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Gaping Difference Between Modern Day American Cars and Those From 40 Years Ago

How far have American cars evolved

Updated June 27, 2017

I’m not reinventing the wheel by saying modern day automobiles are much faster and generally more powerful than those from 40 or 50 years ago, but the width of the gap is staggering. Today, you can (almost) literally walk into any major dealership in the country and head back home in 500-horsepower 4-wheel rocket afterwards. Of course, that “afterwards” part costs at least around $50,000 these days, which isn’t all that much actually. American cars, or cars available in the US market if you will, were capable of making 500 ponies or thereabouts almost fifty years ago too – that’s true. Thing is; COPO Camaros, GSX Stage 1 Buicks, and L88 Corvettes were as rare as they came back then. And at the top of their game as well. Modern day Shelby GT350 Mustang, ZL1 Camaro or even CTS V Cadillac are, on the other hand, readily available in large quantities.

Let’s crunch the real numbers now, shall we? 40 years ago, average car in America netted a meager 145 horsepower. Today, that number is closer to 285 ponies. At the same time, mid-seventies car needed as much as 14 seconds on average, while modern vehicles sprint to 60 mph in 7 seconds – half the amount of their 40 year seniors. The only problem with this parallel is the fact that performance-sterile mid-seventies definitely aren’t the best available comparison period. American muscle cars available just five or so years prior to this period could have stood their ground against most modern options. Some of them at least. Those aforementioned, to be more precise. Then again, they were still few and far between.

Aston Martin DBS V8 – the most powerful car offered in America, in 1976 with 285 hp at tap

Let us not forget the fuel efficiency too, since we’re at it. The same way the average power increased by double amount and sprint times halved, fuel efficiency rose from 15 mpg in mid-seventies to 30 mpg average today. Although engine displacements went down some 40% in the meantime, that’s still quite an accomplishment. Especially if we consider the sheer amount of power advantage modern day cars have compared to their predecessors. Of course, part of that feat goes to modern materials and general downsizing. After all, modern day vehicles aren’t only smaller, but much lighter too.

In 2016, top tier V6 mid-size sedans like Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry, all had around 270 hp (comparable with 1976 Aston Martin DBS)

And, now for the negatives. No matter which manufacturer you’re going with today, the issue of build quality will follow in your very footsteps. The term “They don’t build them like that anymore” doesn’t circle around for no apparent reason. Although some American cars from back in the day were far from impressive, they were mostly highly reliable and built to last. Especially from today’s perspective. It’s the industry’s thing all right, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

When we commit all of the aforementioned pros and cons to paper, it’s evident that modern cars take home the cake. They’re simply better handlers, more comfortable, safer, efficient, faster and more powerful. Whether they’re built better is debatable. And so is their aesthetic appeal. After all, that’s an acquired taste.

Thing is, today we have at least dozen 1,000+ horsepower hypercars to choose from. Most powerful cars 40 years ago didn’t even have 300 ponies at tap. Today, you can get that from most reasonably large SUV’s and family sedans. This, apparently, is the direction in which automobile evolution is heading. And it’ll keep doing so whether we like it or not.


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Nikola Potrebić
About Nikola Potrebić

Despite driving a piece of junk, Nikola still manages to survive the harrowing experience called "A road trip in a Yugo," day in, day out. On the other hand, precious few things move him as muscle cars do. Especially those from the bygone golden era, which makes him wonder why wasn't he born a few decades earlier? Well, at least he's been given the opportunity to enjoy the likes of the Pontiak Aztek, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Fiat Multipla, and other lovely millennials, right? Come to think of it, I'll stick with my Yugo. Thank you very much.

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