Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Horsepower making a comeback

Whether one calls it performance, muscle, throttle response, or something else, fast vehicles are making a comeback.  Though it was predicted that the early 1970’s marked the beginning of the end for “muscle cars,” the specs and performance of many current production models belie that forecast.

In case you haven’t noticed, manufacturers seem to be waging a “horsepower war.”  And I’m not only referring to exotic makes and models like the Lamborghini Adventador (1600 HP) or the Bugatti Veyron (1200 HP).

Performance versions of the “ponycars,” Mustang and Camaro, for example, prove that the “muscle” has returned to mainstream models in a very big way.  This year’s Mustang GT advertises 435 horsepower and the Camaro SS comes with 426 “ponies.”

Both of those popular 2015 models perform nearly identically, boasting zero to sixty (mph) runs of 4.4 seconds and quarter mile times under 13 seconds. In the peak of the muscle car era, a 1968 320 HP (390 cubic inch displacement) Mustang could only muster a 7 second 0-60 time, and took 15.2 seconds to cover a quarter mile.  A “big block” Camaro (396 CID/375HP) for ‘68 ran times of 6.5 and 14.1 seconds.  A Z-28, the quickest Camaro in ‘68, posted 0-60 times of 5.5 seconds and quarter mile passes of 13.8.

The earlier demise of muscle cars resulted from a combination of market pressures consisting of fuel shortages, fuel prices, emission constraints, and insurance industry resistance.  On that last count, some manufacturers advertised understated horsepower figures in the late 1960s to help owners get insurance at better rates.

But on the subject of horsepower rating it should be noted that early numbers were stated as “gross” horsepower, (without emissions, exhaust system and other accessories attached).  Today, horsepower figures are expressed as “net” (power of the engine as installed in vehicle, available to the drive wheels). So, a net figure may be as much as 30 percent more conservative than a gross rating.

The amount of horsepower developed per each cubic inch of engine displacement has also skyrocketed of late, due to manufacturing innovations like direct fuel injection, computer controlled engine management, variable valve timing and precision assembly.

Whereas only the most sophisticated engines of the 1960s developed one horsepower per cubic inch of displacement (426 CI Hemi with 425 HP, for example), virtually all engines exceed that standard now.  If the 2015 Mustang were restricted as such, its 302 cubic inch engine would have around 300 HP — instead it has 435. Net!

In fact, the 2015 Mustang’s standard engine has 300 HP generated from a displacement of 225 CI.  There is even a 140 cubic inch 4-cylinder turbo charged engine for the Mustang with 310 HP.  The standard Camaro powerplant has only 220 CI, but generates 323 HP.

The final factor in the rebirth of automobile muscle is that the engineers have drastically improved the fuel mileage of these factory hot rods.  Whereas the hottest muscle cars of the 1960s were only achieving 10-15 mpg, the V-8 Mustang and Camaro now boast fuel economy figures of around 15 city/25 highway.

For mainstream brands, the Dodge Charger Hellcat has raised the current horsepower bar to a whopping 707.  That one is capable of 0-60 bursts of 3.7 seconds and quarter mile blasts of 11 seconds right off the showroom floor!

If you seek performance, it’s easily found in today’s automobiles.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at