How much power do you actually need? It is of course an entirely relative question, depending on what that need actually is and when it occurs.
But let us say the need is that inner itch I imagine most of us share that makes us own or at least covet old, special or classic cars; that excitement as a sunny weekend, an old car event or an unexpected slice of spare time hoves into view. How much power, then, do you need to enjoy a drive on a decent road?
When I was a teenager, my father developed an addiction to Alfasuds second only to the Alfasuds’ addiction to turning into approximately automobile-shaped sculptures of ferric oxide. And I can remember the excitement when our old 1.3Ti was replaced by a new 1.5Ti and with it an increase in power from 75bhp to 85bhp. The new car went like the wind and I could scarcely imagine a family car going faster until in turn the 1.5Ti begat a 1.5 Ti Veloce with 95bhp and then the ultimate Quadrifoglio Verde with, you guessed it, 105bhp. That last car was so quick it would do 0-60mph in almost 10sec. But not quite. Such performance today from any allegedly sporting car would be quite laughable, but then and to a teenage boy it was genuinely thrilling. Because of course speed, like power, is also relative.
‘In the morning of the first test after a winter’s break, their car will feel impossibly, uncontrollably fast, but by the afternoon they’ll have concluded the car is so slow as to barely be able to get out of its own way.’
Talk to Derek Bell about the Mulsanne Straight, pre-chicane. At night. You would think that travelling at 240mph in his Porsche 962 he’d be wide eyed, clinging to wheel, listening as if his life depended upon it for any sound that might indicate a tyre was about to burst or his 800bhp motor about to blow. On the contrary. The straight was where drivers rested up and did the housework. He’d scan the gauges, take a hand off the wheel to adjust perhaps the boost, mixture or brake balance, have a look at the fun fair, wiggle his toes in his boots to keep the circulation going and so on. It’s one reason so many drivers considered Daytona a far greater challenge, because you didn’t get to spend almost half of every lap with little to do other than steer straight.
Talk to Formula 1 drivers. Gerhard Berger once opined that an F1 car would only have enough power when it was capable of spinning its wheels regardless of where it was on the race track, and this from a man who raced in F1 with a turbo BMW engine at his back, still probably the most powerful F1 engine of all time. Others will tell you that in the morning of the first test after a winter’s break, their car will feel impossibly, uncontrollably fast, but by the afternoon they’ll have concluded the car is so slow as to barely be able to get out of its own way.
So how far does this elasticity stretch the other way? Not being the world’s greatest sleeper, I rose at dawn on Saturday and for no other reason than because I could, I went for a drive. I did about 50 miles on Welsh A and B roads I’ve known all my life and if I saw another car I don’t recall it. I remember lining up sweeping bends, managing the mass of the car, braking into the apex and carrying all the speed I could to the apex. I could have been in a Pagani Zonda. But I wasn’t. I was in a Citroen 2CV and not just any old 2CV, but my beloved 1958 ripple bonnet 2CV with an engine boasting not the 602cc of post 1968 models, but just 425cc. And while the 602cc engine boasted a rousing 29bhp, mine has just twelve. Twelve brake horsepower, enough on a good day to push the car through the air at perhaps 50mph, yet enough to plaster a smile all over my face for the duration.
So the answer to the question ‘how much power is enough?’ is simply that so long as the car is inherently pleasing to drive, any amount of power is enough. Ultimately it’s not the power per se that matters, but what the car does with it that counts.