Hooniverse Asks: What’s the Best Example of a Car Once Touted for its Performance That’s Pretty Mediocre by Today’s Standards?

I own a 1971 Datsun 240Z, a car that was once known for, if not stunning, then at lest above par performance. As it sits in its stock form it does alright, but to be honest, I’m pretty sure a rental fleet Hyundai Elantra would mop up the canvas with it.
Now, as I noted, the Z was intended to be a car with modest performance aspirations, that however, wasn’t the case with some cars. What we want to talk about today is cars that have fallen the farthest from their performance promise. What car do you think made claims that today just seem totally lame?
Image: MyClassicGarage

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43 responses to “Hooniverse Asks: What’s the Best Example of a Car Once Touted for its Performance That’s Pretty Mediocre by Today’s Standards?”

  1. nanoop Avatar

    Just read the reviews of the 400+ HP sedans and SUVs, look at the Tesla S, and feel sorry for 1980.

  2. P161911 Avatar

    Pretty much anything made before 1995 that isn’t German with a turbo, Italian with more than 8 cylinders, or American with more than 24 valves or 8 cylinders.

  3. Alff Avatar

    Pretty much any car I had a poster of on my bedroom wall in the 80s.

    1. GTXcellent Avatar

      Disqus why you no show my GIF of Dug from the movie “Up” hanging his head in shame?

  4. crank_case Avatar

    There was a time in Ireland when a Sierra Cosworth was the absolute daddy of blue collar performance this side of a Lotus Omega/Carlton, a whale tailed wild thing that was a menace to public safety. Now 204bhp seems pedestrian to most people.
    .but the car that I think really shows how much everything has moved on, and not just power outputs, is the Nissan R32 GT-R, once nicknamed Godzilla for cleaning up in Aussie touring cars and could get round the Nurburgring in a then staggering 8:11 but is now trounced by hatchbacks that can do it in the high 7s, and not just 4WD ones like the Focus RS, but several FWD cars like the Golf GTi Clubsport, Seat Leon Cupra, Honda Civic Type-R and Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R

    1. Inliner Avatar

      Of course, developments in tire technology are also a big factor in today’s incredible lap times.

      1. crank_case Avatar

        Absolutely, many of those production car lap times are only achieved on some crazy sticky tires that’s not always the standard tyre.

        1. P161911 Avatar

          Sort of like the original NSX. The factory alignment settings were for ultimate on track performance. The only problem was that resulted in the inside of the rear tires wearing out in about 5k miles and having blowouts at less than 10k miles. They eventually fiddled with the alignment to get about 15k miles out of a set of tires.

    2. outback_ute Avatar

      The GTR only had 225 tyres (16″ too!) in stock form from memory, also the power output was a bit of a fib. Likewise the RS500 had stuff that wasn’t really used on the road – eg the second set of injectors, so you could say it was a very warranty friendly tune!

    3. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      The Sierra Cosworth is always my yardstick. Does anyone need anything quicker?

  5. P161911 Avatar

    An even bigger difference is how much more refined today’s cars are. The 1984-86 Corvette Z51 (performance suspension) was famous for being able to pull 1.0g on the skid pad, a number that very few cars were able to meet for the next 20 years or so. It was also famous for having the ride quality of a piece of construction equipment, it was actually given softer springs after a couple of years. Today’s base Corvette can exceed 1.0g and has a decent ride.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      The funny thing is sports cars have gotten more refined (compare a first gen Miata with the current ND, or how the latest Ferrari and McLaren road cars apparently ride better than many so-called GT cars thanks to clever adjustable dampers), but everything else is a mixed bag.
      Passenger cars are often quieter overall, but that’s largely down to heavily insulated cabins, so you get less mechanical noise, but often the noise that’s left, like tyre and wind roar is a bit more irritating.
      European cars definitely used to ride better than now. A car like the Citroen GS had great ride quality, and my old Peugeot 205 GTI could really soak up the imperfections, a Peugeot 306 would put a Focus to shame, Even my late 90s Fiat Cinquecento had the sort of low speed ride quality that would put some modern city cars to shame, though something like a modern Hyundai i10 feels a lot more “grown up” at speed.
      I think one of the problems with modern cars is they’ve gotten heavier while wheel sizes have also gone up. The lighter the car, the softer the springs you can use, so it’s easier to match dampers for good ride. Also, small wheels = less unsprung weight so the suspension system can respong quicker. It was possible to get excellent results from very crude suspension setups (like Peugeots rear torsion beam), where a modern Focus has to have a much more sophisticated setup to get nearly-as-good results.

      1. Hillman_Hunter Avatar

        This. I could get my granny’s Clio 1.2 down a lumpy Irish country road quicker and with less drama than my Mk VI GTI that has twice the contact patch and more than treble the HP.

    1. Jofes2 Avatar

      The rusting game?

      1. Citric Avatar

        They did go from 0-Iron Oxide faster than from 0-60.

        1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

          Yes, but faster than a Fiat or a BL product?

    2. mrh1965 Avatar

      This world needs more “automotive entertainment”.

  6. dukeisduke Avatar

    I remember when Car and Driver did an article on the five fastest cars (top speed) made in America (1976), and the fastest car, an L82 automatic Corvette, only managed a top speed of 124.5 mph. Also on the list? A Dodge Dart Sport 360, a Trans Am with the 455, a C-10 Silverado with 454, and the Mustang II Cobra II (302):

  7. neight428 Avatar

    In 1978, the quickest 1/4 time C&D recorded in testing for the entire model year was a Dodge Lil’ Red Express truck at 14.7, owing to its ability to skirt the regs for catalytic converters. This is the same ET as a 2005 Toyota Avalon. Crash survivability and emissions reduction regulations were a combination that ruled out all known paths to fast. A car could be neither light nor powerful for something like 25 years. I don’t think I could sum it up any better than GRM did…

    1. caltemus Avatar

      Somebody did this with a superbird too, with a similar result

  8. Fred Talmadge Avatar
    Fred Talmadge

    No matter the hp or 0-60 times it’s still more fun to drive my 65 Lotus Elan than any modern car. Well it will be when I get it running again.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      I would LOVE an Elan, but I can only afford its budget approximation in the form of a MK1 Miata/MX5, but on the plus side, it runs pretty well. 🙂

      1. Fred Talmadge Avatar
        Fred Talmadge

        Well 20 years ago I thought it was expensive too. Today I’d be looking at Miatas as well or maybe some old MG.

        1. cap'n fast Avatar
          cap’n fast

          as compared with a miata, the old mgb is a POS of a car. it rode like a buckboard and handled like a buckboard. kingpin angle in the front end were similar to a new holland corn row tractor. my ’68 had the 18GF engine which i overhauled once as i found coolant leaking into a cylinder caused by the m10 nut stuffed into the combustion chamber. note that it was a factory installed part. i had had enough of the wire wheels, awful brakes, not to mention the Lucas PRINCE OF DARKNESS with automatic smoke dispensing wiring system, ulcerous seats, arcane convertible top, automated corrosion creation system as installed by the factory, the built in cracks in the doors at the trailing edge of the wing windows, the unvented body weldment panels which allow moisture to coalesce in those secret little places known only to God and the body repair shop, I still like the lines of the body. it was perfect and can never be improved upon. the queticential British sport car of its day.

          1. Fred Talmadge Avatar
            Fred Talmadge

            I call all that stuff character and what makes old cars fun.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      In fairness, it hard to expect anyone to outrun a car, especially in those heels.

    2. smalleyxb122 Avatar

      At least they look good on their leisurely way to 60 mph.

    3. Ol' Shel' Avatar
      Ol’ Shel’

      Those! look fine to me. Not a fan of the car, though.

      1. ptschett Avatar

        There’s a car?

  9. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

    Just to calibrate the young’ns as to what life was like when I was a freshman in high school:

    Flat-Out In Ohio!

    Not the first time I’ve linked to it, but it’s definitely worth a read.

  10. mdharrell Avatar

    Even if true, a claim of superiority to a sedan chair just isn’t as impressive as it once was.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      That’s a nonsensical. A contrast of Centuries needs a Buick, not an Olds.

  11. Maymar Avatar

    You know how the original Buick Century was named for its ability to break 100mph? And how that was a big deal? So could the super-mediocre final Century.

  12. I_Borgward Avatar

    Why, one that I began tinkering with this last fall.
    0-55 MPH = 9.2 seconds! When it was new, anyway.
    I hope to reproduce this astounding level of mediocre performance later this year.

    1. I_Borgward Avatar

      You could say 0-90 KPH in 9.4 seconds if you want to make it sound more exciting.

  13. outback_ute Avatar

    Everyone is referencing the later 70s and 80s, but even the peak cars of the muscle car era aren’t fast by today’s standards, and only then because the gearing gave top speeds of 120 or so, making them unliveable on the highway. There are faster hot hatches.

  14. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    Comfortably beaten by so many sedans and even some SUVs now-a-days

    1. crank_case Avatar

      Of course, performance is how you define it. It could be just raw numbers, but if you use the word peformance in the theatrical sense, nothing modern could quite match this 200bhp Daracq for a “performance”

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