Today's horses must be Clydesdale-class, at least when compared to the horses we were saddling up back in the 1960s and early '70s. How else can you explain the real-world performance figures of yesteryear, when muscle cars were routinely pushing out well over 400 horsepower and quarter-mile timeslips in the 14s, with the 12-second runs we see today from a similar number of (rated) ponies? Well, actually, there are a number of reasons... and none of them has anything to do with a four-legged horse or the way we calculate how much power that animal may have (that's another sordid affair for another sorted time).

For one thing, there's the issue of the actual rating process. Before 1971, engines were factory rated using a process defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers as 'Gross' horsepower. This figure was calculated on a test stand with no intake, exhaust or power-robbing accessories attached. After 1971, power levels dropped as manufacturers re-rated engines using the SAE's 'Net' process, which added intake and exhaust restrictions and the load of engine accessories, like the alternator and power-steering pump.

But there must be an equalizer, right? How do we know how much horsepower our favorite classic muscle cars really put down as compared to our latest batch of favorites from today's showrooms? We suggest you check out this informative article from Hagerty, which explains why a horse is a horse, of course, and why we shouldn't necessarily take off our rose-colored glasses even when presented with clear-as-day performance numbers that show things are better today than they had ever been in the past.


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  • 38 Comments
      EB110Americana
      • 1 Year Ago
      [From the Article:] "You don’t need a dynamometer to estimate net horsepower for classic muscle cars, or to check claims of current models. Roger Huntington, the renowned technical writer who penned articles for many car magazines into the 1980s, developed a formula to show the relationship between quarter-mile performance and power output. Others have refined those formulas and developed calculators, in which you can use performance figures and vehicle weight to get estimated hp. (To check hp figures for this article, we used calculators at http://www.stealth316.com/2-calc-hp-et-mph.htm.)" While I agree with most of their sentiment, I think they greatly neglected to factor in the lack of traction provided by the ancient tech of bias-ply tires. Not only were they narrow, but the science of rubber is so much more advanced today, it's like comparing apples and oranges. To a lesser extent, 3 and 4 speed transmissions would have kept those older engines away from their peak output for more of the 1/4 mile as well. Still, those are the numbers we have, so these would be the best estimates for true power output. It would be interesting to see what the modern BOSS mill could do on vintage tires with a three speed. Probably be a challenge not to smoke the tires even at the quarter mile mark.
        Chayil
        • 1 Year Ago
        @EB110Americana
        I remember Roger Huntington from High Performance Cars magazine. He had a formula for power to weight and gearing that was very close about the true performance of a car back in the 60's.
        _M7_
        • 1 Year Ago
        @EB110Americana
        you are right its easy to calculate torque x speed......BUT power its lost on mechanical moving parts so you get less of it at the wheels AND you also loos power x yeras there are about 8hp or 12hp x 10 years
      Justin Campanale
      • 1 Year Ago
      I was thinking the same thing. A 70's Barracuda 426 is lighter than a Dodge Challenger SRT8 6.1 and appears to have the same power, yet is over a second behind in 0-60 times. I always thought it was because of the skimpy tires they put on cars back in the day, as well as the 4 speed manual, which were handicapping its performance. Oh well. You learn something new every day.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
        Chayil
        • 1 Year Ago
        That Pontiac Catalina 2+2 had a trick Royal Bobcat motor in it and ran 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, virtually unheard of back then. They also had a fast one pulled on them with a '64 GTO.
      Sorten Borten
      • 1 Year Ago
      Before reading the article, I would guess it's the superior tires, suspensions and transmissions of the modern car.
      IOMTT
      • 1 Year Ago
      I would be careful about underestimating a few of the old engines. The Hemi as delivered at the dealer had a choke collar on it. It did not take much to make those wake up. The other 2 that come to mind are the L88 and ZL1 Chevy big blocks. Massive power even by todays standards. McLaren M8 Can Am cars ran punched out ZL1s to the tune of 900HP in Can Am competition. But these were basically back door racing engines for NASCAR, NHRA etc.
        Bill Burke
        • 1 Year Ago
        @IOMTT
        Have to agree here. I own a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T with a mild build up on my 383 Magnum engine, a little more gear and that car is scary fast in a straight line. I own a modern German built sports car and have driven a few high end performance model imports and except for the brakes, the Challenger, after 40 plus years, gives a good account of itself in most areas and can certainly beat most of them in thrilling pure acceleration. Yes it is true these new cars really make power from smaller engines, and handle like crazy, but they don't do it like a vintage American muscle car and that makes all the difference in the world. Best car for time machine fun, Dodge Challenger, hands down.
      Avinash Machado
      • 1 Year Ago
      The new Challenger looks like a bloated version of the classic Challenger in the picture.
      Rich
      • 1 Year Ago
      ... handle the exact same, like a brick.
      Number23
      • 1 Year Ago
      I know they're a product of safety regulations, but those pictures clearly illustrate how thick roof pillars and high front ends, fenders and doors have ruined auto styling.
        Stridenttube
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Number23
        Speak for yourself! I really like the higher front ends and thicker pillars. I think It makes the car look more muscular and modern.
      Dorri732
      • 1 Year Ago
      "This figure was calculated on a test stand with no intake, exhaust or power-robbing accessories attached." Must be hard to get an engine to run with no intake. :)
        IOMTT
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dorri732
        This means no air cleaner or filter. Ahh, the sounds of carburetor venturi trying to suck in everything in the immediate area.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dorri732
        [blocked]
      AcidTonic
      • 1 Year Ago
      What's sad is today a turbo 2.0 makes the same power, runs 13.0 flat, has four wheel drive, is still around 3500lbs, and sees easily 25-28mpg highway. Out with the old and in with the new.
        davebo357
        • 1 Year Ago
        @AcidTonic
        Wait that's not sad, it's awesome!
        jtav2002
        • 1 Year Ago
        @AcidTonic
        Yet, those old cars are still infinitely cooler than a fast econobox Evo.
          clquake
          • 1 Year Ago
          @jtav2002
          Can't realistically compare them, one is a techno-charged rally inspired car, the classics are, well, classics. The Evo, as fragile as it is, is still hundreds of times more reliable than the best 60's/70's muscle car. I haven't owned an Evo, but I did daily drive my '70 Judge for a year a few years back, and it required weekly maintenance to keep it running tip top, and having the hood up while working in the rain gets old pretty fast.
      sherlockfreakinholmes
      I've read that as well. Another trick was to use shaved tires. (Now that I've preemptively agreed with you, I'm curious as to how you're going to turn it into a disagreement.) ;)
        • 1 Year Ago
        @sherlockfreakinholmes
        [blocked]
          sherlockfreakinholmes
          Two completely different personalities, you mean. Yeah, I get that.
          sherlockfreakinholmes
          Whoops! Did I stumble onto something? Don't worry. I can honestly say I don't care at all, either way. And unlike Yoyoma200 (and/or his other personalities), I won't cast aspersions or make accusations I can't prove. To do so would be rather childish, don't you think? In any event, this is simply a momentary distraction for me, whereas for others (you know who I mean) it appears to be a life's defining work, which is truly sad. Pathetic, even.
          • 1 Year Ago
          [blocked]
          sherlockfreakinholmes
          BTW, I've noticed a few things and wonder if you'd care to comment: yoyoma200 doesn't have much to say when you're commenting; you and yoyoma200 have a markedly similar writing style; you have a keen interest in chiming and / or suddenly appear when I question or respond negatively to a comment made by yoyoma200; and you seem to be searching out my comments on other topics so that you can disagree with what I've said. Thoughts?
      w0mble
      • 1 Year Ago
      I know which one I'd prefer to be in in a smash!
        Mark1220
        • 1 Year Ago
        @w0mble
        Yeah, the new one.... Watch some crash tests of old cars and check back in !
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