsche 924S to a late '70s Ferrari 308GTB through Atlanta's "Spaghetti Junction". The 924S was a Porsche, yes, but the junior car in the Porsche lineup; it was sporty, but no threat to any Ferraris, unless they are disco-era Ferraris with EPA-mandated potatoes stuffed up their tailpipes and leaky Weber carburettors stingily dripping fuel into the manifold.

With the advent of the microchip, manufacturers found their way out of the mess, as computer-controlled ignition and fuel-delivery systems allowed them to wring out more performance from every drop of fuel-air mixture. If '74-'84 were the dark ages of automobile performance, then on average, we are living in the New Golden Age. There are V-6 family buses sporting an honest-to-Duntov 300 net horsepower; sedans that will kick sand in the face of a smog motor Corvette.

Car & Driver tested a '79 L-82 'Vette with a 4-speed manual and it turned in a 6.6 second 0-60 sprint and ran the quarter mile in 15.3 seconds at 95mph, and the slushbox-equipped ones were even slower. That's barely enough to stay ahead of a Nissan Altima Hybrid (7.1/15.6@91) and would get gutted by a V-6 Altima (5.8/14.4@101). My '98 Z3 is a whisker quicker than that 'Vette and I know that I've found myself staring in bafflement at the receding taillights of some plain-vanilla sedan or SUV more than once.

I wonder what the government will do to end this Golden Age?


SpeakerTweaker said...

Red Light Cameras.



Ed Foster said...

I am, once more, impressed beyond reason.

I met Zora Arkus-Duntov years ago, and still whisper his name prayerfully in the pantheon of saints including Ronald Reagan, Benjamin Franklin, Chesty Puller, and John Moses Browning.

An honor to have your aquaintance Ma'am.

W.V. sunbuse. Is that a precursor to skin cancer?

karrde said...

Right on.

I was surprised when I realized that motorcycles haven't gone through a similar End-of-Golden-Age and Second-Golden-Age. Not that I can really tell.

I'm not sure what the 0-60 time and 1/4-mile speed is for my 1982 Honda 4-cylinder bike, but I do see new Cadillac sedans glide past me on the highway occasionally.

(Because it's an '82, it's geared for 55-mph highways and the speedo tops at 85...I know it will go over 100, but I don't often do it. But a Caddy passing me, when I'm doing 75 on the freeway, and the Caddy not obviously laboring...that's scary.)

Jim said...

The new EPA regs mandating 34 mpg will be a factor.

And if the greens succeed in their utopian visions of having us all in foil-skinned, bicycle tired solar powered pods, well then, performance will depend on tailwinds and steep downhill grades.

Except for the nomenklatura. They'll have their Zil limos from which to gaze out upon the rabble.

Sunk New Dawn
Galveston, TX

OldTexan said...

We also had those stupid top end 85mph speedometers in out cars and they kind of matched the performance.

I replaced a '76 GM with a new '78 GM car, both had 305 cubic inch V8 engines and every time I tried to tow my 2,000 pund boat and trailer the newer car would overheat going over 50 mph. Those things that passed for cars were real crap.

Anonymous said...

I worked for a while in '62/'63 with Zorro and Mauri Rose at the Chevy Test Lab. The job was great, but DEEEtroit City sucked, even then, so back home to Austintatious I went. I'd learned a lot, which made me King Of HotRod Hill.

Big engines in little cars back then ruled the roost. My Corvette-engined Healey, as example. Now, modern technology gets big horsepower from little packages.

Take a Tacoma 275 hp/six-speed package and stuff it into a rear-drive snot-bubble and drive folks nuts. More fun than a V8-powered VW Bus.

Still, 1,500 pounds of 150-hp Lotus Elan will blow the doors off these modern two-seaters.


Borepatch said...

Of course, you didn't need $1000 diagnostic computers (with secret, dealer-only manuals explaining what the codes mean) for your '78 Detroit Coffin.

Blackwing1 said...

A real stealth rocket is the Subaru Impreza WRX. The only external distinguishing feature between the standard econo-box and the WRX is the hood scoop. From the Wiki for it:

"In response to criticism that the new 2008 WRX was too soft, some changes were made for the 2009 model year. The EJ25 received a boost of 41 horsepower (31 kW) and 18 ft·lbf (24 N·m) of torque, bringing the total output to 265 bhp (198 kW) and 244 ft·lbf (331 N·m) of torque by swapping the previous TD04 turbo to an IHI VF52. This WRX is capable of 0-60 in 4.8 seconds and a quarter mile ET of 13.5 seconds.[5] In addition, the 2009 model received stiffer suspension parts from the STi model, an aerodynamic package and summer performance tires as standard equipment. The WRX is also only available with 5-speed manual transmission."

And with the all-wheel-drive, you can even blow doors off everybody in the snow.

bedlamite said...

Borepatch, how about $32.40 and a handy website

Anonymous said...

Even the Mazda3 I have is good for 125 miles an hour without trying too hard.

My Car (type not specified) is good for 13s in street trim, low 12s with slicks and a few tweaks, and faster still with a few serious mods and a good driver. It also starts when it is cold, idles smoothly (enough), and turns in a real-world 15.1 MPG.

As for the end of it... Tree-huggers, probably. Hopefully they'll watch this and weep in their granola. (SFW)

perlhaqr said...

I wonder what the government will do to end this Golden Age?

Buy all the domestic car companies and put such stringent import restrictions on foreign cars that they can't even bring in their diesel models?

Stranger said...

At least until the Pols get wise and tax rear drive vehicles out of existence, those who like to let the ponies run have an option. A Q-ship.

Mine is a Mopar with a 440 and a short overlap cam, with a 2.91 rear. It passes the pollution sniffer with loads of room - and it passes the center hoggers and slugs with great elan. In second.

Even with the chassis mods it gets a bit light at the ton and a quarter, though. And it's not a twisty wagon, not none.


theirritablearchitect said...

I fear you are correct, Tam.

I'm keeping my old iron, and making myself a promise to keep her street worthy until infirmity prevents it further.

Considering your point of Dark Ages vs. The Second coming; as I recall from my yoot, the early SVO Mustang, being a decidedly Euro-oriented Autobahn cruiser, had 175 horses from a seriously breathed-on 2.3 Lima four-banger, sporting a turbo (nothing new, actually) and, for the time, an advanced EFI system.

I now have that much power from my naturally aspirated Subie, and it's markedly more reliable to boot.

Tam, I'm with you on the long-term prospectus about the automobile. It looks like pure suckage on the horizon.

Jake said...

honestly, I think the cars are overpowered for the market they are intended to occupy. Does one really need 300 HP to drop the kids off at soccer practice?

I drive an '89 Escort. The height of underpowered bliss; it takes its sweet time going up Donner Pass (7% grade on interstate 80) but ... 43 miles per gallon, even with 217000 miles in it. Very few modern cars can match that fuel economy, and not for lack of trying.

I wonder how much gas mileage you could get out of a car with a charmingly dinky engine (like an '86 Accord - when my dad owned one until 1994 or so - 51mpg brand new, 44 at 150K miles) and modern computer-based engine control.

Oh wait, we don't have to wonder. I drove such a thing in Europe. A Hyundai Getz (which is considered among the shittier of rental vehicle options), 1.3L diesel engine, stick shift, a wee bit of trouble getting up the ice-covered mountains of Norway ...

and 56 miles per gallon. I see a lot of taillights. I save a lot of money.

Unknown said...

I miss my Chevy K5 350 4 barrel... although it could a used a few tweaks (first vehicle I managed to stall with an automatic transmission).

But yea, you can't go wrong with old school engines.

theirritablearchitect said...

Jake, you lost me here; "...I think the cars are overpowered for the market they are intended to occupy..."

Sorry that you feel that way man. I can't commiserate. I'd gladly take more power, in almost everything I own, so long as the fuel bill doesn't exact too much of a toll when filling up, and it's looking more and more like the Tax Monster is going to be making us "fuel sinners" pay The Man at a progressive rate in the Brave New World to come.

A pox on all of you who think this way.

Douglas L. Perry said...

That's easy. Soon we're all going to be driving anemic powered electric cars with pedals for when the batteries get a little low.

Unless you are Pelosi, then you're going to be flying overhead in a custom built Gulfstream, because, well you know, she needs it.

CGHill said...

I am somewhat amused by the fact that my car, which was advertised at the time it was new (ten years ago, it's a 2000 model) as the most powerful in its class, is now easily outrun by models two or three classes downmarket.

Actually, I don't think we're due for a revival of Cartermobiles; the science is moving too quickly. More likely, the Feds will tighten the gas-guzzler tax, and buyers will shrug.

rickn8or said...

"I wonder what the government will do to end this Golden Age?"

They're already doing it; max of 70 on the interstate and every traffic stop I see looks like a search for the Lindbergh baby.

Anonymous said...

Fedco will probably increase CAFE to the point where it would be faster to pedal somewhere in their haste to destroy American capitalism.

"bedlamite said...Borepatch, how about $32.40 and a handy website"

My thanks, I do all the work on my '94 Tbird and that tool will pay itself off the first time I use it.

Will said...

The bikes didn't get off untouched. Anything with a carb usually had such lean jetting they had horrendous flat spots, were hard starting, and so-so acceleration. They normally had to be re-jetted to run properly.
'71 was the last year of real muscle car performance. Nader and the insurance companies also had a hand in the de-performing of engines, in addition to the EPA and Kalifornia. My '71 'stang had a 20% insurance surcharge, and that's without them knowing about Ford's sandbagging the HP numbers of their hot engines (the big three all did it to some extent). What's annoying about the EPA crap is my '65 'stang got 30 mpg with a two barrel small block (rated about 175 hp, IIRC). EPA cut that mileage in half in the seventies. Never understood how killing the mileage gave cleaner exhaust.

perlhaqr said...

Jake: Yippie for you. Buy what you like and leave others alone to do the same.

After my '04 Jetta was annihilated by some stupid drunk last Friday, I'll be picking up a '10 Jetta with the new 2.0l diesel that gets 45 mpg and does 130 on the top end.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Cargosquid said...

Smart Car. Hayabusa engine.


Flight-ER-Doc said...

This is the last golden age. The cars that fedgov will mandate from it's wholly-owned subsidiaries in detroit will be similar to the cars in the movie "Brazil". Oh, and Ford, the Riceburners and Nazi's will be blocked from making cars at a profit, since it would inhibit the government motor companies.

Adrian K said...

I noticed that. My 2006 Suzuki 650cc V-Strom is about the equal of most sedans between 45 and 70 now. They have the drag advantage over 70 and I have a big torque/weight advantage in the stoplights.

Even the big production Hemi's they're rolling off the line nowadays can hang pretty close to my old 1984 Honda VF1100S. 25 years ago nothing could even stay in sight of it.

Of course, that thing needs a good carb cleaning before it'll run a 10.9s quarter again though.

OA said...

Wannabe Euro-weenie, will you next be telling us that meat is murder? Or that demon rum will rot our loins?

Frickin' automotive puritans...

Unknown said...

As a speed freak of the 50's I had fun. 50 years later I just look fast driving my 64 vette convert down the highway doing the speed limit. But ah the memories.

See Ya

Joanna said...

The Smart Car is the iPhone of the automotive world. You can have all the reasons in the world for owning one, but you're still gonna look like a douche when you whip it out in public.

I like my little Focus ZX3; it hauls pretty good for a four-cylinder engine, and it gets 30 mpg on the highway. I could do better, sure, but I could also do a lot worse. I'm also going to drive it 'til the wheels fall off. Prior to that point you'll have to hold a gun to my head if you want me in a weaker car.

Ian Argent said...

"Smart Car. Hayabusa engine.


That's one of my unfulfillable lusts, yeah... (Not that the stock one I have isn't fun to drive, but it's a bit anemic in the 0-60 dept)

The other car is an '02 base-model Taurus. It replaced a '90 Buick Century and (eventually) a '92 Ranger 4-banger. The speedo goes to 120 (IIRC), and I've had it up to 100 without noticeable issues. The last interaction I had with the speed enforcers consisted of being pulled over just after cresting a long hill, and the cop asking me why I was doing 82 in a 65 in the middle of the afternoon... (To which my internal voice said LOLWHUT, and my external one said, politely, "Passing a truck". I got off with a warning).

Sendarius said...

So much of fuel economy is HOW you drive, not WHAT you drive.

I recently drove 600 kms (~400 miles) and used 76 litres (~19 US gallons) of fuel - mainly because I was - errr - "in a hurry".

When I drove the reverse route I set the cruise control to the speed limt plus 10%, and let the car run - I used 50 litres of fuel for the same distance.

I calculate that to be ~32 mpg on the highway - from a 5 litre V8.

Jake said...

Wannabe Euro-weenie, will you next be telling us that meat is murder? Or that demon rum will rot our loins?

if that is what gets you through the night, then I am sure I can oblige. Please write me a check for $19.99 + s/h. (Gosh, at least one of us ought to be getting rich off of mindless insults!)

Jake said...

in more seriousness ... who said anything about The Evils of Taxation?

the reason I drive a car with the economic properties I have described is because, as a total economic package (between both legitimate and government-added expenses), it is the least costly option that allows me to get done what I have to get done.

That is all.

call it vehicular anhedonia, but I just do not get much of a thrill out of flooring it off the red lights. Not when - as Sendarius so acutely observed - a lot of efficiency is based on not what we drive, but how we drive.

if you want to do 130mph ... well, more power to you. I recommend state route 140 in Nevada.

Ian Argent said...

Very true about the driving pattern. I have the option to take either a high-speed surface rd (speed limit 45 and it's a good idea as well; no traffic particularly) or an interstate (Speed Limit 65 and your doors get blown off at that speed). Due to traffic patterns getting off that highway, it's as fast for me to take the surface road home as to take the interstate (but it's still faster to take the insterstate to work).

When I switched from using the interstate bidirectionally to going to work on the interstate and coming back via the surface rd, my gas mileage went from 35-36 to 38-40 (variation seems to be based on what I do on the weekends). I lose about 5-10 minutes on the way home, but I like the drive (it's a bit more picturesque) and it saves me a bit of dough.

Bram said...

Like perlhaqr said - diesel is the wave of the future - more power and better mileage.

If, the EPA will let them in. Everyone who sells in Europe makes them but few have made it hear because our emmissions standards are so ridiculous. Hundyia, Honda, and Subaru many others have committed to selling diesels in the U.S. but failed to get them pass the beurocrats.

BMW and Audi/VW have a few coming in but not nearly as many as they sell in Europe.

I want a BMW 123d! 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, 147 mph top speed, and 54mpg.

Ian Argent said...

It's not the EPA, it's CARB (CA Air Resources Board or something like that). CA was not preempted in regards to regulating emissions when the feds started doing so, and they have consistently moves the goalposts for diesel emissions every time a car approaches it.

Car manufacturers like to sell 50-state cars for mass-market vehicles; and so we have the situation we are in.

My parents imported a Peugeot 504 station wagon under the 1-per exemption for complicated (foreign) tax reasons wen we moved back to the States from Morocco - that was hoot of a vehicle. 40 mpg was pretty low economy for it, and at the time diesel was cheaper than unleaded. Had to look around for decent diesel, of course...

perlhaqr said...

NV 375 the last time, actually. :)

And sorry for the knee-jerk, Jake. Most of the time when people ask "how much horsepower do you really need ...?" they then go on to declare that the answer is "not much", and that the feds should step in to make it so.

OA said...

"if that is what gets you through the night, then I am sure I can oblige. Please write me a check for $19.99 + s/h. (Gosh, at least one of us ought to be getting rich off of mindless insults!)"

As opposed to a feeling of superiority over the benighted?

Bram said...

I don't need much horsepower. Torque on the other hand, oh boy do I need a lot of torque.

Ride Fast said...

"kick sand in the face of a smog motor Corvette"

Ouch. There are, however, very few "cool" points in driving a Camry.

Gewehr98 said...

I'll take a smog motor Corvett over any of the soul-less Mazda/Toyota/Honda jellybeans any day of the week, thank you.

To the guy who asks "how much horsepower do you really need?" Dude, seriously? On an RKBA blog, no less?

Tam said...

Well, me too.

Just like my '84 LG4-engined Trans Am was a lot slower than a Camry, but nobody ever drove a Camry back and forth behind the local grocery store a few times just to hear the exhaust echo off the walls.