Thursday, July 9, 2020


1977 Pontiac Trans Am
A while back I came across Smokey and the Bandit on television. If you're not familiar with this movie, it was the second highest grossing film of 1977. A film called Star Wars was number one.

Smokey and the Bandit is a comedy starring Burt Reynolds. Sally Fields, and Jerry Reed (best known as a country singer). It also stars Jackie Gleason. It is basically one long car chase across the American Southeast. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it as mindless fun entertainment.

In the movie, Burt Reynolds drives an iconic black Pontiac Trans Am. This was one of the fastest, most powerful cars you could buy in 1977. According to the Internet Movie Database, there were three Trans Ams used for filming and all three were pretty much destroyed at the end.

But it got me wondering, how powerful was a 1977 Trans Am? So, Google to the rescue, I found out that a 1977 Trans Am had 210 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. It had a top speed (red line limited) of 110 mph (which was, admittedly, double the nation speed limit of 55 mph). Red line limited means that at the fastest speed the engine could go, in top gear, that's the fastest the car can go. It went 0-60 in 9.3 seconds. I put some of this information on the Internet Movie Database.

But... a 2019 Toyota Sienna (a minivan and I don't think it was made in 2020) has 296 horsepower and 263 ft-lb of torque. So the Trans Am does have more torque (torque gets you going, horsepower makes you go faster). And the Sienna's top speed is 115 mph probably governor limited. A governor is an electronic limit to how fast a car can go. And, the Sienna does 0-60 in 6.9 seconds.

The Sienna probably gets better gas mileage and pollutes a lot less, too. (I read once that a modern Mustang pollutes less going down the road then a sixties Mustang did sitting in the driveway.)

So why does a modern minivan out-perform a 42-year-old sports car? It's call "progress." Engineering and technological advancements have made cars faster, safer, and pollute less. Unfortunately, they cost a lot more.

For example, the Trans Am cost $5,456.00 new. That's $23,083 in 2020 dollars. The Seinna costs $31,315. A Chevrolet Camaro SS (the closest modern equivalent to the Trans Am) costs $38,495 without any options. So that's $15,411 more for the new Camaro in inflation-adjusted dollars. So, yes, cars do cost more. But that Camaro SS has 455 horsepower and 455 ft-lb of torque. It goes 0-60 in 4.0 seconds and has a top speed of 198 mph. That's a lot more go for $15,000.

Okay, so cars are faster and more powerful. But they are also safer. Watch this video of a Nissan Sentra hitting a Sentra model sold in Mexico that doesn't have modern U.S. safety standards. It's oblivious the U.S. car does much better in the crash. The driver of the older model car probably would have sustained numerous bad injuries if not just been killed.

Can you think of other examples of progress? Let me know in the comments below.

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