QOTD: How Slow Can You Go?
As so often happens here at the TTAC ranch, our collective venom turned itself loose on an undesirable car last night. The object of these barbs, hurled in the private confines of our Slack chatroom, was the lowly Fiat 500. The new iteration, not the endearing Italian classic.
While driving a 500 shortly after its launch, I recall cocking my head to the right. Why? The roof was in the way. That’s how insanely outsized I was for a turn behind the wheel of this mass-market vehicle. I felt like Homer after he visits Crazy Vaclav’s Used Car Lot in that episode of The Simpsons. There was no doubt in my mind that the 500 could go “three hundred hectares on a single tank of kerosene.”
Of course, the cramped cabin was only half the story. Another pressing issue, one solved by the addition of an Abarth model, was the 500’s absolute dearth of power.
To quote the late, great Bud Lindemann, that thing couldn’t punch its way through a wet Kleenex. What was the last car that offered torque in the two-figure range?
During this completely random takedown of the Fiat 500, I couldn’t help but recall my first car — a very lacklustre car with a very lacklustre engine. A 2.2-liter Plymouth Sundance. The thing is, despite the base Sundance’s 93 horsepower, the thing never felt slow around town. All thanks goes to that unit’s 122 lb-ft of torque. It was all bottom end. Any inkling of performance evaporated on the highway. With a five-speed stick, I regularly burned rubber in second gear. Not a chirp, but an actual full-on strip of freshly laid rubber. (Installing the cheapest tires imaginable helps anyone reach this goal.)
Next to a Fiat 500, that Sundance may as well have been a Hemi-powered Charger. And of all the cars I’ve owned, that old Plymouth definitely ranked last in terms of power.
Only a lucky few of us have escaped having to own something decidedly lacking in get-up-and-go. A slug. A real dog. Something that can’t get out of its own way. And displacement isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all. Your slowest vehicle may have come equipped with a massive boat anchor of an engine that underwent unsuccessful surgery at the smog clinic. A detuned beast of a thing, far removed from its high-compression, leaded gasoline glory days.
So, let’s talk. What was the slowest, pokiest vehicle you ever owned? And just how bad was it?
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My slowest car was my 2006 Smart Fortwo Cabrio diesel. 40 horses, 74 lb-ft of clattering rage. But you know what? It was an absolute *hoot* to drive. The throttle was basically an on/off switch, like a bumper car at the fair. And you knew that you'd have a tough time drag-racing that city bus at a stoplight, so you had to be *clever* if you wanted to survive traffic. It accelerated slllloooooooooowly, but once you got up to speed you could use that little buggy's microsize to zip through the tiniest gaps in traffic and keep up the pace. Full throttle from virtually every stoplight, but that car personified the old adage that "driving a slow car fast is more fun than driving a fast car slow."
Faster than my 1952 M37 Dodge Power Wagon I would wager. I did drive a guy home from a party one night in college, it was a hatchback Geo Metro and it was slow to get up to speed but I think it did 55.