February 16, 2024
My inner curmudgeon got loose in the last blog and I want to assure you that I, too, love big horsepower. My concern is that it be applied safely. Since the first crazy kid took to hopping up a 20 horsepower Model T Ford, right through today’s “tuners” deciding to put both turbos and nitrous oxide on their Civic, Americans have craved more power and performance. Hot-rodding is popular around the world but often under restrictive laws that require getting a registered engineer to inspect and approve the changes made. We prefer a less-regulated approach and this is reflected in our tax laws. Other countries tax based upon engine size or estimated power rating. You get the results you encourage and those countries tend to make cars that just squeak in under the legal limits. Modifying those cars is discouraged so that hot-rodders must be discreet — or pay the fines if caught. Thanks to the Internet we get to see hot rods from around the world, and it is interesting to see what they drive. American hot-rodding started before World War II and blossomed during the new car shortage that followed that global conflict. Many trace the start to the introduction of the Ford flathead V-8 in 1932, but there were “go jobs” 10 or 15 years earlier. The flathead V-8 barely made it to 100 horsepower before the conflict started; to get 200 horsepower you needed to buy a Marmon V-16. One is currently available on E-Bay; it weighs over 900 pounds despite its aluminum block. Ingenious mechanics figured out ways to get 200 horsepower out of lesser power plants and they raced them on fairgrounds ovals, street courses, and dry lake beds all over the country. It isn’t unreasonable to credit that hot-rodding mentality with the rapid improvement of American armaments during the war. Racers were everywhere in the war effort, questioning how things were being done, and pushing the limits. We need to maintain that attitude in our schools, garages, and shops. No sane person needs 800 horsepower to go to the grocery story. They need that questioning attitude — that desire for more — at work. People once questioned why anyone would want to cut bevel gears on a milling machine when there were highly developed special machines for that purpose. There can never be enough desire to test limits, and once in a while things will break during those tests. Our job is to make sure we learn from our failures. And keep people safe in the process.