Skip to main content

When is too much not enough?

When is too much power a bad thing?

I love power! How much power is enough when it comes to our cars? The adrenaline-fueled, muscle car-headed answer would be that there is “never enough power.” After the come down from such Red Bull-infused delusions you are faced with the reality that there comes a point when it is not safe or feasible to have unlimited horsepower on the street.

In our hobby, muscle cars hold a special place in our hearts. It is apparent that collectors covet them based on the strong numbers they achieve at auction. We recently posted results from Mecum's Kissimmee Auction of a 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda that sold for almost $2.7 million along with other MoPar muscle cars priced close behind. That is a pretty hefty sum for a vehicle that has not yet hit the 50-years-old mark and came from an assembly line.

The mythology and respect behind the legendary Hemi undoubtedly played a part in the high price tag. Let’s face it; the Hemi was one of the top predators on the street back in the first horsepower war. The fire-breathing 426-cubic inch monsters churned out around 425 hp and had ridiculous stump-pulling torque as well. It was more than any red-blooded hot-rodder could ask for. It was loud, brutal, and scary all at the same time. It took a lot of driving skill to wring out the performance that was advertised. This rightfully added to the lore of the Hemi.

Fast-forward to today and the world of muscle cars has come full circle as we are in another golden age of horsepower. The street Hemi name is again beating its chest and vying for top dog in the horsepower wars. The numbers are unheard of as Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Ford battle for the title of Horsepower King. It seems like the ‘60s and early ‘70s all over again.

Let’s hit the brakes for a moment and really put things into perspective. Back in 1970 that 425 hp was recorded from the factory as a SAE gross hp figure which was recorded without any of the accessories or restrictions of a real-life street engine (although there is much debate whether corporate intentionally under-rated the Hemi engine). Realistically, that engine with accessories, air filter, emissions tune, and manifolds would have been rated closer to a modern net output of 350 hp. This is not accounting for powertrain loss, which would equate to even lower rear wheel hp numbers. Thank goodness for the ample amount of torque shredding those skinny Polyglas tires. This was a beast of a car back in 1970.

Our vehicles have evolved over the past 46 years. We take the safety and ease of driving for granted. This is why the horsepower has been creeping upward. For instance, the 2016 Camaro LTE, 6-cylinder is rated at 335-hp net. I understand that there is a lot more involved here. That number is achieved at 6800 rpm and the torque is nowhere near that of the Hemi. They are completely different engines and arrive at their number differently. If we are going off of horsepower numbers alone, that V-6 is quite impressive and inline with the Hemi. I merely bring this up to put the numbers in perspective. Most V-6 sedans are hovering around 300 hp net, give or take, which was the mark of performance years ago.

These pedestrian vehicles still pale in comparison to the top dogs rolling off the assembly lines today. The 2016 Corvette Z06 is rated at 650hp/650#tq and is said to do 0-60 in 2.95 seconds. The 2016 Dodge Challenger Hellcat is rated at 707hp/650#tq and annihilates tires at will. There are even rumors that there will be a Shelby GT500 in the future that will eclipse the 740+ hp mark. When will it end? Is this much power even practical or sane for the street? If you compare those vehicles to our measuring stick of the “heyday” of muscle those numbers are outrageous! These are production vehicles that somehow come with factory warranties and can be purchased by anyone walking off the street with enough cash in their hand.

Perhaps our motto of “bigger is better” has been etched in our American psyche so much that common sense has taken a back seat. As in the past, these freaks of nature will be the cars on the auction block of tomorrow. These cars have raised the bar for horsepower and will be looked at as the standard in the future.

One caveat: the power levels of the racetrack have never translated well to the street. I have heard countless stories of hot-rodders lost when the “winged” muscle cars roamed the streets back in the day. Hop online and you are a few clicks away from seeing the carnage brought about from the new crop of “super” muscle cars.

My other fear is that these cars will never truly be enjoyed on the street, as they will be sealed away as investments. What fun is that? As cool as these cars are, they are either too much to drive to their potential by the average Joe, or worse yet – never driven at all.

To come full circle from where I started, I love power, but it must be useable power. With the horsepower race not looking like it will slow down anytime soon, I wonder if buyers will eventually feel the same way I do? If not, I bet there will be a 1000-hp monster knocking at the door in the near future.

Where to Bid

Car Auciton

Check out the Old Cars Auction Calendar

The Old Cars Auction Calendar has the when and where you are looking for when it comes to classic car auctions.