Subscribe to the Free
Newsletter

Every Year, The Power Numbers Keep Ratcheting Upward

Every year it seems that the performance bar gets pushed farther into the stratosphere

View Full Gallery

There was a time when cars that ran 12s were kings of the world. Where a 450hp engine let you rule the boulevard. Now it’s just your typical production car. As time marched on, what was once considered fast or powerful has changed. Today, you feel like you need to give an excuse why your engine doesn’t make at least 600 hp. Add a blower and nothing is impressive until you get to 1,000 hp. Why? What the hell are you going to do with 1,000 hp in a street car? Besides burnouts and bragging rights, anything north of 800 hp is nearly useless. Of course, this is hot rodding, so we don’t really mind wretched excess, but we need to understand the realities of life. Foremost is the realization that 400-500 hp is more than enough for most street cars. Sure, you can aspire for more, but know that you really don’t need it to have fun with your Chevy.


001 Editorial SB4 2/3

Mercury Racing came out with a 750hp, DOHC, LS7-based engine they call the SB4. Think about that; a fully warrantied, naturally aspirated 750hp crate engine. You can’t mod it for more power, but who cares? That’s plenty of performance for any street car.


When I look back, I see the introduction of the LS engine as when power numbers started to rocket upward. In 1997, the LS1 put out an underrated 340 hp, but that number soon shot up to over 400 hp, and has been going steadily upward ever since. There’s a boosted LT5 that puts out 750 hp and the NA LT1 with 455 hp. And those are non-modified factory mills! Looking at custom-built engines and the power numbers are staggering. We recently finished a 415-inch stroker LS3 with Shafiroff Racing and, with a ProCharger supercharger, it roared out 987 hp. At first we thought about stuffing in just a bit more boost to hit the 1,000hp mark. But why? To get a sexier dyno number? What use will another 13 hp be? The answer is none, except for bragging rights. In fact, we will most likely dial down the boost some to make the car more driveable. That is the point, right?

002 Editorial LS 3/3

At the other end of the spectrum, we built this low-buck 5.3L LS for a few grand. It made right around 420 hp and 400 lb-ft. To put that into context, a 1969 COPO 427 big-block was 500 hp and 450 lb-ft, while a 396 big-block SS Camaro was rated around 375 hp. And that 427 mill was a high-compression (12:1), race-ready engine. When you look at it that way, 420 hp is nothing to be ashamed of.


We’re in a horsepower war, but is it for the right reasons? If you have a drag racer, then I get the need for more, but what will you do with a 900hp car on a stretch of highway, or even an autocross track? This battle for peak numbers also ignores the value of low and midrange power (as in torque). This is what really makes a car fun to drive. We’re caught up with trying to keep up, or ahead, of the next guy. And that’s fine if it’s for the right reasons. I can’t imagine ever needing more than 750 hp for any car and even that number is more than anyone really needs in a street car. Of course, hot rodding isn’t really about needs, it’s about fulfilling wants and chasing dreams. So maybe a few more pounds of boost in our stroker LS3 would be fun. After all, sometimes a little more is just enough.

Photography by Steven Rupp

MORE PHOTOS

VIEW FULL GALLERY

Connect With Us

Get Latest News and Articles. Newsletter Sign Up

sponsored links

subscribe to the magazine

get digital get print
CLOSE X
BUYER'S GUIDE
SEE THE ALL NEW
NEWS, REVIEWS & SPECS
TO TOP