The 1960s were the true glory days of muscle cars. The Charger, Challenger, Camaro, Firebird, Mustang/Cobra were the jargon of any one interested in cars. These sleek, heavy, aggressive, and powerful automobiles were an audacious response to foreign automakers undercutting American industry. Muscle cars reminded people what it was like to be American. They reminded us of our fascination with speed and pure, unbridled, ironclad power. 1960s muscle cars boasted insanely large V8s that chugged gas like a frat boy does Keystone. America had dug itself into Vietnam, but the economy was still prospering keeping oil prices low and muscle cars in high demand.
Some say America’s pastime is baseball, and others say it’s fast cars and NASCAR. The irony here is that the muscle car went out the same way a baseball hitter does, with three strikes. The Clean Air Act of 1970 required pollution control mechanisms that retarded horsepower and performance. Strike one. During the Carter years, the oil embargo of 1973 shot up gas prices and made gasoline vanish altogether in some places. Strike two. By 1978, congress had passed the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), essentially nailing the muscle car coffin shut. Strike three; muscle cars were out of the game for almost twenty-five years.
Finally technology caught up allowing engines generating massive horsepower to meet and exceed government emission standards. The improvement of exhaust systems, especially the catalytic converter, allowed American cars to keep their ridiculously inefficient superchargers. But this new horsepower race is by no means confined to our own boarders. German, Japanese, British, and of course Italian cars are the leaders of this revolution more so than American companies.
The problem with beautifully fast foreign cars used to be the price, but now costs are plummeting across the board. European and Japanese companies like Porsche and Nissan are swaying customers by constantly out-pricing and out-performing each other. For example, the Porsche 9/11 GT-2 and GT-3 have dominated the four-wheel-drive track car market for years. People are willing to pay the $120k + price tag for incredible speed and handling. Now Nissan has introduced a drastic clash of the spirits and designs of their two flagship vehicles, the Skyline and 350Z. The new GT-R is the first “Skyline” to be sold in the United States and has essentially put the GT-3 to shame. A twin-turbo I-6 rockets the GT-R from 0 to 100 km/h in a mind blowing 3.3 sec. and through the quarter mile in 11.6 sec. The GT-3 makes it to 100kmh in 3.8 sec and covers the quarter mile in an impressive 12.1 seconds. Even on the track, Porsche’s bread and butter, the GT-R crosses the finish line one second faster. The spirit of this new horsepower race is epitomized by the fact that the GT-R is about $57k less than the famed GT-3.
GT-R vs GT-3 vs M3
BMW took the horsepower race to the next level when it introduced its E92 line of M cars. The M5 and M3 were both given an additional two cylinders adding about a hundred hp to their now incredibly light aluminum alloy frames. Both cars are still reasonably priced and are easily grouped into the supercar category of the Ferrari F430. BMW, Nissan, and Mercedes-Benz are now producing vehicles that can hold their own against $250k supercars for a quarter of the price. The undercutting continues with the unveiling of the Hyundai Genesis, a $30k dark horse that is leaving mid-level BMW and Mercedes saloons is the dust. And to top it all off, the Genesis is quieter that the most luxurious BMW, the 750Li. (http://www.leftlanenews.com/hyundai-genesis.html)
Horsepower Race 2.0, is as much about power and speed as it is cost. For the knowledgeable buyer who is not consumed by the need to own a car that is widely known as nice such a BMW or Ferrari, incredibly quick and luxurious cars are to be had for a fraction of the price. American car companies have retaliated and sent their own monsters, like the Challenger SRT-10 and Shelby GT-500, to battle against the new European and Japanese supercars, But this new horsepower race was created by foreign companies and they are and will remain the key players. The American economy is in the toilet and gas prices haven’t helped the popularity of fast gas-guzzlers. Foreign markets are wealthy and willing to promote this new horsepower race by buying the fastest and most reasonably priced cars. If American automakers fail to compete with European and Japanese cars or if American consumers refuse to buy into the new horsepower race, then Horsepower Race 2.0 will be a completely foreign occurrence leaving us, the original creators of the power struggle, out of this very exciting time for automobiles.