By on June 26, 2018

While it hasn’t been without reprieve, much of our automotive history has been occupied with manufacturers perpetually hunting for more power. The pursuit is a no-brainer. A motor releasing more energy than its rivals means a faster car and more bragging rights. Nowhere is this better epitomized than the muscle car era, where domestic automobiles morphed into ludicrously overpowered machines that we still look back upon with fondness.

The power wars continue into the present day. Dodge’s Challenger SRT Hellcat and Demon dragster are a prime examples, but Ford now hopes to rival the Hellcat with its Mustang Shelby GT500. Chevrolet made a valiant attempt with its Camaro ZL1. The quest for power spills over to everything from utility vehicles to hypercars, but there are other ways to go about building a swifter vehicle. You could always place it on an aggressive diet.

One of my all-time favorite automotive articles came from Sport Compact Car over a decade ago. The setup is that a kid has run out of money but wants to wants to modify his 2001 Nissan Sentra SE to beat his friend’s Mazda MX-6 in a drag race. He’s asked the magazine for help. The now-defunct publication took on the challenge by taking the car from 16.3 seconds in the quarter to just 14.3 by systematically hacking off every single nonessential component.

By the end, the car was little more than a frame, motor, and front wheels. But it proved that shaving weight is just as good as adding horsepower, and more cost-effective to boot.

Mike Flewitt, the CEO of McLaren Automotive, thinks we need that kind of mentality coming from the factory. Britain has historically been the king of lightweight sports cars. Consider Triumph, Lotus, Radical, Noble, and MG. A large portion of the nation’s most iconic sports cars were obsessed with minimizing weight to compensate for horsepower — an engineering choice that turned out to be less popular in the United States.

McLaren is also no stranger to maximizing its power-to-weight ratio. It thinks the automotive industry and government should work together to develop synergies between future powertrain development and the clever implementation of lighter materials to help save weight, thereby reducing the energy needed to power future vehicles.

If executed well, it’ll also make them more fun to drive. Thanks to safety mandates and additional standard equipment, cars are pigs today. A midsize sedan from 1995 would probably clock in roughly 600 pounds lighter than its present-day counterpart.

We keep hearing about the forthcoming energy crisis so, presumably, high horsepower won’t be remain an option for normal folks. But if automakers manage to slim models down without turning them into death traps, it’s doubtful buyers will mind as much — especially if it means they don’t have to downsize and can save a few bucks on fuel.

“We now have a fantastic opportunity for the UK to be at the very forefront of a new automotive ‘weight race’ that can help achieve increasingly tough environmental targets,” Flewitt said at the SMMT industry summit in Central London. “It is clear to us that to be successful in lightweighting, industry and Government need to continue to work closely to ensure we all capitalize on the benefits for the sector, for the UK in general and also for vehicle owners who will increasingly demand more efficient products that deliver the driving attributes they expect.”

[Image: McLaren]

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25 Comments on “McLaren CEO: ‘Weight Race’ Should Replace Horsepower War...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    McLaren is correct but it would be expensive and horsepower is cheap in comparison, so…

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      This.

      But even if money where no object I could bolt on an additional 200 HP tomorrow via standard upgrades, but removing just 400lbs of weight would be nearly impossible without completely stripping everything from my car. Turns out even simple things like glass windows are HEAVY.

      • 0 avatar
        James2

        “Turns out even simple things like glass windows are HEAVY.”

        I watched an old ep of Top Gear the other day… Jezza lifted a chair out of a Renault minivan and gave it to Hamster, who couldn’t carry it. Gram by gram, it all adds up, doesn’t it?

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        This is partly why there is so little glass in cars these days.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Somehow the industry managed for decades to use a fair amount of glass, but suddenly its too heavy?
          Hmmmmm.

          “Glass that’s Stronger than Steel”

          technologyreview.com/s/422345/glass-thats-stronger-than-steel/

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Agreed, especially when its of the forced induction variety.

  • avatar
    redapple

    Who said it?

    “add lightness….”

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman

    Colin and Adrian Newey are the gods of racecar design

    • 0 avatar
      dejal1

      Colin Chapman:

      “A racing car has only one objective: to win motor races. If it does not, it is nothing but a waste of time and money. It does not matter how … safe it is, if it does not consistently win it is nothing.”

      More or less, who cares about the driver. A real god? No, just a putz.

      I feel the same way about Stirling Moss. 2015:
      ““To make it the sport it is, it needs to be dangerous,” Moss says. “We have to watch out for the emasculation of circuits. It’s all too sanitised now. Monaco is an incredible circuit but it would never get in now. They would say it’s ridiculous. ‘A bloody tunnel? No chance!’ It wouldn’t have a hope in hell.”

      The racing dead weren’t around for rebuttal.

      • 0 avatar
        Erikstrawn

        Safety is mandated by the racing organizations. The drivers themselves willingly give up big measures of safety for the chance to win. Look at pretty much any race car builder prior to the ’80s and they had a long list of drivers who joined the racing dead.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I was positive that I could feel a difference after I removed the useless rear seat in my auld 944. It was pretty heavy.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    Add lightness, indeed.

    Check out the movie, The Fastest Delorean In The World.

    And Flewitt is right. The Ford Ecospot is, what–over 3100 pounds? Really? And can’t even get out of its own way. Prius drivers blast past it on freeway ramps. It’s an embarrassment.

    Add lightness. Or rather, reduce mass (I don’t care what the weight is on Earth, but mass is mass.)

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Weight is the enemy. Pure and simple. But the quest for more “stuff,” stiffer structures, and safety standards make it difficult with traditional materials. But if the push is there, yes safety and mileage standards, once-exotic materials and construction methods will become more commonplace and cheaper. But no doubt, the cost of the vehicle will go up. Will the life cycle cost be less? Will it help reduce deaths with intelligent design instead of mindless mass? It would be interesting to see…

  • avatar
    eCurmudgeon

    Making automobiles lighter is one thing. Making Americans lighter as well is a different matter entirely.

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      Back in ’84 or so I won a drag race against a V8 powered Mustang with my 4 cylinder Chrysler Laser Turbo, because there were four very large guys in the Mustang. I doubt I would have prevailed in an even match up.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Within a model line, cars have definitely got heavier.

    But for a given interior space, cars have got lighter. Case in point, a current Civic, for all intents and purposes, is as big inside as a mid 90s Accord. But it’s about 100-200lb lighter depending on what trims you compare, even with all the added safety equipment and chassis reinforcement.

    ND Miata weighs the same as an NA I think… 30 years later. 370Z is not far off in weight from the base Z32 2 seater. M235i is the same exact size as an E46 M3 and only 90lb heavier. So if you want lighter cars let go of the idea of buying a certain model. If you want something sized like a 90s Accord skip the current Accord and get a Civic. There are options.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    In other words, McLaren engines have reached their peak horsepower limit, necessitating development of new powerplants?

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    I think Ford, Chevy, and Dodge should continue until they reach about 1,500 horsepower for production models. That way people can still have fun without getting carried away. Developing engines that run on alcohol could also help cut down on gasoline consumption.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      Ah yes, that reminds me of the guy I saw this morning with a 5th gen Mustang GT who jumped on the throttle as he turned a corner at the intersection of two two-lane roads (with dedicated left turn lanes, no less), then promptly fishtailed and hit an SUV sitting in the turn lane with the rear end of his car.

      1500 HP for everyone and let Darwin sort them out! You know, unless they actually hurt innocent bystanders.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    A lighter car is much faster around corners regardless of horsepower. Imagine how much better a track car the SRT Challenger would be if it were 3400#. Much faster around a course like Blackhawk Farms or Lime Rock with 475hp than the Hellcat currently at 4100# and 707hp. Road America might be close between the two.

  • avatar
    Tennessee_Speed

    Years ago I had a ’66 Lotus Elan that weighed 1400 lbs. and had only a 100 hp, twin-cam factory modified Ford Cortina engine. It accelerated very fast – at least up to 80 mph. It was a blast to drive, could easily out run Porsches of the day, but frankly it would be highly unsafe in today’s traffic. The height of the Elan was below the window opening of cars next to it, so you can imagine what happens when the car to the left of you decides to move over to the right.

  • avatar
    probert

    Dear purveyor of stunningly fast and remarkably boring cars: many are doing this, you just aren’t looking. I’d also suggest that purveyors of massively expensive rolling assholium are not generally viewed as industry oracles.

    Now about that F1 program….

  • avatar
    tonyola

    The famed designer Raymond Loewy had “Weight Is The Enemy” signs posted in his studios.


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