The internet can be an odd place. It's an open forum for new and revolutionary thoughts, a knowledge hub where one can fill their brain with a limitless supply of bite-sized chunks of information, and it's also the breeding ground for some of the most impressively misguided ideas in human history.
A prime example of this exists in the testosterone and hot-pocket filled imaginations of internet bench racers, an alarming number of which are utterly convinced that a car's quality and worth is tied primarily and directly to the horsepower figure it can deliver onto the pavement, leaving little room for nuance. If this wasn't ridiculous enough, the ravenous commenting horde insist that the less driver aid a car has, the closer it is to whatever their insane version of driving heaven must be like.
Let me preface this tirade with full and total disclosure: I love speed, especially if it's coming from a car that presents a challenge. But there's a clear distinction between something with a moderate learning curve and being awakened in the middle of the night and ordered to disarm a bomb at gunpoint. I wrote this article primarily as a response to TokyoBayAquaLine's awesome article, in which he asks where the real high-horsepower cars have gone. Please consider my humble answer to this pertinent question.
Power delivery in modern cars has changed in such a way that it's incomparable to that of the cars of yesteryear. A car with 500 horsepower in the early 90s was likely very peaky in its delivery, and only held that power at the very top of its steep powerband. Not only that, back in the days of the Countach and F40, that amount of power was the end of the world.
Modern cars, on the other hand, at the same power level have all 500 ponies available from a tick over idle, until just after their redline due to variable valve timing, direct injection, variable vane turbine housings, and everything else that would render Christian von Koenigsegg tumescent. This means as far as usable power is concerned, they'll have more area under the curve than (insert stereotypically fat person here) and a torque curve flatter than (insert pancake pun here).
There's a reason why manufacturers like Pagani, Lamborghini, and Ferrari spend the equivalent of a small country's GDP ensuring their cars can handle themselves with even the most ham-and-cheese-fisted drivers. It's because we're at a point where the technology is orders of magnitude faster than middle-aged human correction, and the cars are more powerful than the tracks they're built to race on.
To the naive, power-hungry fanboys that hope to one day stick a blown small block Chevy V8 in an Ariel Atom, keep in mind that the tricky, analog wet dream of most car enthusiasts - the Ferrari F40 - is outclassed in the power department by a 2014 Dodge Charger, and there exist new factory Ford Mustangs with more power on tap than a Mclaren F1.
Ferrari F40: Now slightly more powerful than a Hyundai.
The analog driving experience aims to put the driver and car in an intimate dance, but there's a limit to the rhythm. I'll give you an example: A Mazda Miata is a great driver's car (I'm told). It's poised, balanced, and has enough power to get out of its own way. It's simple, responsive, and manageable. Its less than 200 horsepower - no matter how it's delivered in the powerband - doesn't punish you for getting carried away. It has a traction control program and a paddle-shifting gearbox as an option, but turning it off and choosing a manual unlocks the car's true potential. You feel more like a racing driver when white-knuckling it down a canyon road before getting that 2-for-1 mani-pedi you're 20 minutes late for.
A Ferrari F12, on the other hand, with its 730 horsepower V12, is a car made as an experiment to see how many established, respectable millionaires Ferrari could make crap their pants. Needing to be a racing driver wouldn't be an emotional side effect of driving this car with no computer invention - it would be a prerequisite.
Since the Italian car maker likely wouldn't want to line the canyon roads of the world with F12s upside down and on fire, they've put a staggering amount of time and effort into making the car perform at 6/10ths, with the 2/10th driver feel like he's driving at 11/10ths. With the average age of exotic supercar owners being a hair under 50, giving that aging market a product with no reset button would just make sure children have a cool story about how grandpa died. In the Miata, flappy paddles and traction control are electronic annoyances. In an F12, they're your guardian angels.
"Tell me, do you fear death?" Photo by Ben on Flickr
It's not all about age - it's about the car's intent and subsequent ability to kill you. An example that would hit closer to home is a car Matt Farah once owned - a Shelby Cobra replica. A car with a short wheelbase, the weight of a book of stamps, a 615 horsepower NASCAR engine, and safety features that included ejecting you in the moment of impact and wishing you the best of luck. It was as analog as it gets, with the same power/weight ratio as a Mclaren P1, and the much younger version of what's probably America's best-know hoon thought that his life was in serious jeopardy if he took the car out for one more ride around the neighborhood and elected to sell it before it claimed him as a statistic.
"The only recognizable thing found at the scene of the crash was the MAKEUP00 license plate. What a mess."
These are insane times, and I, for one, am grateful that when I do drive these modern F40 equivalents, I won't be thinking that I should've attended church more often, just in case. I'll be grateful that the car will allow me to be the best driver I can possibly be, slowly inching toward the edge of what's possible, rather than jumping off the cliff with a parachute made of bailing wire and napkins. But most of all, I'll be grateful that these amazing cars are more accessible and drivable than ever, broadening the horizons of car enthusiasm and culture in general.
The ultimate answer to "Where have the real super sports cars gone?" is "They're 20 years in the past, right where we left them." What we have now are cars that are safer, more practical, and orders of magnitude faster than anything the analog-happy 80s and 90s produced. But to those that insist on being the ones upside down and on fire, I'll always be the hater on the sidelines with an extinguisher handy.
(Photo Credit: flickr.com, Wikipedia.org)
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.