As I sit here trying to wipe the cheesy grin off my face, I'm fondly remembering the trip I had just taken to Kansas. I went to spend the week with the guys at ProCharger while they installed one of their brand-new supercharger kits, and we tested it on a 392-powered Challenger. The car ultimately made 616 horsepower at the wheel and ran 11-second e.t.’s at the track. Reaching 616 horsepower by spending a day’s worth of time bolting on a single item is a really cool concept. While I thought those numbers were great improvements over stock, the horsepower increase and subsequent e.t. decrease isn’t what caused the bulk of my excitement. I’m old school -- I’m used to having horsepower, but not with the added amenities that these new cars afford. With that said, what actually seemed to impress me the most is that all of this is now capable with a basically stock car that has all of the comfort items that you could ever want.
I don’t want to say I’m jaded when it comes to horsepower. Sure, I’ve been in my fair share of high-horsepower cars during the last 20 some-odd years, and maybe I’ve just gotten used to the power. But I guess when it comes right down to it, the most impressive aspect of this car having 616 horsepower at the rear wheels has to do with the fact that not only is the car powerful, it rides nice, has air conditioning, and you can hear the radio while you drive.
Like most of you guys reading this, when we made gobs of power “back in the day,” it wasn’t quite as easy as it is now. That kind of power meant engine disassembly, and a lot of work. You also made a lot of sacrifices to get that power. Having a lot of power meant that you didn’t have air conditioning, you couldn’t hear the radio...and how many of you removed the power steering from your car as soon as you got it? Back then we were willing to make sacrifices in the name of power, so what’s changed?
For starters, making power has gotten a lot easier. Like I said earlier, I remember a time when if you wanted more power, you were going to have to tear the engine down and start doing major work. Sure, an intake and carburetor and a set of headers were a normal upgrade, but they would only get you so far. What that means is that when you noticed the increase in power from just those bolt-ons, you inevitably had to have more. Enter the frequent trips to the speed shop, and the task of handing the machine shop guy more money. But man, when you got your engine back, the first trip to the “Circuit” made it all worthwhile. You were probably somewhere between the ages of 17 and 20-something, so the absence of a smooth idle, the comfortable ride of a fully-bushed suspension, and let’s not forget the absence of a radio or tape player, meant nothing -- you were a gear head, and you earned the respect of the rest of the guys at the hangout. Again, what changed?
As much as it pains me to admit this, I’ll tell you what changed. We -- yes, all of us -- have gotten older. I don’t know about you, but I like the smooth ride of radial tires, and I can’t even imagine driving to work every day without air conditioning. If you say you can live without A/C, that means you have never had it. I used to think that air conditioning was something you eventually grew into -- it meant you got old. I never had a car with working air until I moved to Florida 13 years ago. All I can say now is that I’ll never have a daily driver without it. I like being able to pull up to a stop light with the radio and air conditioning on, and not working to keep a car idling with both feet on the pedals. It definitely makes the ride a bunch more enjoyable. So, now that I know what happened, I guess I’ll have to live with it -- at least in regards to my daily driver. I'm not admitting that I'm too old, maybe a little soft -- literally and figuratively, because if I decide that a short trip to the late-night hang out doesn't require air conditioning or a radio, I can still do that. I still have a couple of cars with old-school horsepower. I’m not giving up my classic rides all together. Old-fashioned horsepower is still a great way to enjoy a car. The smell of raw fuel, the thump of high compression, and a camshaft that doesn't make any vacuum is more fun than a lot of people can understand. Lucky for me, I not only understand it, I relish in it -- that is until it’s time for the Monday morning commute in traffic.
Come Monday morning, it’s nice to have a vehicle to drive that has a comfortable ride and is fun to drive. And let’s look at it this way, if that comfortable, air conditioned, and music-filled ride has the added benefit of a lot of horsepower, getting older just means getting wiser.