It’s a subject of debate all the time here at Super Chevy Command Central. How much horsepower is enough? How much is too much? These discussions can get pretty heated at times, though mostly it’s just an exercise in thinking out loud.
Racers can never have enough power. Make sure you have pushed the rules envelope to its bursting point (and beyond, as long as you don’t get caught). You always have to have more than the guy in the other lane. When it comes to street cars, however, the picture gets a little muddy. The first problem is how much horsepower can your tires and suspension take? We’ve seen cars with 500 horsepower driving around on tires made for 200. Makes for a great smoke show at the local cruise night, but doesn’t do much for acceleration.
Similarly, we remember Pro Street cars back in the ’80s that looked for all the world like the Pro Stock cars that inspired them, but literally didn’t even run—they had all kinds of blowers and carbs bolted to empty engine blocks. Talk about a farce.
The 509 in my Nova made 669 horsepower on the engine dyno. We then swapped in a solid roller cam and added 20 rear wheel horsepower. This translated into 503 total at the wheels (SAE corrected) on our company DynoJet. That was enough to propel our 3,770-lb project car (with driver) to a best of 10.47 at 130 mph at Atco Raceway. Is that enough? I used to think tires were the ultimate limiting factor, but amazingly thanks to the fat Nitto drag radials and Competition Engineering Slide-A-Link bars, this SOB really plants the tires on the street.
When we tested the new ZL1 Camaro on our dyno, it cranked out 509 to the tires. You’d think that’d be enough, but the new Shelby GT500 makes close to 600. Guess the ZL1 needs more—it’ll only go 184 mph topped out.
This month we test ProCharger’s new i-1 supercharger as equipped on a 2010 Camaro (see page 22 for the full scoop. It made 568 rwhp with an otherwise stock engine, a full 59 more than the ZL1, and it did it with 7.5 psi of boost. Is that enough? Not according to the posts on our Facebook page. They all thought it should be more, more, more!!!!!!! Geez, this is a car with one bolt-on making more power than Chevy’s most powerful, most expensive (as of this writing) ponycar. And it averaged 26 mpg on the trip from Kansas to Florida.
When I posed this “how much is enough” question to Super Chevy tech contributor Dan “Nova Man” Foley, he had an excellent response. “I have to have enough power to be able to waste any new car on the road,” he stated, adding. “With today’s new cars, that’s getting harder and harder.”
Indeed it is. A stock Camaro SS is essentially a 13.2 to 13.4 car in bone-stock trim. Any base C6 Vette is capable on mid- to- low-12s—mid- to low 11s if you come up against a ZO6 or ZR1. It’s truly a jungle out there.
Of course, some enthusiasts aren’t bothered by this horsepower race. They’re perfectly happy with their bone-stock old cars, whether they make 150 horsepower or 400. I know a guy with a Rat-powered classic Chevy. Rarely does he take it over 4,000 rpm. Just doesn’t care. Loves the way the car looks, how it feels, and the sounds it makes. He relishes every thumbs-up he gets as he rolls down the road. Does it concern him that the Chevy advertises the ’14 Stingray as a 12.0/119 mph car off the showroom floor and it would wipe the streets with his beautiful old toy?
Nope. Not one bit.
One thing that does shock me when it comes to modern horsepower, aftermarket or factory, is how docile it’s become. I remember when any 10-second hot rod would have been a bucking bronco on the street, damn near unlivable. Contrast this with my 10-second ’72 Nova. It runs all day on 93 octane, Foley and I drove it 1,100 miles from Jersey to Tampa without using so much as a drop of oil. We never had to so much as touch a screw on the carburetor. It got to the point where we didn’t even bother to raise the hood at gas stops. Power brakes, power steering, four-wheel discs. All we needed was overdrive and A/C.
Modern technology has given us the ability to build 1,000 horsepower street machines that can do double duty as racecars. I could only shake my head when I saw in-car video of Rod Saboury’s 6-second, twin-turbo, big-block ’63 Corvette calmly motoring the Woodward Dream Cruise a few years ago. No overheating and no drama, despite a traffic jam that extended for miles. I wonder where the limits actually are.
Geez, maybe there aren’t any.