Last summer I drove my cherished Miata three hours south, to visit a friend who I hadn’t seen for nearly six years. We grew up together, rode our bikes and terrorized the neighborhood. Every single day after school was spent in one of our backyards. We’d have sleep overs where we’d eat dinner together and stayed up all night playing video games. Then when high school came, we grew apart for a number of reasons. Then eventually, his family left for a rural town three hours away. In that time, he also became the owner of a candy red, 2015 C7 Corvette.
I hadn’t driven many fast cars. My automotive resume included modified Civic SIs, VW GTIs, SUVs and a whole lot of economy nonsense. Yes, I had both track day and autocross experience, but I was as familiar with high horsepower as a toddler is with theoretical physics. Given my track experience, and the fact that I arrived that day in what would be considered a “raw sports car,” my friend did the unthinkable; he let me drive his C7 Corvette, with less than 5000 kms on the clock.
This wasn’t the supercharged Corvette Z06, it was no Hennessey-tuned 1000hp monster, this car was as plain vanilla as Corvettes come: just the stock LT1 V8 making 460 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque mated to an eight speed automatic transmission.
I have a rule – I don’t drive other people’s cars hard. If I crash, I’m not okay with owing several hundred thousand in liabilities and damages, and it’s also out of respect. I’d be heartbroken if someone hoped in my Miata and hit redline on the first shift. Likewise, I took it easy initially, letting the wave of torque between two and three thousand RPM carry me, but eventually I caved and did what every card-carrying petrol head must. I stopped in the middle of a country road, stepped on the brake, floored the gas activating launch control, and held on. The car was slingshot into hyperspace; the background became nothing but a blur of red and green as I gripped the wheel tightly to keep my hands from flying off. I looked down – I was going 180 kph. It was the most vanilla Corvette on the lot, and it still went from zero to jail time before I had time to catch my breath.
Driving a bright red 2015 Corvette has other perks as well, such as being able to pull into a car dealership and test drive other shiny and ludicrously fast things. At the time, the 2015 Mustang was still a new site to behold. So we pulled into a Ford dealership, and I had the keys to a brand new manual, 50th Anniversary edition Mustang GT. Air conditioned seats, chrome tail light trim. I almost felt guilty.
Naturally being a dealer car and having a worn, grey haired, surprisingly calm sales representative with me, I did not floor the shiny new American stallion to 180 kph, but the 5.0 l, 435 hp V8 is smooth, strong and potent. The day ended with me smiling from ear to ear. But more importantly, I learned an important, simple lesson about cars. 400 hp, is a shit-ton of horsepower. 400 hp in any remotely light car will in all likelihood light up tires in first, second, and third gears without intervention of traction control. Modified cars such as Civics, Miatas and Honda S2000s become vicious, terrifying creatures threatening to fling you into an adjacent tree with a prod of the go pedal, when gifted with 400 hp. This wasn’t about fast cars and smiles – this was an eye opener.
We live in a time where anything less than 1000 hp is considered almost tame. Toddlers line their bedroom walls with posters of 707 hp Dodge Challengers, 875 hp Porsche 918s, and 963 hp Ferrari LaFerrari’s. But these numbers, they’re precisely that: numbers. The truth is, you get behind the wheel of a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro, BMW M4 or Jaguar F-Type (yes, the 380 hp V6 model), and I dare you to tell me that they don’t feel fast. Stop bench racing and start driving cars, and you might surprise yourself how much fun you can have in a car with as little as 150 hp, if you can just get that number out of your head.
Note: If you’re chasing 8 second quarter-miles, top speed or lap records, then obviously all of this doesn’t apply. However, in a road car, I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t consider 400 hp more than sufficient. Horsepower is also totally relative: 250 hp will make a Miata or an EG Civic hatchback seriously quick, while something heavier like a Mitsubishi Evo X might need around 350 to 400 hp to feel properly fast. The moral of the story is to not get hung up on the quest for massive horsepower, because you probably need a lot less than you think.