DEC 04th 2015

Axon's Automotive Anorak – Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely?

Bugatti Veyron

As you will no doubt be aware by now, the theme for the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed has recently been announced. After much lively debate, Lord March and the Goodwood motorsport creative committee have settled on the 2016 FoS theme as ‘Full Throttle – The Endless Pursuit of Power.’

McLaren Can-Am promo

The ‘power’ element of this theme will be vividly brought to life at next summer’s Festival of Speed (23-26 June 2016) through an abundance of brute power, including Can-Am racers, 1980s-era turbo Grand Prix cars, Group B rally weapons, early Land Speed Record machines and wild drag racers, where power is thrust to the fore, above all else.

The endless pursuit of power has to be a prime objective for any competition car in its quest for victory, but this power is often at the expense of drivability, aerodynamics and efficiency.

McLaren Can-Am

In recent years this pursuit for power has relentlessly morphed across to the road car world too, with the advent of hypercar, and the endless – and in my view somewhat foolhardy – desire to outgun the 1,000bhp+ Bugatti Veyron 16.4, with some yet-to-be-seen, untested hypercars now claiming to produce as much as 3,500bhp!

Ironically the age of the power-crazed hypercar has coincided with an era stifled like never before by anti-speeding devises, legislation and lobbyists, with average traffic flow speeds often now slower than 100 years ago.

As engine power outputs have increased, power-to-weights ratios and general efficiency have suffered. Consider the VW Golf GTi, for example. When first launched 40 years ago, the original GTi had a 1.6-litre engine developing 110 bhp, in a package weighing a waif-like 810kg, to take the Golf from 0-60mph in 9 seconds, and on to a top speed of 110mph.

Golf GTi

Compare this to a current Mark 7 Golf GTi, which now produces double the Mark 1’s power output, at 220 bhp, from its 2-litre engine, taking the lardy 1,351kg model from 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, and on to a maximum of 152 mph. Progress in some areas perhaps, but not all.

I was fortunate enough to experience first hand what 1,000bhp+ feels like in a 1,021bhp Bristol Fighter during a recent Continental jaunt, and it was quite staggering, to put it mildly.

Bristol Fighter

That said, when travelling at speed, from point to point, the 1,000bhp Fighter, or any other high powered car for that matter, is realistically no quicker than a lesser powered machine, due to the need to stop for fuel – and possibly clean underwear – more often!

To help illustrate the point, I recall many moons ago challenging a friend to a ‘race’ as a spotty teen, driving from chez Axon in Marlow to a friend’s 21st birthday party in Chepstow; him in his tatty but rare Ford Capri RS 3100, and me in my much-maligned Citroen Mehari ‘jeep’. Being based around a 2CV engine and platform, my 32bhp, 525kg Mehari was not exactly the fastest thing on the road, with 0-60mph taking a very leisurely 43.7seconds, and topping out at a heady 64 mph! 

Citroen Mehari

Against my chum in his racy 148 bhp Capri RS, my lethargic Citroen and I didn’t stand a chance of getting to Chepstow first. However, driven enthusiastically, his Ford only managed around 17mpg, whereas the Mehari, driven flat out for the entire journey, returned a smug 48+, negating my need to refuel on the trip, whereas he had stop at least twice.

This, combined with his Ford’s wide tyres and tail-happy chassis struggling with snow and icy road conditions, saw the frugal near-bicycle tyred Citroen romp home comfortably ahead of the Capri. A classic case of the tortoise beating the hare. So much for power eh?

Photography courtesy of Tom Shaxson and Magnus Gertkemper (latter licensed under Creative Commons 2.0)

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