History of 0-60

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.


Datsun 1500 Sports AKA: Fairlady

I’ve owned five two-seaters so far, and two of them are Japanese roadsters.    The first one was a  Datsun 1500 Sports, which in most markets was called the Fairlady, a name not deemed sufficiently macho for the US market.   It later evolved into first the 1600, and then into the 2000.   These cars were the precursors to the 240 z, which in Japan was called the Fairlady Z.

The first time I ever drove anything that could be called a “sports car” I was on a road trip to San Francisco in the Winter of 1969 with my friend Jim Oiler, who owned a 65 Fairlady.   I had a chance to drive his car, and instantly was hooked. I bought the very same car from him about 6 months later, when he decided to sell it to get a 1600, which had 11 more horsepower, 14 inch wheels, and disc brakes. 

Road tests of the era claimed the Datsun 1500 took 15 seconds to reach 60 mph, which means it was way slower than any modern economy car.    It never felt sluggish to me , though and the crude but stiff suspension controlled body motions well enough that it was fun to drive in a brisk manner on winding roads.   I might have been able to corner as fast in my parents four door Dodge (if I could stand the sailboat-like lean angles and the under-steer generated howling of the front tires) but it wouldn’t have actually been fun, where in the Datsun it was an addictive activity.

The car was really fun to slide around and the skinny 13 inch bias ply tires certainly helped the situation.   Even the 85 horsepower out of the little car’s four-banger were enough to overcome the lack of grip in the lower two gears if you grabbed the car by the scruff of it’s neck and tossed the car into the corner.   The skinny tires gentle breakaway made it easy to catch the slide as the tire grip gave way with just a flick of the steering wheel; in the rain you could hang the rear end out and generate lurid slides.  Putting radial tires on it would defeat the whole purpose of the car.

The fact that the top came off was a major bonus, not only for the wind in the hair experience and the sense of speed, but it allowed you to hear the car’s exhaust.  Whoever had owned it before Jim had fitted it with a Cherry Bomb muffler, and the car sounded wonderful. (never thought I’d hear “Cherry Bomb” and “sounded wonderful” in the same sentence)

I know this brings up thoughts of today’s “rice rockets” with loud flatulent exhausts, but the small displacement motor sounded rather musical; a run through the gears provided a great soundtrack with a little “ahhh” sound on overrun at each gear change, and the car wasn’t really very loud at all. 

It’s was a great first sports car, not enough power to get you in trouble and benign handling if you did manage to push it a little over the limit.  30 mpg, (When gas was under 30 cents a gallon) easy to work on; cheap to fix, if it did break.  I kept it for two years and then sold it to get a 289-4-speed 65 Mustang.

The other thing, it was a chick magnet.    “Oh, that’s a cute little car!” may not feed your male ego much, but it looked like it might be fun to ride in to a lot of women who wouldn’t have been too keen to ride in some loud beast of a vehicle that idled at 2,000 RPM and shook like a wet dog when you punched the throttle.

There’s a video below that gives a pretty good sense of what it was like to ride in one.



I still have the roadster bug, I now have a BMW Z3 roadster, which can’t help but remind me of the little Datsun

It’s a little bit faster, but only 3 inches longer (about 10 inches wider, though) and still brings our the the same reaction in me: driving is fun!



1961 Honda C110

This is an example of the first vehicle I ever owned.   It was called a Honda 50 Sport in the US and a Super Cub in many markets.  The “sport’ funtion is denoted by not only the proper tank betweeen the riders legs, but a manual clutch and a high mounted exhaust pipe.  It is a testimony to Soichiro Honda’s engineering skills that the clutch and gearbox were able to survive many a teenager’s fist ham-fisted (and ham-footed) attempts to deal with a manual transmission, as I think most of my friends must have learned how to ride on this little bike.

I learned the rudiments of mechanics by tinkering with the carburator, adjusting the chain,  changing the spark plug, and actually performing my first ever performance modification by removing the diffuser from the rakishly upswept muffler.   (It makes more noise, it MUST be faster, right?)

Most of the time, I used the C110 is a trail bike.   Every once in a while I’d get up the nerve to take it for a ride on the country roads just outside of town.   I’m not sure the sense of freedom this gave me has ever been more intense.  Some of it had to do with the “outlaw” nature of driving before legally able to, but most of it was having wheels and the ability to decide where you’re going: even if you have “No Particular Place to Go.”