November 2, 2013
Some time before 1961, a race car builder called John Cooper considered the original Mini and saw that it was good. ‘Except for one thing‘, he opined, ‘It needs more power’. The result was the first Mini Cooper. The basic 848cc engine was modified to belt out a stunning 55bhp. The subsequent hardcore Cooper S offered an outrageous 70bhp or so and a 0-60 time of 13.5 seconds, unheard of in consumer road cars. Young men then started modifying them to try and break that magic 12 second barrier. The world loved them and the legend was born.
The point is that enthusiastic drivers today should stop bleating about the lack of power in motors and enjoy what they’ve got. Because of the massive improvements in engine technology even today’s new city cars with around 60bhp can match that and with twice the fuel economy and more interior space. Most bigger cars will easily beat that once exciting short sprint time. That’s progress.
With the huge increase in the efficiency of our cars came a huge increase in dead-eyed bureaucrats who’s sole mission in life was to ensure our motoring life is as miserable as possible. There are now so many restrictions and rules it’s a wonder any of us get anywhere. Which in turn means do we really powerful cars any more?
In 1963, the power of the Cooper S was considered extreme in some circles and blisteringly fast amongst keen drivers. On today’s roads power in a car is ideal for safe overtaking and makes the business of driving that much easier. Yet power can be abused, as we all well know, and the car market seems to be changing.
Certainly there are still many high-performance cars available, offering 200bhp and much more but on this tiny British island there really aren’t many places left that the power of these cars can be exploited. Car makers know this and are building vehicles with less power, better efficiency and more toys.
Drivers appear to be generally slowing down, but it doesn’t matter. As a cost saving and ecological measure some cars now have smaller, skinnier tyres, for example. This means that handling, at speed, is compromised. Entering a corner too hot is fine in a car with good handling characteristics but what happens if a driver attempts the same bend at speed in a Toyota Aygo? Something a bit alarming, that’s what.
But therein lies the fun. In the days of the Mini Cooper motorists enjoyed their driving for what it was - a simple pleasure. Perhaps today we should stop worrying about 0-60 times and high top speeds - pointless statistics anyway - and start enjoying our cars for what they are. Slow cars can still be fun.
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