The horsepower insanity needs to stop.
Yeah that’s right, I said it. And to take it a step further, I’ll throw some unsolicited advice to all the CTzens with a project car and dreams of making enough horsepower to rotate the earth. Unless you are building a proper race car to run at a proper track, put the parts catalog down. Step away from the PC. Cut up the credit card. You don’t want that kind of horsepower for a street car, never mind a daily driver.
No, I haven’t gone soft. I’m not going to become a champion for efficiency and tidy by-the-book motoring, trading opposite-lock tomfoolery for gentle Sunday drives in the park. Truth be told, I’m trying to save the enthusiast community - both from the onslaught of manufacturers and their escalating horsepower war, and from the enthusiasts themselves who continue to say too much is never enough.
Yes, there is such a thing as too much. But I see you’re confused and possibly angry, so here it is in a nutshell. There comes a point in the giddy process of adding horsepower where it stops being about improving performance, and instead just becomes a quest for the highest number. The point where that happens is also the point where the driving experience starts to deteriorate, either because of constant breakdowns from all that power, or the effort required to corral all those ponies instead of enjoying them.
And what makes this whole situation even worse is that people often don’t even realise what’s happening. We get so caught up in the excitement of increasing horsepower that we completely lose sight of the real goal - increasing performance. They aren’t one and the same, and I don’t mean to sound arrogant here. But unless you’ve driven and owned high-horsepower cars, it can be difficult to understand.
I realised this a few years ago when I bought a 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra. These cars were rated at 390bhp from the factory, but actually produced around 420. The car I bought already had some modifications - exhaust, supercharger pulley, and a tune, and was making around 500 at the crank. Prior to owning this car I’d had the opportunity to drive a few 600bhp+ monsters, and they were just stupid fun. I had every one of these cars in mind when I got the Cobra, and I was already looking up mods for more power before the ink was dry on the purchase agreement.
But then I put about 3000 miles on it over the course of a few weeks, and I realised more horsepower simply wasn’t necessary. With traction control off I could already smoke the hides effortlessly in second gear with a stab of the throttle. I wasn’t regularly taking the car to the drag strip so there was no quest for quarter-mile dominance, and it already ran 12.8s in the quarter anyway so it was by no means the slowest street car in town.
Cobras came from the factory with IRS; the previous owner gave it a mild suspension drop, and being a Fox-Body based Mustang convertible, it had considerable aftermarket bracing underneath for much-needed stiffness.
I say this because I had a shopping list of mods planned for the Cobra, but after a few weeks behind the wheel I discovered it needed none of them. It was already a blast to drive, with gobs of power that was still easy to handle. Adding more power would’ve made it a bit faster, but that’s when I asked myself a philosophical enthusiast question that I’ll now present to all of you.
Do you want the best driving experience, or do you want bragging rights? Because that’s really what this whole insaneo-level of horsepower really comes down to - bragging rights.
I won’t say real car enthusiasts only seek driving nirvana over all else, because let’s face it - we all love competition and being the best. Nor will I say that throwing stupid amounts of cash at a garage-queen car just so you can say it has the most power makes you a poseur. If you’re building a race car, bragging rights will get you trophies and prize money, and that’s cool. But if you’re building a car that you want to enjoy on the street, take my advice: don’t give into the temptation to go mod crazy.
For most modern street cars, I honestly believe 500 to 550bhp is the magic range where you’ll find the best driving experience without excessive insanity. Step back to less-complicated rides under 1300kg and I’d dial that back to around 400 ponies. Anything more, and you’ll be spending far too much time just trying to keep from crashing. Or the traction control will continually be kicking in, which makes the whole idea of big horsepower rather pointless if the car’s electronic brain won’t let you use it.
So yes, there is such a thing as too much power. And with factory stock cars producing more horsepower than ever, there’s a real chance this horsepower war could ultimately take some of the fun out of that which we claim to cherish most - driving. In the end, it comes down to a simple choice. Do you want to have fun, or do you want bragging rights?
Choose fun. Always choose fun.