Sep 21, 2010

How Fast is Fast Enough?

The last two land speed record holders for production cars were the Bugatti Veyron and the SSC Ultimate Aero TT.  Both provide the wealthy owner with over 1000hp and both can exceed 250 mph. Very impressive machines. Would they really be that fun to drive every single Sunday? I guess that depends on where you live and how honest you are about how you drive.  Are either of these the kind of car you want for your last sports car? I know, I shouted “hell yes” initially too, but I hear they are both a bitch to parallel park.

No Bugatti pictured here.  Sorry.  Jerod Shelby is an acquaintance of mine.

The Ultimate Aero is clearly an American icon that will come to be worshiped. It takes an “old school” approach to electronic intervention. Without ABS or traction control, I’m told this car can spin the tires at 200mph if you're not careful. That translates into a raw experience of power and responsibility that could certainly be fun. This is SSC’s intention, since some drivers feel electronic assistance is invasive. It's also a good way to keep costs and weight down on a limited production car that already fetches 6 figures.

Bugatti takes a different approach. The car’s technology is present in every way. They believe if you can afford the car then you have the right to haul ass. Can't argue that one.  So a host of active systems manage most of the cars powers. As a result, it's much heavier and far more expensive than the Ultimate Aero... basically, you're into 7 figures at the cash register.

I know, we're not shopping for cars in this price range, but lets think about this concept for a moment.  If you can smoke tires at 200mph you might have too much power.  Also, if you need a computer to turn off most of your power most of the time it’s possible you have too much power as well.  Now, I understand, both of these cars are tributes to speed and I’m not disparaging them. I’m just using these extreme examples to help find clarity in our car search.  How much potential do you need to be truly happy with a car long term?

Remember the days when you could hit an on ramp, go through the gears and not emerge at 150mph?  It was pretty fun.

I recall my 80's model Carrera that offered a scant 214hp... much less than the Lexus ES 350 I test drove yesterday with my in-laws.  Before you dismiss the comparison, keep in mind that the Lexus outperforms my Porsche in every measurable performance category. Still, that Carrera was clearly a better driving experience for me.  Let's face it, a new Accord can also smoke your dad's Chevelle but you aren't going to feel as cool taking that Accord to the drive-in.  Why?  Because there is more to sports cars than then numbers.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't think that's it. Look at the popularity of the Lotus Elise, which is not a superfast car.  Also, the whole Pontiac Solstice racing phenomenon is interesting.  Spec Miata, again, is noteworthy.

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3 fast enough cars, each a different experience.  Turbo Sylvia transplanted 240Z,  Viper and M3.  
Mine's the one with the heated mirrors and cupholders. 

The point is simple, even if performance numbers are super important to you, don't let them alone decide what car you get.  Invariably, in 10 years they will be unimpressive.  Performance is more about a balance of characteristics that you prefer than any extremes a car can achieve.  Don't discount anything just by merely bench racing it.   Your car has to offer you more than just good stats in Motor Trend magazine, because it's going to be a keeper this time.

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Buy in California and you can spend some time on Route One.  You won't need to go 200mph to have the time of your life I assure you.  But avoid RV season.




As a side note:  I just watched an episode of Supercars Exposed.  I've included a link:  http://www.hulu.com/watch/109394/supercars-exposed-the-american-supercar
The comparison of the ZR1 and Porsche 911 Turbo is an interesting commentary on the different experience two cars can give drivers.   These cars couldn't be more different.  Front engine vs rear engine. AWD vs rear wheel drive. American vs German.   Both achieve similar performance numbers, but anyone would agree that the experience is quite different.  Nice driving too!  I could live with either, and my birthday is in 3 weeks if anyone's listening.

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