16 September 2016

Answering the handling vs. horsepower question … for everyone except Cherry

Remember when a this-or-that question was answered with either this or that? Neither do we. 

We stepped to the social media podium again this week and asked car enthusiasts a fairly simple question (or so we thought): “What’s more important to you, horsepower or handling?” Two answers. Pick one. As it turns out, that wasn’t so easy.

Yes, many of you kept it simple by selecting one of the two words. Some of you even tossed in an additional word for emphasis, as in “definitely handling” or “obviously horsepower.” But not everyone was able to color within the lines. Rebels stepped in and offered crazy answers like “both” and “torque.” Then there was Cherry Thomas, who we’re pretty sure didn’t even know the question.

“Hi,” Cherry wrote. When no one responded, she got a little more direct. “Hi, Joseph. How are you doing? Would like to know you, if you don’t mind.” Joe ignored her advances. Hey, he had more important things on his mind – things like horsepower vs. handling. He wasn’t alone.

Rick Mahoney considered both answers carefully before revealing his choice: “Restoring cars professionally has allowed me and the people I work with to drive a wide array of collector automobiles. Unanimously, we all said that one of the least fun cars to drive is a big block ’70 Chevelle, and one of the most fun cars to drive has been a ’61 Triumph TR3. In a straight line, hands down, the Chevelle is quicker and more fun, but for everyday driving, the TR3 is a blast. Prior to having driven so many different cars I may have reversed this decision, but I’d have to give it to the TR3 for being the most fun; thus handling is more important to me.”

Stanley Pickles submitted as evidence a story about a mountain drive he took in the state of Washington “when I was younger and my TR7 newer.” It seems that at some point a muscle car appeared in the rearview mirror. “He was on my tail, anxious to pass. He didn’t get a chance on the straight stretch, and when we got to the twisty climbs in the mountains he slipped into the distance.” That’s another one for handling.

Several Pontiac Fiero enthusiasts joined in. “One of my favorite cars was an ’86 Fiero SE,” Doug Campbell wrote. “It was an automatic and had the Iron Duke 2.5-liter four banger. It was the slowest car I’ve ever owned but one of the most fun cars I’ve ever driven. A 95-year-old granny with a walker would be faster in a race, but just try to keep up in the turns.”

“Amen!” Paul Diaco wrote. “Had an ’86 four-banger. Still own an ’87 GT.” Rick Brandt posted a photo of a Fiero, along with “Always hold onto the fun ones.”

Tony Piscitelli agreed: “As I get older, handling. I’ve raced a lower-powered car that handled like a dream and had an absolute blast. I’ve driven high-powered cars that couldn’t turn and felt a different kind of exhilaration (like the one you feel before a good bowel movement).”

Duane Haas also cast his vote for handling: “I love cars that do more with less. Anybody can drop a huge engine in a car to make it fast in a straight line. Handling and balance take an artist.”

Or, as Rick Gent pointed out: “All the horsepower in the world does you no good if you can’t keep the wheels on the pavement.”

The power hungry among you are not convinced, however. “Horsepower,” Joshua Pritts wrote. “Handling is up to the driver.” Paul F. Clarke concurred: “Horsepower! Let them ponies run!”

Juan Carlos can see both sides. “If it has so much power that you can’t handle it, look into better handling. If you can handle it with one finger but it won’t burn rubber, look into more power. It’s all in the balance.” Then, he reasoned, “If you’re running from the cops you need both ... unless you're O.J. Simpson.”

Joseph Storer – yes, Cherry’s Joseph – also struggled to commit. “In my experience, frustration is always the result of having too much of one and not enough of the other!”

Apparently, that’s all Cherry needed to hear. Only one minute later, she gave up on Joe and moved on to someone else. “Hi, Sammy!” she wrote.

Wait, what was the question again?

18 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Christopher Jimenez Great State of Texas September 22, 2016 at 14:31
    While having owned and driven several straight line "performance" cars; or as performance as the 80's would allow ('81 Corvette, '86 Monte Carlo SS, '87 IROC-Z 5.0 5-spd, '98 VW GTI VR6), I prefer a steady balance and found that in the 2005 Infinity G35. While the V6 has a nice 10.3:1 compression, it's still a V6. The handling, though, allows for it to utilize everything it can handle...and then some.
  • 2
    Bill Cumming,GA September 22, 2016 at 17:35
    I enjoy both in my wifes 2001 Z06 Vette.
  • 3
    Henry Francis Columbus,Ohio September 22, 2016 at 19:23
    my 63 Impala SS is great for handling but also if I need the power it comes from the 409 - 425 engine so I kind of like both.
  • 4
    Tony p Florida September 22, 2016 at 20:35
    From the responses here either horsepower or handling or balance comes down to people's preference for FUN TO DRIVE ! My Firehawk Conv. And 89TTA both have a great balance of power and handling for the street , my kind of FUN.
  • 5
    Thomas Madere Louisiana September 22, 2016 at 11:09
    Having owned a 1963 Ford Galaxie 427 and other muscle cars and a 1971 Lotus Europa, the Lotus was definitely the most fun car I ever drove. I still wonder how I survived some situations I put myself in with that Lotus. I also owned a 1998 Corvette, although fast with excellent handling you could not drive it near it's limit on public roads as you could the Lotus.
  • 6
    apl USA September 22, 2016 at 23:30
    My brother installed Michelin X tires on his '71 442 in 1972 and had the best of best worlds - making the 442 handle even better. Ahead of his time.
  • 7
    Scott Barman Maryland September 22, 2016 at 11:31
    Sorry, I must've missed the original post, but as the type that would have the top down or roll down the window and drive like his hair is on fire, I prefer horse power. Give me an old 426 Hemi and I will be ecstatic!
  • 8
    William J. McHale Stockton, CA September 22, 2016 at 11:32
    If you want driving excitement, take any car from the 50's and 60's with those drum brakes on a steep, long downgrade . Even the 70's muscle cars with front disc brakes were no match with today's ABS 4-wheel disc brakes. Blend horsepower, handling, and braking and you get optimum performance and safety.
  • 9
    John O'Kean New Jersey September 22, 2016 at 12:03
    Of all the cars I've had, I still loved my 78 Spitfire the most. Top down, almost sitting on the ground 1500 CC pure fun.
  • 10
    Christopher Jimenez Great State of Texas September 22, 2016 at 12:08
    While having owned and driven several straight line "performance" cars; or as performance as the 80's would allow ('81 Corvette, '86 Monte Carlo SS, '87 IROC-Z 5.0 5-spd, '98 VW GTI VR6), I prefer a steady balance and found that in the 2005 Infinity G35. While the V6 has a nice 10.3:1 compression, it's still a V6. The handling, though, allows for it to utilize everything it can handle...and then some.
  • 11
    Kevin Koford Colorado September 22, 2016 at 12:38
    It is all in the balance. Having a high HP car is fun but thoroughly dangerous in the curves if not set up right. I own a 1967 Chevelle and a 1973 Datsun 510. While the Chevelle has a good suspension and decent HP it is still a big car. The 510 has 351 HP at the wheels via a turbo and can be a handful. It also has a well thought out triangulated 4 link, adjustable coilovers, correctly sized sway bars good wheels and tires and great brakes. It is a blast to drive and can do circles around the Chevelle. While I love them both, smaller cars are easier to drive, fast.
  • 12
    John G. Alabama September 22, 2016 at 12:41
    I wrote a recent article on this same thing. I think it was James Garner when asked what is more fun during racing, speed or handling. He used to say: "I would rather go 29 MPH around a 30 MPH corner than 150 MPH on a straight" I am much more on the handling side of things but in today's world we now have options to potentially have both in a car a person can afford. My 2000 M Roadster has been modified to produce about 280 HP. Couple that with slot car handling, it is just a blast. To me, the excitement comes not even just from handling, but from the car telling you what it is doing. I also own a 100 HP 1974 BMW 2002. It is a momentum car but the amazing thing is the car, through the wheel, the chassis, the seat of your pants, tells you what it is doing whether going 'fast' down a straight or hitting the apex of your favorite corner. My article below. I hope enjoy. http://thethingaboutcars.blogspot.com/2016/02/horsepower-or-handling-which-is-best.html
  • 13
    David Gray Huntsville, Texas September 23, 2016 at 18:49
    Have had mustang, camero, impala ss 396, several corvettes, and 55 chevy's. If the steering is not tight and procise and the front roll controlled, it is not fun to drive wether 200 hp or 500 hp.
  • 14
    Dennis Michigan September 23, 2016 at 12:26
    Why not have both? A C5, C6 or C7 Corvette gives you the best of both worlds!
  • 15
    Dave Claxon Illinois September 23, 2016 at 00:41
    Horses must be important, my 70 VW Karmann Ghia convertible has 57 of them and I love them all.
  • 16
    comatus NW Ohio September 24, 2016 at 14:32
    Remembering an R&T wag's headline for a test of the Lancia Scorpion: "So lithe. So lovely. So beautiful. So slow." And that's just how I like 'em. Why yes, I had an Alfetta; why do you ask?
  • 17
    Chas.G Nevada September 26, 2016 at 21:40
    My 61 E roadster, in neutral & engine off, coasts down Sherwin Grade into Owens Valley CA (8 miles of 6% grade) at 102 mph with the top up (85 mph top down). It also gets to the grade rather quickly from the north on Hwy 395 through the through the Walker River Canyon by virtue of its 96" wheelbase, rack & pinion steering, 4 wheel disc brakes (inboard rear) 4 wheel independent suspension, monocoque body with space sub-frames hanging the engine and suspension up front, 2800 pound driving weight, 265 hp from a 230 c.i. (3.8 L) straight 6 cylinder engine (The block is just antiquated cast iron displacement with all of the magic happening in the cross-flow (three 2" SU carburetors into the hemispherical large valved combustion chambers and high flow cast iron headers out), dual overhead high lift camshafts, alloy cylinder head), rolling on true knock-off chrome wire wheels. There were 3 rear axle ratios offered for this state of the art in 1961 power and handling work of art (on permanent display in NY Museum of Modern Art). The 3.54:1 ratio tops out at 120 mph, but it gets there really quickly. The 3.07:1 ratio is said to be the first production car to drive continuously at 150 mph. It does it. Mine, with the 331:1 ratio, tops at 130 mph @ 5400 rpm (redline 5500). I have owned this car since 1976 and enjoyed its superb combination of power and handling imensely.
  • 18
    Alex East Coast September 29, 2016 at 23:23
    Fortunately my 87 Firebird 5.0 Formula with the WS6 suspension has the best of both worlds. Power and handling

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