Ever wonder where the 0-60 automotive test came from? The person who gets the credit for making it a standard was Tom McCahill, road test editor of Mechanix Illustrated (Written so Even You can Understand it), who some say invented the modern road test in 1946 by publishing a test of his own car. You can read more about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_McCahill
It was adopted as a feature of all the automotive magazines and became an accepted standard (along with the ¼ mile) for measuring automotive performance.
Going back to the 46 Ford, McCahill found that it would take about 23 seconds to get to 60 from a dead stop, and by 1949 a new V8 Ford would do it in just a tick under 16. The 1955 Chevy, which was a real revolution for low priced cars would do 0-60 in under 10 seconds with the 180 HP “Power Pack” small block.
By 1960 fast sedans like the Chrysler 300 could turn times in the mid 8 second area, with Corvettes running in the mid 7 second range. 1962 saw the Chevy Impala SS with the famed “409” turn sub 7 second times, although the more typical Impala with a small block would take closer to ten.
VW vans of the era would take 30 seconds to get to 60, (ones from the 50’s could take over 40! The ones made after 1971 would do it in 22 seconds.)
By 1966, a GTO was just under 7 seconds to 60, which was faster than the fastest road going Ferrari and could hold that lead up to about 100 mph.
They were both bog slow compared to the 427 Cobra, which could do the deed in 4.2 seconds! It would be years before other road going vehicles matched this feat. The fastest 427 Corvette of the era took about a half second longer to hit 60, while the typical 327 powered one was in the middle of the 6 second range.
The first Porsche 911, by comparison, took just under 9 seconds to hit 60, whereas an MGB might do it in around 12 to 13 seconds. By 1970 a 240Z would do 0-60 in the mid 8 second range, which made it really fast compared to something like a TR-6: which would take nearly 11 seconds, or the TR Spitfire at 15 seconds to do the same.
Once unleaded gas and lower emissions friendly compression ratios came into play in the early 70’s, cars started making a lot less power and slowed considerably. A 1974 Z-28 Camaro took a little over 8 seconds to hit 60 and the Standard v8 Camaro took around 10 seconds.
The standard full size V8 sedan or station wagon from the early 70’s to the mid 80s would take around 12 to 13 seconds to reach 60 and it wasn’t until the late 80’s when IROC z-28’s and Mustang 5.0’s started getting back down to mid 6 second times. Things steadily improved through the 90’s and early parts of this century to where most cars now are all under 9 seconds. Mini vans post times in the mid 6 second ranges. Compact cars usually do it in under 10. A Chevy Suburban will do under 8 seconds. A Prius, which is considered a rather slow car, takes 10.7 seconds. The fastest Camaros and Mustangs are now about as fast as the old Cobras were, and there are lots of cars that will do 0-60 in under 4 seconds.
So what does that all mean? You need to take this with a grain of salt. Modern tires have a lot more grip, so all the performance cars get off the line a lot quicker, and that gives them about a half to one second advantage. The modern cars that are fast all get about twice the highway mileage of their counterparts in the 60’s and 70’s, idle smoothly and are quite civilized when you don’t have your foot on the long pedal.
The other thing is that nobody spends all their time at wide open full throttle. The big high torque V8’s in those old station wagons and sedans would allow them to cruise smoothly and quietly all day on the interstate at 80 mph.
Although a current mini van might run away from a 1971 240 Z or a 62 409 Impala at a stop light if the driver were to put his foot to the floor, but the driver of the vintage car would be having a lot more fun doing it. (as long as he could keep his ego out of it)
And those muscle cars from the 60’s? Well, the newest crop of performance cars will outrun most any of them, easily. But, subjectively, those old muscle cars have it all over the new ones in terms of drama. They may be going slower, but the passengers and driver won’t feel like they are. A run through the gears in say, a 66 GTO, is an event, with a ferocious sound track, the car hopping sideways with each gear change. Letting out the clutch sounds like an explosion under the car as the front end of the car visibly rises. Not quite the same experience in a new Mustang: you may get shoved back in the seat, and you still have the V8 sound track, but it’s more muted. The car idles as smoothly as your mom’s station wagon (the GTO has a menacing rumble, even at idle) did back in the day, there’s no sense of a thoroughbred begging to be unleashed, the whole experience is way more refined, and well, civilized.
Not sure if that’s an improvement.