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How much horsepower is too much?

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I found this piece interesting...

No Such Thing: When it comes to horsepower, how high is up?

We put the question to folks at the top

AUTOWEEK

Published Date: 4/11/05

10 MOST POWERFUL PRODUCTION CARS (on sale): 1. Koenigsegg CCR, 806 hp 2. Saleen S7, 750 hp 3. Maserati MC12, 624 hp 4. Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, 617 hp 5. Maybach 57 S, 612 hp 6. Porsche Carrera GT, 605 hp 7. Mercedes-Benz CLS/SL65 AMG, 604 hp 8. Lamborghini Murciélago Roadster, 580 hp 9. Bentley Continental GT, 552 hp 10. Ford GT/Pagani Zonda C12S, 550 hp

Not since the muscle car era in the late ’60s and early ’70s has the phrase Horsepower Wars carried so much currency. When the Mustang GT showed up in 1987 with 225 hp, the enthusiast world went gaga over its affordable grunt, greeting it as the end of a purgatory on power that dated back to the oil crises of the ’70s.

Today 225 hp comes in ordinary family sedans, so it’s hard to remember that less than 20 years ago a BMW M5 made 285 hp. A bottomless bank account 15 years ago would buy you only a little better than twice that Mustang’s power: 450 hp in the Porsche 959 or 478 hp in the Ferrari F40. The ZR-1 “King of the Hill†boasted405 hp and had a valet key to restrict output to 250 hp, lest anyone get hurt.

Now 400 hp is your base Corvette or Mustang Cobra, you can have 425 hp in a family sedan Chrysler 300C SRT-8, and a 959/F40-whomping 500 hp isn’t hard to find. It takes 550 hp to make the list of the 10 most powerful cars sold in America (the base Maybach is a bottom feeder at 543). The numbers are so giddy-making, folks lose perspective. Amid the array of 605-hp Porsche Carrera GTs, 580-hp Lamborghinis and 604-hp Mercedes AMG products at the Detroit show, we heard a car buff complain Aston Martin was offering only 450 hp in its DB9. “Only�

If you ask a racer or a street tuner, they’ll tell you there is no such thing as too much horsepower. But the street is not a racetrack and the escalation of power ratings at least raises the question: How far will it go? Certainly critics of the automobile are asking it. So we took it to the top, asking industry movers and shakers, “How high is up?â€

Ford design guru J Mays gave the standard enthusiast response when asked what is too much horsepower: “There is no such thing as too much horsepower.†GM president Bob Lutz echoed this, adding, “You know the old saying, ‘Too much is never enough.’†Mays’ company makes the 550-hp Ford GT and Lutz’s was unveiling the 500-hp Corvette Z06 at the show. Martin Leach, who when we asked was the managing director of Maserati (400-hp Quattroporte) but has since been bounced out of the job, chimed in with the usual first corollary: “There is no such thing as too much horsepower, only a lack of grip.†In other words, there’s no such thing as too much tire, either.

Okay. We rounded up your usual bench-racer responses. Question answered, right?

Not so fast.

In fact, “not so fast†may be the best way to summarize the answer we got from Carlos Ghosn, head of Nissan (287-hp 350Z, 305-hp Titan) and, soon, Renault. Outside of motorsports, the global Renault Group has no significant presence north of 300 hp. Recently chronicled on these pages as “The One,†the thoughtful Ghosn—predictably perhaps—turned the question into another: What’s the power for?

Frankly, if you’re talking about horsepower for [top] speed, I think it’s outdated. Because not a lot of people who buy these cars are buying them for the speed,†he said. “They are more interested in torque at low speed where they have to accelerate or pass somebody. That’s what’s exciting about the car today is the ability to have instant power, instant torque. How much is too much? As long as you’re using this powerful car mainly at low speeds, mainly for acceleration, I have nothing against it. It is fun. High speed is outdated.â€

Outdated? In an era of 200-plus-mph sports cars and overcrowded autobahns, it is worth discussion. How many of those hi-po German sedans ever find even their artificially imposed 155-mph top speeds, let alone their true peak performance? (Those 155-mph peaks were available back when the cars made only 250 hp, by the way.)

Consider hybrids, too, in the context of Ghosn’s comments: Both the Honda Accord hybrid and Lexus RX 400h outperform their gasoline-only counterparts, and GM is pointing at the torque-enhancing elements of its upcoming 2007 hybrids as a strong suit in the sales race. They ain’t much on top speed, but if you want a big jolt of power all at once, hybrids can do the job.

Small surprise then that the only executive who told us he had a top horsepower figure in mind oversees Honda’s business in the United States. How much is too much, American Honda executive vice president Tom Elliott?

“For the street? I’d say 600 to 700 hp.â€

Spoken like the executive of a company that manages to field a Ferrari-like exotic NSX rated at 290 hp, a luxury sedan RL at a nice round 300 hp and even a 255-hp pickup without resorting to a V8 engine.

So who makes the “too much†600 or 700 hp? Not Ferrari, now that all the Enzos are built, which offers a mere 540 hp in the 612, 515 hp in the 575M. Here’s Frank Stephenson, the design chieftain whose duties recently expanded to include the rest of Fiat, sounding like he’s sitting at a roundtable with Ghosn and Elliott, though it was a one-on-one interview:

“There is probably a limit to how much horsepower you need. We don’t play the horsepower game here at Ferrari; we do have lots of horsepower, but it’s more about how you use it,†said Stephenson. “How much is too much? I don’t know. I mean, if you can get along with 600, 700 hp, that’s probably as much as you’re ever gonna need.â€

What say you, Peter Schwarzenbauer, president and CEO Porsche Cars North America? Can you have too much? After all, you’re peddling 605-hp Carrera GTs.

“I don’t think so,†says Schwarzenbauer. “I think the only important thing is that you are able to handle the horsepower. Sometimes people forget this. The car, of course, is where it starts; then you probably have to educate the drivers to handle it.â€

Moray Callum grew up in Britain and now runs design for Mazda. How much is too much if you’ve lived much of your life in danger of driving off the edge of the island and into an ocean?

“In Japan horsepower is limited to 280,†Callum reminds us, and though it’s more a restriction on advertised or claimed horsepower, someone thought that was enough. Most Americans might think it is enough, too, but not excessive. Callum says the view from outside America is different.

“It is interesting, having lived in the U.S.,†says Callum. “For people outside the U.S., they just really don’t get it. What’s it used for? We’re getting to the point where it’s politically incorrect.â€

Mazda president and CEO Jim O’Sullivan, Callum’s boss and the peddler of 238-hp RX-8s, says there is “never enough, but that Hurricane concept from Jeep is a bit wild.†The Hurricane had two Hemi V8s, each making 340 hp. If 680 hp sounds like we’ve found excessive, consider: Chrysler just as easily could have used the SRT-8 Hemi, which makes 425 hp, and got it up to 850 hp.

This brings us to Trevor Creed, another native Brit toiling in America. The Chrysler Group senior vice president for design offers a warm embrace for the horsepower wars.

“We’re going through a rebirth of the muscle car era, if you will, that was so popular and resonated with so many people back in the ’60s and early ’70s. I think that’s what automobiles are really all about,†says Creed, whose company sells the 500-hp Viper and Ram SRT-10 pickup, along with the 340-hp 300C and 425-hp Magnum SRT-8. He suggests aftermarket tuners, who are boasting 700 and even 1000 streetable horsepower, will fill the void if carmakers don’t.

“People are always spending time to tune things up and make them go faster,†says Creed. “You’ve got the popular aftermarket tuning craze and the nitrous oxide cars. They all have to do that to their own cars and spend their own money. What a lot of us are doing now is recognizing that up front; we’ll give you a car that you can afford that already has all that horsepower. There’s obviously a limit on it, but at the moment we’re all having fun, so let’s keep it that way.â€

Fun, sure. As for “There’s obviously a limit on it,†Creed’s boss, Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche, isn’t so sure.

“This trend started 120 years ago and at various times we saw the end of the road. It hasn’t come. I don’t expect it to come,†says Zetsche. “I think ultimately [the numbers] will continue to climb.â€

Compiled by the AutoWeek staff, written by Kevin A. Wilson

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I guess my car should make the top ten in HP when the engine is completed.

Normally aspirated 650 HP, 438 cubic inch, Dart Block Small Block Ford "Clevor", 575 ft/lbs of torque, 4 bolt main bearings, forged 4340 steel crankshaft, forged 4340 steel connecting rods, CHI 3V Aluminum Cleveland heads, Crower valve train, ignition by MSD, indvidual cross runner intake with Gen VII Accel DFI Fuel injection.

And it runs just fine on 92 octane.

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I'd like to hear this discussion on bikes. I agree that too much is never enough, look @ the Bugatti 16/4 with the W16 engine, or that new Chrysler ME412.

What I also agree with is how people look @ americans and say "why all the power?" I vacation in Italy where Diesel powered engines are starting to grow popular as gas prices go up and average engine sizes are below 2.0. I have a '96 avenger w/ a 2.5 V6 and when they hear the size & HP they're are just completely astounded. Then again, if you took some of my friends who are pushing 2 & 300hp+ and put it on their back roads, they're 1.4 cylinder fiats will leave them in the dust.

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What I also agree with is how people look @ americans and say "why all the power?" I vacation in Italy where Diesel powered engines are starting to grow popular as gas prices go up and average engine sizes are below 2.0. I have

for a while Italy had large taxes on cars with engines larger than 2.0 liters. thats one reason why engines in Italy are so small.

diesel engines are gaining popularity here. since September, Jeep has sold about 25,000 diesel powered Libertys (or ies?). thats about 20% of total Liberty sales. there is a waiting list for the Mercedes E Class diesel

in 2007, after the new diesel fuel regulations take effect here, Honda and BMW will start selling diesels as well.

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for a while Italy had large taxes on cars with engines larger than 2.0 liters. thats one reason why engines in Italy are so small.

diesel engines are gaining popularity here. since September, Jeep has sold about 25,000 diesel powered Libertys (or ies?). thats about 20% of total Liberty sales. there is a waiting list for the Mercedes E Class diesel

in 2007, after the new diesel fuel regulations take effect here, Honda and BMW will start selling diesels as well.

How many liters is 438 cubic inches, like 7.5, 8.0?

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