It’s time to argue.
We live a midst the greatest HP war in the history of the automotive industry. The past 20's years have seen horsepower and torque sky rocket. Emission are down, gas mileage is up, and cars are more reliable than ever before. This is all good news for car enthusiasts. It begs the question, when did it begin? What is the genesis of the modern hp war?
The stories I grew up with pegged the glory years from 1965-1971/2 for cheap power and speed. It was told to me that it all started when GM dropped the 389 into the Pontiac Tempest Le Mans and called it the GTO. I’ve heard it argued that it really was started with the hemi powered Chrysler letter cars of the 1950's and the 1 hp/ cubic inch barrier, but those arguments are quite weak and don’t explain the lull seen in the early 1960's.
With today’s 800+ hp Demon, 700+ Hellcat, Vette, 911... 650+ cars of many forms, hp and cheap speed is more prevalent the even the best years of the 1960's. After conversing with a fellow gear head, we couldn’t decide on a true genesis of the modern hp war. Was it the C5 Z06 with a heady 405 hp? Was it the 2005 C6 or Mustang GT with a sub 25K price tag and 300 hp? Was it the Shelby GT with a then staggering 450hp in 2008? When did 300, 350, or 400 hp become so common as to not produce breath taking awe? The F40 was the fastest Ferrari when it debuted, the F50 came out roughly a decade later and may or may not have been faster - depends on how you measure it, but I’m baised towards the F50..... I digress. The F40 wasn’t truly surpassed until the Enzo came out with the supercar plethora of the early aughts. Today however, McLaren has the 720s which will run neck and neck with the P1 that just came out a couple years ago.
I believe the genesis of the modern hp war is the 2000 Cobra R.
The New Edge generation of Mustang ran from 1999-2004. A Cobra was available in 1999 and it came with 320 hp. However, there was an issue from the factory and some left a few ponies short. The base GT sported 260hp and ~300 ft lbs of torque. The Cobra R made a huge jump over previous Cobras. It was and still is relatively expensive, but that is due to its rarity over its performance. Ford stuffed a big honking motor into its small coupe and turned everything up to 10.
With a few choice mods you could have the 400 hp and the fastest car to come out of the big 3 short of a Corvette and the Viper.
I remember reading that comparison test over and over again when it came out. These cars were pure speed and bad to the bone. They all knocked on the door of 400hp or blew it away in the case of the Viper. The next year the Vette came with 405 HP, and three years later the Terminator Cobra came with 390 hp, although a tune and pulley swap nets a number closer to 500.
The Cobra R was the first car based on something with humbles roots that dared to see what would happen when you stuck a big motor into a small package. The hottest Camaros and Mustangs previously capped out around 320 hp. The Cobra R brought supercar hp numbers so a vehicle that had 190 hp in its base form. The Cobra R boasted more than double the hp of the V6.
Once the 2000 Cobra R went out of production, big numbers became normal. 300 hp was no longer a big number, 400 hp was the big number to shoot for. 300 hp was the ante. Soon 350 hp was the ante, and now 400 is the entry level for horsepower in the chase for cheap speed and high hp.
This is the car that started it all, the 2000 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra R. In all it’s removable front splitter and functional boy racer wing glory.