The year was 1987; the place was the bleak suburban landscape of central Ohio. My friend Woody had decided to buy a mid-Seventies FIAT Spider, one of the over-bumpered 1756cc models, in plain white with a black vinyl interior. It was way cool, and it seemed considerably faster than his previous car, a Celica of similar vintage. We just didn’t how how fast it really was. “We need to test the 0-60,” I suggested.
Essington Drive was the straightest, flattest, least police-infested road we could find for this. Slightly over nine hundred feet long. I held the stopwatch. Woody revved the FIAT to about three grand and dumped the clutch. There was a modest squeak and we were off. Essington seemed awfully short as the speedometer swept past the 30 mark, dallied past 40, and meandered by 50.
“Don’t give up!” I called out. “We can do it!” It was just about possible to read the individual letters of the stop sign ahead when Woody yelled,
“Sixty!” and hauled the Spider down to an unevenly-calipered stop. I looked at the digital stopwatch, which indicated 14.1.
“Fourteen seconds. I might have hit it too late at the end. It could be, like, really, thirteen and a half, probably. ” There was a pause, and then we both said,
Fast-forward to the present day, twenty-five years later, this very morning. I am sitting at a stoplight in my Porsche 911 Carrera 2. Car and Driver obtained a 4.6-second 0-60 time in a car more or less identical to this one. About three hundred feet on the other side of the light, my lane ends and I will need to merge. There’s a pinched-looking middle-aged woman in the lane next to me, driving a light blue Camry, and when the left-turn arrow ahead of us turns green, she betrays her future intentions by reflexively creeping ahead a few inches.
Hmm. I can’t see the wheels or badging of this Camry.It’s probably a four-cylinder LE. It could, however, be a V6 XLE, the rocketship of the empty-nest crowd. I consider my options. If I roll out mildly when the light turns green and she floors it, I am proper fucked. The 911 won’t have the torque to close the gap and I will have to take my chances with the vehicle behind her, which is — checking — a Yukon Denali. I would probably have to do the old ghetto trick of pulling the clutch out on the move, redlining the engine, and popping the left pedal. This is not something I am eager to do, or to be seen doing.
On the other hand, if I pull a full axle-hopper of an autocross start and she rolls off, I will confirm every stereotype of Porker owners the world ’round. I look at the woman’s face. She has both hands on the wheel and is looking straight ahead. It’s probably go time.
As the green arrow turns yellow and then clicks off, I feed the 911 some throttle. When the full green hits, I click off a ProSolo-worthy launch and see the Camry’s nose rise aggressively in my right-side mirror. I grab second with about a four-car gap back to what is obviously a freakin’ V-6 and flick the turn signal to take the lane. Another impromptu street-racing victory. In a Porsche. Against an old woman in a Camry. And it wasn’t a sure thing. Welcome to 2012.
Once upon a time, the average family sedan did 0-60 in about fifteen seconds. Fast cars did it in under ten. Supercars did it in six or less. The 2012 Camry, by that definition, is a supercar, as are many of the cars we drive here at TTAC, from candy-assed four-cylinder budget Bimmers to Lexus hybrids. It’s rare to find a car or truck that can’t run the benchmark in nine seconds or less. Cars are faster now than they have ever been, in every segment.
Not surprisingly, people are using the capabilities. Traffic runs fast and close nowadays. The default speed on Midwestern freeways is well north of 70mph nowadays, and my recent experiences in Chicago, New York, and Detroit suggest that, in the cramped and difficult-to-monitor urban arteries, the average driver may be closing in on 80. I’ve completed a few long-distance freeway hauls lately and averaged well over 72mph, including rest stops and the occasional slowing down to stare at an accident with my fellow morons.
The 0-60 test dates back to the post-WWII motoring journals. In an era where even the “highways” were slow-moving affairs infested with trucks doing 30mph uphill and forty-horsepower Volkswagen Beetles, it made sense. Sixty miles per hour represented about the maximum speed at which decent people traveled.
Today, people who merge onto the Interstate at sixty are roundly cursed by the cars behind them and the tractor-trailers which cacophonously Jake-brake down to avoid pasting them into little hybrid-powered metal doilies. Some time ago, I was towing my race car and and I blew one of the four trailer tires. There was an exit about three-quarters of a mile ahead so I decided to drop down to forty or so, ride the right lane, and chance it. For the next two minutes, I saw no fewer than ten or eleven cars swerve around me at full speed. It simply didn’t occur to them that anybody could be going that slowly. It really looked like I was going to receive a free Mopar colonscopy.
It’s time to replace the 0-60 test with something that is actually relevant to modern American motoring. The quarter-mile, as wonderful as it is, really does exceed what’s safe and sane. I suggest eighty miles per hour as a good compromise. With the possible exception of I-94 in Chicago and 495 in northern Virginia, if you can accelerate to eighty miles per hour you’re going to be good to merge.
I would also suggest that, in lieu to time, we substitute distance. How much room does a car need to get to eighty? That’s the most relevant power statistic we can provide the American motorist. It’s unlikely to catch on. After all, quarter-mile times are still more eagerly quoted than trap speeds, even though trap speeds are a better genuine indicator of the car’s prowess. Maybe we could provide both. Time and distance to 80mph. It’s worth considering.
0-80 is the right statistic, at the right time. Perhaps TTAC’s own Alex Dykes will put his license in jeopardy by collecting it on his future tests. As good of an idea as it is, however, I’m glad it didn’t occur to my fifteen-year-old self. Google Maps doesn’t make it abundantly clear, but there’s a steep hill at the end of Esslington. We would have put that Spider into orbit trying to get to eighty. The first FIAT in space!