It's been said there's addiction in everyone, an adage that certainly applies to the denizens of 2002 Hogback. Our chosen agents? Horsepower and speed, of course. And we just went on a bender that plunged us straight to rock bottom by running five modified sports cars -- three of which made more than 1000 horsepower -- from standstill to 200 mph and back. It's the world's first 0-to-200-to-0 smackdown, and it has left us with one question: Where's that number for Betty Ford?
Five years ago, this test would probably not have even been possible. In those days, any car boasting four figures in the horsepower column was most likely a temperamental drag racer burning specialized high-octane race gas and generally unfit for street use. But thanks to advances in electronics and turbocharging, several companies today claim to produce modified production cars with 1000 and more horsepower that run on 93-octane pump gas and are civilized enough for everyday driving.
To prove this seemingly preposterous notion, we gathered five speed sleds -- four tuned cars and one production unit. The severely souped-up entries are a Ford GT, a Dodge Viper, a Chevrolet Corvette Z06, and a Lamborghini Gallardo. The lone production car is the most powerful domestic available, the 750-hp Saleen S7 Twin Turbo.
Once the contestants agreed to our game, we had to come up with an appropriate playground to demonstrate the cars' capabilities. Most readers are familiar with the standard 0-to-100-mph-and-back-to-0 test, which has been used intermittently by a variety of sources since the 1960s. In 1965, a Shelby 427 Cobra was credited with a record 13.8 seconds. In 1998, we increased the top-speed number by introducing a 0-to-150-to-0 test. The quickest runner was a Corvette ZR-1 produced by Indiana-based Lingenfelter Performance Engineering; it produced 640 horsepower, reached 150 mph in 15.6 seconds, and came to a stop 7.7 seconds later. Total time: 23.3 seconds.
Today's Lingenfelter Vette, a twin-turbo Z06, makes an astonishing 1109 horsepower by our calculations. With this mega leap in horsepower, we upped our game, and the 0-to-200-to-0 madness was on.
We knew this competition would be a trip into uncharted territory -- particularly the part about stopping from 200 mph -- and would require some additional space to perform. So we rented an 11,800-foot airstrip in Oscoda, Michigan, that had once been part of the Wurtsmith U.S. Air Force base. To make sure all the cars were using 93-octane pump fuel, we embarked on a 200-mile, 5000-hp road trip the day before the test to burn off the fuel the cars came with.
Along the way we stopped at Wheel to Wheel Powertrain in Madison Heights, Michigan (w2wpowertrain.com; 866-903-4905). There we strapped each car to a brand of chassis dynamometer called the Mustang and measured the horsepower at the wheels. That "wheel horsepower" figure is typically 15 percent less than the output of the engine due to parasitic drivetrain losses. Since every new-vehicle brochure and our usual specifications list engine horsepower, not the at-the-wheels figure, we calculated the engine horsepower, assuming a 15-percent loss, and used that number for the specs here.
We also made changes to our regular testing procedures. To give these cars a chance at putting this enormous power to the ground, we allowed all the teams to install sticky street-legal race tires. We didn't run these cars in two directions to cancel out the effect of wind, nor did we apply our usual weather-correction technique. If we had, the acceleration numbers would have dropped by a 10th or two because the weather conditions weren't ideal, so keep that in mind when comparing these results with ones from our usual road tests.
There were three major rules: The gas had to be 93 octane, and nitrous-oxide injection was outlawed, as were water-cooled brakes. The finishing order was based solely on time -- the car with the quickest 0-to-200-to-0 time won. Each car was given four runs, and the teams were allowed to supply the driver or use one of us. Every team supplied a driver, which is just as well, as we couldn't be blamed for the mechanical, uh, issues that ensued. That's right, stress an engine to 1000 horsepower, and it could very well go boom.
Hey, there's no glory without a few casualties.
Fifth: Lingenfelter Corvette Z06 Twin Turbo
Power (C/D est): 1109 bhp @ 6350 rpm
Torque (C/D est): 932 lb-ft @ 6200 rpm
Street drivability: 3 stars
Zero to 200 mph: DNF
200-to-0-mph braking: DNF
Total time, 0 to 200 to 0 mph: DNF
After witnessing what the Lingenfelter boys went through this time around, we've stopped believing that you can make your own luck. The twin-turbo Vette that was an early favorite couldn't get a break on race day, and two seemingly innocuous occurrences made the car the lone DNF.
In fact, the car was dubbed a "science project" for all its tubes, solenoids, cooling tanks, electronics, and air tanks. Onlookers, giving the car the once-over, inevitably muttered, "Hey, whazzat?"
Obtaining big horsepower is not the most difficult task in this competition. What's tough is getting all that power to the pavement without uselessly smoking the tires. Compared with the mid-engined Ford GT, the Corvette has an inherent disadvantage because less of its weight is on the rear tires. So the Lingenfelter crew developed a system that limits the amount of engine horsepower available when the transmission is in the first three gears and the car is most likely to melt down the tires. The system relies on compressed nitrogen to control the turbo waste gates and limit the amount of turbo boost. In first gear, boost is limited to 6.0 psi; then it successively ramps up with each gear selection. By fourth gear, it's making 15.5 psi.
Another useful modification was the switch from the standard final-drive ratio (3.42:1) to a taller (2:73:1) rear end that, combined with a redline 500 rpm higher (7500) than standard, allowed the Vette to reach 200 mph in fourth gear. Every other car had to perform a time-consuming shift to fifth or sixth somewhere north of 140 mph.
Getting a good launch was plenty difficult because the 7.0-liter V-8 still produced about 750 horsepower in first gear. The engine block was a stock LS7 Z06 unit, true enough, but the internals had been completely replaced with stouter pieces and a second fuel system, and a set of injectors was added to satisfy the extra fuel appetite. A pair of pumpkin-sized turbos that flanked the engine didn't sit flush with it, so a new hood was shaped to provide clearance. The engine-modification list covers a full page, but you need to know two things: 1109 horsepower -- the most here -- and to replicate this engine, expect a $186,515 bill.
Another 35 grand and change were spent on a Baer big-brake kit, LPE-Penske shocks, a Corsa exhaust, and a dual-disc clutch. The cost of the Z06 combined with the mods: $288,540.
Working against automotive bliss were a hugely stiff clutch, an overly firm ride, and having to crawl around the safety cage just to get inside. Although definitely acceptable as a daily driver, this car and the Saleen were the least civilized of the bunch.
Trouble for the Lingenfelter car began on its maiden run. The company's driver flubbed the two-three shift, effectively ending that run. On the second run, everything looked fine, and then a small aircraft swooped down and tried, but failed, to hang with this killer Vette. We mention the plane because of what happened next: Our VBOX test equipment didn't record that run. We theorized that perhaps the plane had interfered with the antenna. That's an unlikely story, but it's the only one we have. The tragedy was that the Vette was unable to make another run, with the engine making some very unhealthy noises after run No. 2.
Since the engine bay is so packed with turbos, intercoolers, ducts, etc., that it takes six hours to replace the spark plugs, a fix was not attempted. Back home in Decatur, Indiana, the crew determined that when its driver missed the shift, the engine revved wildly to 8878 -- about a grand past redline -- and cracked a piston and a valve.
We had a hard time sleeping after that, wondering what exactly this Vette could do, so we gave the Lingenfelter crew a second chance. Four weeks later, we returned to Oscoda for a retest, even though we'd decided it wouldn't be fair to include these results in the main competition. Read the results of the Lingenfelter Corvette Z06 Twin Turbo when it tries again.