'The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because He loves what is behind him.' -G. K. Chesterton

13 June 2010

American Cars

Many years ago I read an opinion piece from the editor of one of the hot rod rags, I forget which one it was. At the time I was heavily into all things vehicular, especially muscle cars. I had a 1969 Chevelle SS 396 with 325 horsepower and a rock crusher 4 speed.

The editor predicted that the age of the V8 was ending and that some day the V6 would be the base engine for American iron. I laughed and hoped it would never be so. At the time (probably 76 or 77) gas was still south of a buck a gallon and gas mileage was something only the village elders were concerned about.

Fast forward some 35 years and gas is generally around 3 bucks (not actually too bad considering) and the CAFE standards are about to go to 30.2 mpg for passenger cars. When that figure was released I felt a twinge of fear. I've driven quite a few of the over 30 mpg cars out there and while some are pretty spirited none held the kind of awe inspiring horsepower and torque my old 396 did. Dark days are surely ahead for the American gearheads right?

Not so fast. Ford and Chevrolet are debuting new powerplants for their 2011 Mustang and Camaro.
Both make upwards of 300 horsepower with around 275 ft. pounds of torque. Those are serious numbers. Remember my 396? 325 horsepower from a heavy cast iron block that probably weighed twice what the aluminum V6's do. Here's some performance numbers from the V6's.

2011 Mustang V6
-0-30 mph-2.20 sec
-45 mph-3.80 sec
-60 mph-5.60 sec
-75 mph-8.1 sec
-1/4 mile 13.9 sec @ 101.2 mph
-30-0 mph 26.0 ft
-60-0 mph 103.0 ft
-Skidpad 0.91g
-Slalom 68.6 mph

2010 Camaro LT
-0-30 mph-2.50 sec
-45 mph-4.10 sec
-60 mph-6.10 sec
-75 mph-9.0 sec
-1/4 mile 14.3 sec @ 98.0mph
-30-0 mph 28.0 ft
-60-0 mph 111.8 ft
-Skidpad 0.86g
-Slalom 68.2 mph

Those are serious numbers. The icing on the cake? The Camaro is listed at 29 mpg and the Mustang at 31!

Owners and lovers of 60's era muscle cars (and I am one) like to tell tales of the performance of their bias ply tired, heavy as hell, big and small block go fast beasts. Most of them are pure fantasy.

Take my 396/325 Chevelle. Car and Driver listed it's performance as;

1969 Chevelle SS 396
0-60 5.8 sec
1/4 mile 14.4 sec @ 97.4 mph
Displacement and horsepower 396ci/325hp
Source Car & Driver

Now the 350 and 375 horse engines did better but not a lot. The fastest Chevelle in 1969 was the COPO 427 with 425 horses.

1969 Chevelle COPO
0-60 5.1 sec
1/4 mile 13.3 sec @ 108.0 mph
Source Estimate

Compare and contrast. I assure you that those big blocks got nowhere near 30 mpg. I can't find any official numbers but I'm willing to bet my beloved Chevelle was probably in the teens at best (That is when I didn't have my foot into it up to my knee).

Both the new Camaro and Mustang base prices are around $23,000. I bought a new Camaro in 1980 with a 49 state smogger 305 that probably put out in the neighborhood of 150 to 180 horsepower, got atrocious mileage and cost me $6500. When you figure in 30 years of inflation, $23,000 seems right in the ball park for a car that is enormously superior to both my old Camaro and my Chevelle.

I wish I could remember that editors name. I'd try to find him so I could apologize for my lack of faith and congratulate him on his foresight. He was dead right. The era of the V6 as the performance signature of American cars is upon us. Anyone who cannot duplicate these numbers in a reasonable, cost effective and reliable package will no longer be able to compete.

I'd also like to severely beat about the head and shoulders every American car manufacturer's CEO and board of directors. No one can convince me that the technology that allows Ford and Chevrolet to make 300 horsepower, 30 mpg engines is a stroke out of the blue. I know, I know, there is incrementalism in engineering and design but this is a leap ahead, an order of magnitude better than what came before and it's as much an indictment of Chevy and Ford as it is a thrilling view of what's to come. Think about it for a minute. 300 horsepower and 30 mpg. The mind boggles. Where was this a decade ago?

In spite of my more violent musings I found myself at the car lot this weekend, checking out both cars and thinking that maybe a purchase was not contraindicated.

I'm sure I'm playing right into their hands, the bastards.



Daphne said...

Weird. My son called last weekend, talking about buying one of these new Camaros, he hasn't sounded that excited about anything in a very long time.

He used to be a bit of a gearhead, building muscle cars from the ground up.

So, I guess you're not the only playing right into their hands, Six.

Six said...

Glad another gearhead is seeing what I am Daph. Like your son, I haven't been this excited about American iron since the late 60's or early 70's.

Ed Rasimus said...

All the more remarkable since your examples are the entry level in the marques. When the lease is up on my imported luxo-sedan next Feb, I'll be seriously considering a V-6 for the first time in at least thirty years. When you've got six cylinder's churning out 325 horses and laying it down with 20 inch quality tires in a modern SAFE lighter vehicle you've got to say you're living in a good time! Affordable cars with 0-60 in the low 5'sa and nearly 30 MPG. Gotta stop that and get every body converted to wind, solar and electric....Yeah! right!

Six said...

Good point Ed. The clamor for electric and hybrid vehicles ignores the technological advances in gasoline and diesel power. I'm not going to drive a death box because the global warming crowd is feeling particularly guilty.

dick said...

I had a '71 Chevy C10 long bad that I customized and dropped a 383 Stroker motor bolted to 700 R4 auto.
Kept the damn thing for three years, probably dropped about 17K into it after everything was said and done.
When I took it to the auction (knowing I was gonna take a hit), the state trooper who checked it over found a stolen vin number on the frame. Needless to say, the lying shitbird I bought it from didn't know nothing.
I still got the file, and yeah, I keep track of his ass.

To this day, I call it my most expensive rental, ever.

Six said...

Oh shit Dick! Yeah, he got it from his friend who's name and address he can't remember. I do believe I've met that gentleman once or twice.