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Hooniverse Asks- What’s More Important to You, Less Weight or More Horsepower?

Robert Emslie May 26, 2010 Hooniverse Asks 64 Comments

There’s an old maxim that states less is more, and in the world of automotive hoonage, that’s often true. Colin Chapman realized this early on and his Lotus cars were always able to dice it up with bigger engined competitors because their small motors had to carry so much less baggage. However, on the other side of the coin, to use another hackneyed adage, sometimes weight is mandated a constant, and so the only path to performance is judicious applications of the variable of horsepower. The question is, of these two extremes, which is your preference for driving on the street?

Lightness not only engenders spritelier performance with lower output, but it also makes for better handling. Heavier cars tend to be more ponderous and more difficult to aim. Some manufacturers, BMW being a notable example, have tried to overcome this, and I’m sure you’ve heard of their big machines described as “driving like a much smaller car.”

Despite that engineering feat, there’s no substitute for a car clocks in under the bantam weight class.  As noted above, Lotus, especially with the Seven, removed every extraneous element from their cars, and the competition 23, with its 1,600-cc motor, was and is able to clean up the track with cars two and three times its displacement.

Of course, if you’re going to have horsepower, you need a structure that will take the punishment all those ponies dish out. There’s also something to be said about having a little metal around you when you go fast, and all those roofs and doors add weight. The added poundage can be addressed though, as there’s almost always a few horses that can still be rounded up, whether through added turbos or NOS.

And with enough horsepower, even the heaviest car can become entertaining to drive. Top Gear proved this having James May chauffeured around the test track by the Stig in a Mercedes S-class with a massive AMG-massaged  V12 under the hood. Needless to say, most of the circuit was done sideways and a lot of the rear tires were left on the track that day. Fun!

It seems obvious to answer today’s question with the return query why can’t I have both? There’s lots of instances were that is the case, but as noted, going uber light along with lots of ponies can limit your fun due the fear factor, and as most of us have innate survival mechanisms drilled into our DNA, maybe that’s not the best answer.

So which approach would you rather attack that gnarly freeway onramp or twisty suburban street with, something light of weight, or something heavy of horsepower?

Image sources: [8000vuletas.com, Illidan The Betrayer]

  • I lean more towards horsepower because for a street driven car I do require a few things that add some weight. Those things would be: somewhat comfortable seats (they don't have to be power), A/C (I live in Georgia), good weather protection (I don't want to get wet), heat, and a radio of some sort. Something along the lines of a Corvette or BMW M coupe or roadster fits the bill nicely, not too much weight, but plenty of horsepower.

  • Moar powar

  • I love older M3's, I really do. They look and ride great, handle on rails… Awesome cars. This really goes for 3 series in general if they have been modified a bit and possibly tuned.

    However, I am a huge fan of my newer M3 for street driving. It might not be as much of a corner-carver as the old stuff and it might weigh 3400lbs, but it is comfortable on very long trips and handles these horrible Virginia roads with ease.

    So, long story short I don't need a track car on the street. I need it on the track. Daily drivers need to have some comfort… Only way I would have it.

  • Lightness, please. As GR stated above, BMW has been able to make their massive cars handle like smaller ones, but that comes at the price of added complexity, both mechanical and electronic. Colin Chapman once said that his engineering philosophy was "simplicate and add lightness". The fact that he stole this from Bill Stout (Google him, he was a fascinating character) in no way diminishes its validity.

  • Lightness would be just lovely if you didn't have to share the road with F-150s, Suburbans, and the like. As it is though, my cars have to protect me from Susie Homemaker with her 5 screaming kids and cellphone in her Escalade bobbing in and out of my lane. So bring me the POWER!!!

    • Susie was so out to get me today! I think she was watching a trailer for Sex in the City!

  • More of a Torque man myself.

    • You can't Torque 'em outta anything!

  • Less weight. I owned a 1984 CRX 1.5 for 10 years – 76 horsepower and under 1800 pounds. It wasn't fast, but it was quick, eminently tossable, and delightful to drive. The '94 LeSabre I currently drive – a "big" car by any post-1980 standard – weighs around 3,400 pounds. That's compact territory now and some subcompacts are creeping up close to that weight. Now some would say that the Buick isn't a "safe" car my 2010 standards, but I have ABS, dual airbags, and the car was rated 4/5 stars by the NHTSA. I also get fuel mileage that matches many new four-cylinder compacts.

    Even if you have lots of power, you still have inertia to overcome in a heavier car, and that cuts down on the reflexes and fun. And weight cuts down on fuel economy.

  • Light weight for sure… I'm thinking about making some ice-racing spec tires for the supermoto and riding it all year. Seriously though, I'd rock a 7 year round. I'd just need to apply liberal amounts of snowmobile gear.

    The best thing to ever come out of the British empire is the maxim: There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

    • joshuman

      I have been considering something similar. I don't know if the car would be a Lotus 7 or something else small but the idea could grow into a book called "Topless for a year" or something. I live near Seattle so there would not be a lack of interesting stories to tell.

  • As a proud member of the Lotus Club of Canada (and future Lotus owner), I'm a true believer in less weight. Right Colin?
    http://grandprixinsider.files.wordpress.com/2007/

  • Tough question. Less weight? MX-5, Elise, CR-X, MR2, McLaren F1, my Ducati. More horsepower? Veyron, RUF 911s, any big ol’ V8, my Ducati. Lemme think about this, I’ll get back to you.

  • If I wanted less weight, I would ride a bike.

    Always is my desire for more powers.

  • Owning a car that weighs barely 2200 pounds I often ask myself the same question when looking at engine swaps. From my research, nearly every "popular" swap out there is going to add weight and shift the f/r bias. So far the best power-to-weight powerplant that I have come across is the aluminum Olds 215, weighing in at a scant 320 lbs and producing nearly twice the hp of the current L18…

    • You do know that you can get almost the same engine as the Olds 215, the Buick 215 (which if I read Wikipedia right is a little lighter) out of a junked Land Rover Discovery. A quick rebuild, an Edlebrock intake and a 4 barrel carb, and you are set. Also a BMW S52, which can easily put out 275-300hp weighs about 308lbs. The BMW M42 I-4 ~140HP weighs about 220lbs.

      • AteUpWithMotor

        The Buick and Olds 215s are very, very similar, but not identical. The Olds is essentially a refinement of the Buick design, but it differs in a number of significant details (different number of head bolts, different combustion chambers and pistons).

        The Rover 3.5 Litre is a different derivation of the Buick. They're not identical, although from what I understand, most of the difference is in the block; I think the heads are interchangeable. (I think the heads from the '64 Buick 300 are interchangeable, too, which is an interesting combination.) The Rover is about 55 lb heavier than the Buick and maybe 25 lb heavier than the Olds. The Buick is 318 lb dry, the Olds about 350, the Rover around 375 lb.

        The relationships between these engines is odd. Here's the whole story:
        http://ateupwithmotor.com/compact-and-economy-car

        • Great article. I know I have seen an MGB fitted with a (Land) Rover V-8, converted by the owner from the 4 banger, and Edelbrock does sell a 4 barrel intake for the Rover V-8. Shouldn't be too hard to take a junked Disco I or II and get a nice light weight all aluminum V-8.

          • I like where this thread is going…

          • The MG factory in Abingdon actually produced 2,000 MGBGT V8s with the Rover 3.5 motor. In fact, the engine bay of the late "Rubber Bumper" (75 – 80) MGBs were redesigned to accept the motor. Sadly it never made it to our shores officially. Supposedly the aluminum V8 is 40lbs lighter than the stock iron 1.8 it replaced.

    • I'm thinking very strongly about an LS1 swap for my 924S. Apparently, the stock 2.5 liter motor is 340 lb (that's the only number I've seen), and an LS1 is something like 420 or so. I think I'd be willing to accept that weight penalty in exchange for 350 horsepower (compared to 150 right now). Also, I could find out just how quickly one can grenade a transmission when tripling engine power.

      • Video and photos or I revoke your internet privelages. If it gets beyond the paper stage…

        • It's a fairly common and very well documented swap, to the point where you can buy a kit with everything needed (minus the engine), and there's a book written about the whole process. There's something very appealing about 300+ HP in a < 2800 pound car, and the expensive maintenance on the Porsche engine doesn't hurt, either.

  • Cynicist

    Less weight.

  • More power. In Sacramento we don't have that cold white crap falling from the sky to make the streets slick. Sure, the occasional rain storm turns the freeways into big skidpads for a while, but a light car doesn't help when hydroplaning. A car with some mass and an inordinate amount of horsepower is the way to go.

  • I'm a fat guy and only getting fatter so- MORE PAH!

  • ive always liked the David and Goliath effect, less weight for me.

  • Gearhead

    Stirling Moss told the story of a celebration after winning a GP in his Lotus (fading memory thinks it was the German GP in '61)

    During the party, a cake was presented with a model of his F1 car on top… Moss removed the model, broke off the front wheel, replaced it on the cake, and said "There. Now, go give this to Colin…"

  • Despite its minimal feature content and relatively light weight V8, my Falcon is shockingly heavy…like 3600lbs. Being Ford's first attempt at unibody construction, they erred on the side of more metal all over. Short of some uber-rare aluminum body panels or ghastly fiberglass jobs, looks like I'm gonna have to wring a few more ponies out of that 260.

    The tricky part for a street car is that adding lightness penalizes you all the time, but is only fun when you're really going for speed. Power can be fun all the time.

    • How does lightness penalize you all the time? I understand the hydroplaning but what other penalties are you referring to?

      • Insulation, power steering/brakes/windows, sound dampening, AC, heat, stereo, comfy seats, carpet, glass that's quieter, etc.

        Yeah…"sissy creature comforts", but I'm talking about daily driven street cars, which have a different set of priorities than something competitive.

        It might get this comment reported (oh, wait…) but a Prius is ostensibly a better commuter than a Se7en.

        This goes beyond the scope of what Mr Graverobber asked, but if I only get one car to do everything, I'd probably take a Mustang over a Se7en.

        • Oh man! Someone didnt like that comment at ALL. I, however, did. Thumbs up.

    • AteUpWithMotor

      Are you looking at the curb weight or the GVWR? 3,600 lb sounds more like a gross rating. A loaded V8 Falcon Sprint convertible is between 3,000 and 3,100 lb, depending on what options it has, and Ford's AMA numbers claim the Deluxe Wagon is actually a little lighter than the convertible with the same engine (on the order of 25-30 lb). The GVWR I have here is 3,680 lb, which is based on the tire rating. My guess would be that your wagon is perhaps 3,100 lb at the curb. Yes, that doesn't leave a lot of margin for cargo and passengers with stock tires, but that would be typical.

      The six-cylinder Falcons are NOT overbuilt at all. They were ruthlessly engineered for minimum weight, which meant some scary compromises (the trunk floor is the top of the fuel tank, for example). The V8s are heavier because almost everything had to be beefed up; Ford quoted a penalty of about 240 lb for 1964 V8 Falcons, only half of which is the extra weight of the engine itself. (The 170 weighs about 370 lb dry, the 260 around 480.)

      • Shit, sorry, off by 1k.

        Meant the factory spec was ~2600, but most V8 cars end up weighing in over 3k in reality (engine + fluids + wheels/tires + etc)

        The assumption being that a compact from bygone era should be closer to (or under) 2500 than 3000.

        BTW, my Falcon's a 2-door sedan (e.g. not fastback). The wagon you're thinking of is my Country Sedan, which is surprisingly light for how much space it takes up.

        • AteUpWithMotor

          Okay, sorry — I was combining the Falcon and the wagon in my head.

          For a two-door Futura sedan with the V8, I'd guess 2,700-2,800 lb all up (fuel and fluids, no cargo or passengers), depending on what options it has. The Falcon was not originally designed to be a hardtop, much less a convertible, so the latter had to be beefed up a lot — Ford figures put the hardtop 140 lb above the two-door sedan, with the convertible adding nearly 200 lb onto the hardtop. Considering that the '64 Falcon is not a particularly small car (181.6 inches overall, 109.5-inch wheelbase), that's still pretty light, iron V8 and all. On the other hand, running it through the NHTSA and IIHS crash tests would probably produce some alarming results

  • Josh

    I am liking my buddies turbo RX-7. Light and scary fast when you want it to be.

  • It's easier to add lightness but is the vehicle still comfortable/usable without an interior?
    I like my creature comforts, so I vote more PAH!

    I think the Hooniverse Editorial Staff should start including polls in their "Hooniverse Asks" pages.

  • Texan_Idiot25

    <img src= "http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash1/hs542.ash1/31715_392228533578_669203578_4167647_7614907_n.jpg"&gt;

    I'd like to say owning both at the same time has changed my view of things. Even with 60 hp, the CRX is a shit-ton of fun to drive, with it's go-cart-like chassis. The truck is a brute, but only in a straight line or the occasional forced oversteer (weeeeeeeeee), but the CRX can be wipped around corners at 3 times the speed of the truck. I like driving the truck more for the V8 experience, and all related to it's personality. But for actually driving, I'll take the CRX to the back roads.If only it had more power….

    Power + Light Weight is the key.

    My answer is

  • damnelantra™[!]

    could not dream of driving a seven on the street, as a commuter. not enough metal for me to feel ok.
    the damnelantra™ is an ok size. just maybe add a bit more lightness, early 90s 3 is a good size. anything bigger and your just wasting gas.

    track car? seven or german micro!

    • If you've ever commuted in a VW beetle, a seven will seem very safe and sane.

  • Han_Solex

    This is simple. Take the lightest chassis necessary for the job, add as much horsepower as it can legitimately take. Serve warm and enjoy.

  • notford

    Hmm… I think I have to go with one of each. I have had an Impala SS with 400Hp and a six speed (Heavy/Power). I have a 2300lb plastic saturn (Light/No Power) and an R1 (Light/Too Much Power now. The ideal garge would be a combination of all three. My budget is not ideal.

  • A D16A1 out of a first-gen Teg will give your Rex a nice little boost. And by little I mean twice as much horsepower as that puny 1.3-liter EV1. The swap is fairly common, so it can't be all that hard… can it? Maybe you'd want to hunt down a carbed ZC instead, and avoid all the electronics hassles.

    As another CRX owner, I come down firmly in the "light is right" category, with the caveat that lightness is great for driving, but perhaps not so much for cruising or commuting. In a perfect world, I'd have the CRX for a fun car and something with a little more mass damping going on for a commuter.

    • Texan_Idiot25

      I've owned a '90 Firebird, the '69 CST10, and this '87 CRX, I've yet to have a nice riding car so ride comfort isn't an issue. This little thing rides the best, of the three.

      It's the 1.5L HF motor. I like that I've been thrashing it a bit, and it's not running right, and it's still getting 37 mpg.

      On a side note, I can't wait to get in the truck this weekend… I miss that V8.

    • Texan_Idiot25

      In the future though, if I keep the car I'd consider an EFI motor swap. But for now it's the really fun commuter for $3/gallon gas

  • Miata guy here. Adding lightness gives you power for the curves.

    Power is nice for that shove in the back, but I'll take lightness first. And then add powah for the best of both worlds.

  • Lightness any day. It's not a sexy as having bragging rights, but quite effective. (Mind you my opinion comes from being spoiled by NorCal's moderate weather where even a real roof is optional)

    I have 5 small cars that each weigh in at around 2,200lbs or less, and 3 Mopars that weigh in at at over 4,000 (10,000 anyone?). The big 360/383/440 V8s are fun on occasion but the constant cost of gas, brakes and tires are a bit of a killjoy.

    Compare that to the Datsun which clocks in at just over 1,900lbs. With a 96hp motor it's plenty zippy for daily use, fillups don't break the bank and I rarely buy tires unless they dry rot from age. Light and nimble beats fire-breathing power in everyday traffic.

    By shedding every extra ounce possible on the Killer-ZomBee we turned a nearly 50 year old MGB design into a fairly good performer on the track, and it cost nothing! Tires last longer, braking improved, handling went through the roof, gas mileage went up as well. I'm now a firm believer in putting your car on a diet.

    That said, it's often easier to get extra ponies with cam/carb/filter/exhaust swaps than it is to shed 100lbs on a street car. The wife won't let me strip the interior out of her commuter so I had to go with performance mods for x-mas/ anniversary /birthday gifts. She suggested not eating bacon as a way to make the cars go faster. She obviously pays WAY too much attention to my blabbering.

  • as the owner of 4 escorts I obviously believe in more power 😀 j/k

    however my '98 is in desperate need of more power as it currently puts out oooo, about 0 hp – either the con rod or crank went boom late last summer(right after swapping in an entire gt rear suspension) and i haven't had the time or money to fix it yet 🙁

  • I'll go for less weight every time. I have a standing rule that I won't buy a car that weighs over 1500kg as every one I've tested over that limit really suffers when you pitch it into a corner, no matter how good the suspension setup. Can't fool physics, sadly.

    My current daily driver is a VW Golf that weighs about 1330kg. My next weekend car will most likely be a Cayman, which is around 1350kg.

  • Judging from my 3820 lb/205 HP T-bird and 4760 lb/230 HP Dakota, I'm in the more weight / less power camp.

  • I am going to go the Miesien route and say "Less is More"

  • So here we go, the three possibilities.
    My car is relatively light with decent power, but torque instead of HP. I'm weighing in at around 2700 lbs and about 280 flywheel foot-pounds(coming in at 3krpm). This proves to be a really nice daily driver. It is extremely pleasant to drive around at 35-45 mph. At that speed it cruises nicely and still has plenty of guts to get up and pass when you feel like it. And it would handle okay if the suspension wasn't 48 years old. Overall a good combination.
    Then there is a heavy car with a big engine. The best thing I can think of that I've driven is my friend's Yukon Denali or his old A8(major difference I know, but same general concept). The Yukon is actually pretty quick(faster than my comet for sure) and handles okay. The 6 liter puts out good power and moves that car just like it needs too. It doesn't handle great but it's a lot easier to drive it fun because you hit it's limits at much lower(hopefully safer) speeds. The A8 is not an SUV by any means but it's still a pretty darn big sedan. Again, the HP is plenty to take the car up to speed really quick. The weight doesn't seem that bad however because it's low and quattro(can I use that as an adjective?) and will still go around a corner pretty nice. After some trying it wouldn't even brake traction going around a gravel corner, it just grabbed and went(doesn't sound nearly as cool as "grab and go" huh?). So, although some tight handling is given up, it's still decent for a 2 ton car.
    The last would be light and powerful. Of which I only have experience as a passenger. My old boss built a 2276cc VW motor(the second biggest common engine derived from the Type 1 1585cc ) with just about everything possible, big heads, 10.5 compression, CDI, dual webber 44idfs and a cam with 0.424 lift/313°. It's never been dynod but similar engines are making 200-220 hp. This was then all stuffed into a SWING AXEL sand rail. When I went out for a ride it was starving the fuel pump in any gear higher than 2nd so we only went about 35-45 mph. That may sound lame but that thing would go around a turn like nobody's business, with the 265/50/15s on the back just letting go at the end of the turn, letting the rear end wander out onto the shoulder. And the best part of the whole thing was the exhaust note. The massively cammed, non idling engine breathed out trough a 4into1 with a one foot megaphone. You felt it vibrating your chest as you drove around. Amazing stuff really.

    So in the end, I'm going to have to say I like moderation in all things. I would like enough power to have fun, keep up with traffic and pass. I also though want to have a car just big enough to fit all my junk in, keeping it as light and handelingly as good as I can. Have fun finding a car that fits that bill.

  • Christ, forgot how small those were..

  • sam

    I weigh about 140 before I poop so lighter cars make more sense to me. Big cars or trucks with lots of power are o.k. and usually more comfortable to drive. You can bomb through pot holes and lay rubber and pack the trunk full of crap and never notice. I still like uncluttered purity to a car. If you have to have a/c power seats big speakers spare tire seat warmers nav ect. you are a wuss.

  • Can't I have both?
    If I have to choose, lightness. Seems like it would be easier/cheaper to maintain, unless it's overdone.

  • rocketrodeo

    I have already done lightness: a 350 lb motorcycle and a 1600 lb car. They had their virtues, for sure, but those virtues are extremely limited and the drawbacks were eventually insurmountable. Right now I'm plenty happy with a 650 lb motorcycle and a 3,200 lb car. Different virtues. Fewer drawbacks.

    Oh yes: power is good.

  • The answer is yes.

  • andy wallwhore

    I've put about 500 miles on my Puch Maxi, a 50cc 2 stroke 'ped (2 speed auto). Stock 2HP. Bike and I weigh 265 combined. Ever bump puts the shocks to work but cruises at 34ish comfortably, max 41 downhill. So, at this point I want horsepohower. Yes is my answer then, carry on.

  • Two wheels? Light and minimal, vertical twin. Less horsepower. Four wheels? Bring it on. Smoke the tires, pull a trailer, take it on a roadtrip with all your buddies on board. But, a lean little roadster appeals, too. There are too many desirable vehicles out there to really go one way or the other. Whatever floats your boat, or appeals at the moment. Just go with what you like and have fun.

  • coupeZ600

    A 1200lb. car with 34-blistering-hp could certainly use more Power, and the Volvo 145 could definitely use some Lightness, so I'm torn. As a Professional Driver though, these combination's keep me out of trouble and still give me a "fun-car" and a highly reliable and functional one.

    In a Big Truck however, Power Is Everything. Even Owner-Operators that have to pay for the fuel put the biggest hp engine they can afford in their Truck after spec'ing the lightest weight components when they buy a new one. And Companies will totally use big hp as a recruiting tool, even ahead of pay or benefits.

    While the total GVW (80,000lbs.) of a Truck hasn't change since the '30s, horsepower has. A recruiter today pointed out that while the Truck was governed (limited) at 67 mph, it had a 500 Cat. We talked about the old days, and I told him about the old KW100 that I learned to drive in that had a 130(hp) Cummins, and we both smiled at how we used to fight that engine.

    I signed on, and now I'm pulling a fuel tanker.

  • Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any tips for novice blog writers? I’d definitely appreciate it.