I love old cars. I love the looks, the sounds and the smells of them. Yes, smells. The smell of the exhaust, in small quantities, smells good to me. Maybe it reminds me of working on cars with my dad, or maybe I am just odd that way, who knows. The new cars don’t match the looks, the sounds or the smells of the older cars. The looks is due to the current design trends and the safety standards they have to meet, and not what I am thinking about today. The sounds and smells of the exhaust is due to emissions standards.
With the emissions standards cars have to meet today, the exhaust smell of unburnt fuel is not there, and this is a good thing, nostalgia aside. After all, breathing that stuff in is obviously not good for you, or at least it should be obvious. If it isn’t, then go knock yourself out, literally.
The emissions standards are also why the cars don’t have the cool loping idle like they used to. At least I think it is cool, and no it isn’t because the car isn’t running right. It is due to the camshaft lobe separation. What that means is how far apart the centers of the intake and exhaust cam lobes are. The closer they are together, the rougher the idle, but the more power potential an engine may have, provided everything else is matched to it.
New cars, with the improved cylinder heads they have don’t need camshafts like that, so they have a smooth idle, but can still make power. And why do they have those improved cylinder heads, it was to be able to meet emissions standards. The ever increasing emissions standards have given us the high efficiency, not just of airflow, but burn characteristics as well.
What that means is that the auto manufacturers looked at how combustion happens in the cylinder, and also how the air fuel mixture gets in there to burn and made it work better. The better airflow and burning not only helped emissions, but it helped horsepower as well.
Sure, during the 70’s, there were a lot of V-8’s that barely made 100 horsepower, but that is because they were still trying to meet the emissions standards with old cylinder head technology. As we got into the 80’s technology improved, and so did performance. Once we got into the 90’s and beyond, things really took off.
When we look at what is available today for performance engines from the big three, it is pretty amazing. Ignoring the supercharged engines since there weren’t any supercharged factory engines in the muscle car era that I am aware of, and trying to make this as close as to an apples to apples comparison as possible, we have some impressive numbers today.
The 5.0 Mustang GT has 420 horsepower, the 392 Hemi in the Challenger and Charger has 470 horsepower, and the Camaro has a 6.2 liter V-8 with 426 horsepower. The Mustang and the Camaro also have supercharged versions with even more power. And rumor has it that there will be a supercharged version of the Challenger for 2014 as well.
If we compare those numbers to the best that each manufacturer had in the muscle car era, we see Mopar had the 425 HP 426 Hemi, Chevrolet had the 450 HP 454 LS6, and Ford had the Boss 429 with 375 horsepower. Just remember, that the horsepower numbers from back then were based on gross numbers, which is just the engine on the dyno, versus net like today with the full exhaust and all the accessories hooked up, like it would be in a car. Plus the numbers back then were made as much in the marketing department as the dyno room. They were often under rated to try to get an advantage in racing, or a better insurance rate. So take all numbers from back then, take a grain of salt (or a sip of your favorite beverage) then compare them to the new cars only for general effect.
But none of those engines would have a prayer of matching the fuel economy, emissions and drivability that the modern cars have.
Sure the cars may not be as cool, but even without the supercharged models, todays muscle cars will keep up with all but the most rare and powerful muscle cars of the 60’s. And that is what the emissions standards gave us. Of course, there was a lot of underpowered cars unil we got to this point, but those are gone now.
Of course with all the added stuff to meet emissions, there are more things to go wrong. Not long ago, I was driving down the interstate behind a vehicle with a bad catalytic converter. It was pretty easy to tell, either that, or they were hauling a load of sulfur. The smell was horrible. I actually had to slow down and let them get farther ahead of me so I could keep breathing.
But when you look at the need for plugs and points, and all the tune-ups of the old cars, the new ones hardly need anything. Most of them will go 100,000 miles before they need spark plugs. In the 60’s, that was often considered wore out for a car. Now it is no big deal. And part of that is due to the fuel injection not dumping extra gas into the engine that ends up in the oil. See, another benefit of emissions.
Although I think that they have passed the point of diminishing returns on emissions by now, our air is definately better for it. Although I still prefer the sounds and smells of the old cars.