When it no longer makes sense to do something, people tend to stop doing it.
One such thing is hopping up used cars, something people – especially young people – used to do almost as a matter of course. The appeal was that with some elbow grease and a handful of relatively cheap hop-up parts purchased from the local NAPA store, a high school-age kid could build a used car that was quicker and faster than most new cars.
A new Prius is quicker – and faster – than two-thirds of the V8-powered sedans of the ‘70s and ‘80s. A new V6 Camry sedan is much quicker than almost all of the V8 performance coupes of the ‘70s and ‘80s – and a new V8-powered performance car like a Mustang or Camaro or Challenger is twice as quick and nearly twice as fast – in terms of its top speed – than all of the highest-performing V8-powered muscle cars of the ‘60s.
None of which got to 60 in four seconds or less.
They are so quick and so fast that there is not much room to make them meaningfully quicker or faster. Traction rather than horsepower becomes the limiting factor once you have the power to get to 60 in less than four seconds – which the as-delivered Mustang GT and Camaro SS can – and thus making more power amounts to the same thing as piling more muscle on an already 280 pound Mr. Olympia. His biceps get so big you can hardly tell them apart from his other muscles.
Which is just the case – on the street – with a car that makes 600 or 700 horsepower (no longer particularly exotic; a factory-built Challenger Hellcat offers as much as 900).
What are you going to do with it?
It is fun, yes, to talk about getting to 60 in 3 seconds – which the Hellcat can – but where and how are you going to experience this? And what is the meaningful difference between getting to 60 in 3 seconds vs. 4?
Exploring a 200 MPH top speed – which many new performance cars are capable of approaching – takes more road and time than is commonly available east of the Mississipi.
That’s without raising the hood.
So why raise it?
During the time when car culture and youth culture tracked in parallel – which was pretty much from the ‘30s all the way into the early ’90s – there was a lot of meaningful difference to be mined from hopping up the average used car. Because the average new car was underpowered, not-quick and very slow.
It was easy to make whatever you had quicker, faster and much more fun for much less money than it cost to buy a new car.
Put another way, one could have fun with new cars – including the new ones driven by those with badges and radar guns (who in those days usually just issued tickets, not death sentences, for abusing traffic laws).
Roscoe’s old Plymouth had less than half the horsepower of today’s Dodge. Hence, it was easy to give Roscoe the slip, if you had something hot. Today, Roscoe is retired and the shaved-head goon in the Hemi Charger is harder to give the slip.
Part of the reason you could become a King of the Road back in the day was because many of the run-of-the-mill cars, even the shittiest cars, of the era shared their basic layouts – and engines – with the performance cars of the era.
Economy cars – Pintos and Vegas and Datsuns – were often rear-wheel-drive and some even offered V8 power, which meant that even if they didn’t actually have a V8 it was a relatively simple (and a purely physical/mechanical) thing to put one in. And to get it to produce twice or more the power it produced in as-made condition.
For example, the Ford Maverick of the ‘70s came with or could easily be fitted with the same V8s that fit in a Mustang because the Maverick was a Mustang, more or less, in terms of the things beneath its skin. The chassis and layout (which was rear-drive). The same was true of cars like the Chevy Nova and Pontiac Ventura of the same period. Both were closely related to the Camaro and Firebird of the same period and the V8s that came with the latter dropped right into the former.
The results could be impressive. A Maverick was generally lighter than a Mustang – because the Maverick was designed for economy while the Mustang wasn’t. Thus, a Mustang V8 built to produce more power than came out of a factory-installed Mustang V8 installed in a teenager-modded Maverick would outperform a new Mustang – perhaps the one his dad bought. For a third the cost of dad’s Mustang.
That made raising the hood worthwhile.
A little tuning work and a few relatively inexpensive bolt-on parts could achieve a huge difference in an afternoon’s worth of wrenching. The difference between 11 seconds to 60 – a typical time for a V8 sedan of the ‘70s – and 7 or 8 seconds to the same speed.
Your weekend-tuned and modded car was now noticeably quicker and faster than almost all other cars.
You can feel the difference between a slow car that needs 3 seconds more to get to 60 and one that gets there three seconds earlier.
It is much less easy to feel the difference between getting to 60 in 3 vs. 2.9 or 2.8 seconds and besides, 3 seconds to 60 is already so quick that the motivation to go quicker isn’t as urgent – though it will require a great deal more expense.
Swapping parts today often means plugging in . . . to a computer. Sometimes one only a dealer has – which is something most teenagers can’t afford. The parts also have to be specific – usually – to that specific car. They are paired that way – electronically – from the factory. Thus, it is no longer merely a matter of turning wrenches to put a V8 from a Hellcat Challenger into a base Challenger that came originally with a V6.
And putting either into an entirely different car is improbable if not impossible because almost all of today’s run-of-the-mill cars do not share a common layout with today’s performance cars. The latter are still rear-drive/front engined. The rest – almost all of them – are front-wheel-drive and sideways-engined.
It’s too much trouble, to much expense and not much to be gained from raising the hood nowadays.
Which explains why most young people no longer do.
. . .
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