Clarkson rails against the horsepower race

As we know, the Ferrari 250 GTO is widely regarded to be the best, most important Ferrari ever. Unfortunately, I cannot verify this, because the BBC is not rich enough to pay the insurance premium should I ever get behind the wheel. But I do know one thing. It produces just 295bhp.

So, let’s just get this straight. The best car ever made in the whole of the history of the world produces fewer horsepower – a lot fewer – than a hot Ford Focus.

In the desert playground of Qatar, this, of course, is a ridiculous notion. The best car, there, is the car with the most horsepower. Horsepower is everything. Horsepower is the mechanical embodiment of your scrotum. He who has the most is the best and the strongest and the most handsome.

In the old days, it was top speed that counted – specifically, how high the numbers went on your car’s speedometer. My Dad’s Ford read to 120mph, so he had a bigger penis than John Forrester’s dad, whose Sunbeam speedo only read to 90. In my 11-year-old head, this was a fact.

But it costs carmakers a lot of money to buy components that can handle truly high speeds, so most these days are limited to 155mph. This means everyone’s genitals are the same. And it’s the same story with acceleration. I remember genuinely believing that I was better than my mate because my Scirocco did 0-60 in 7.9 seconds and his Chevette HS took 8.3. Now, though, cars get to 60mph in the time nature’s little foibles will let them. Nought-to-60 is no longer even remotely relevant in the schoolyard. Or the pub. Or even in Qatar. Nope. It’s horsepower.

“The EU may be pointing at polar bears and holes in the ozone layer, but engineers know that new cars have to produce more power”
The car companies know this, which is why there’s an inexorable quest to find more. The EU may be jumping up and down and pointing at polar bears and holes in the ozone layer,

but while engineers know their next engine must produce nothing but daffodils, they also know that if it doesn’t produce more power than the last one – which belched out a cocktail of coal and acid – they will be finished.

What’s more, it must produce more than the equivalent Audi, which must produce more than the equivalent Mercedes which must produce more than the equivalent BMW and so on. However, we are now fast approaching the time when the silliness must stop.

I first noticed the problem when driving a Brabus-tuned Mercedes SL a couple of years ago. It produced 730bhp and nearly a thousand torques. These are the sort of figures that can cause a tent pole in your dish dash. But sadly, they cause even bigger issues on the road. The car was nigh-on undrivable.

Initially, I thought that maybe Brabus had had a bad day, and that it simply wasn’t thought out properly, but later I tried the 660bhp AMG-tuned SL Black. And that was just as bad. It was like driving a turbocharged whale.

It rolled about when you asked it to go round a corner, and any attempt to balance the car with some throttle was futile. It was like trying to balance a screaming baby on a baseball bat.

Maybe, I thought, the chassis of the SL is simply not capable of dealing with such big numbers. It was a plausible thought. It’s acar for dentists in Houston, and not steely-stomached young racers such as myself.

However, more recently, I tried the Ferrari 599 GTO, which also produces 660bhp, and that didn’t work either. And the 599’s chassis was most definitely not designed with Texan mouth-men in mind.


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Clarkson rails against the horsepower race