Our Two Cents: The Goldilocks Horsepower Number

Brandan Gillogly

As you may recall, Goldilocks is the story of a woman eating from three bowls of porridge. Said bowls were at various temperatures, but only one was right for her. The same can be true for horsepower figures, as the Lucid Air Sapphire has a scalding 1234 hp. The Mitsubishi Mirage only has 78 hp, which is certainly too cold in our modern automotive climate. So what’s the Goldilocks horsepower number?

That’s the question we posed to the staff here at Hagerty Media, and our answers are just as diverse as our tastes in cars. So have a look at our thoughts, because what’s “just right” for one staffer might not work for others.

400 horses

2024 Nissan Z Nismo red sonoma motion front three quarter tight
Nissan/Jay K. McNally

400: This is pretty easy to get out of most modern engine designs while still having a durable, dependable, and serviceable powerplant. It’s also usually enough to spin the tires when you want to while still returning decent fuel economy. — Kyle Smith

650 horses?

Chevrolet Corvette C8 front three quarter red
Eddy Eckart

550–650 hp in most applications (modern performance, big SUV, etc.) is about right for day-to-day. Goldilocks, however, is 700–900 hp via a nicely built RY45. — Matt Tuccillo

A “Weighty” Question

Lotus Elise front low angle
Andrew Newton

You can’t say for sure without knowing the weight. The sweet spot for me is 300 hp, but only saddled to 2600 pounds. Also, peak power doesn’t mean much to me either because if all the power is over 5000 rpm and the engine is asleep at 4000 (where I mostly drive) then I don’t care what those figures are. Okay, more than you wanted to know. — Larry Webster

This is Irrelevant!

1932 Duesenberg J Figoni Sports Torpedo engine pebble beach concours winner
David Paul Morris/BloombergGett/y Images

Horsepower is meaningless in the age of electrification. The only numbers that matter anymore are range, consumption, and torque. In older cars, horsepower figures are either deliberately inflated (pre-SAE) and/or irrelevant. Does anyone care what the horsepower figure is for a Porsche 912? A Ferrari 250 GTO? A 260 Mustang vs a 289? It’s rare that anyone ever asks me the horsepower of my old cars and for most of them (’36 Riley, ’49 Buick, ’67 Porsche 912, ’73 Land Rover) I couldn’t even tell you, but it doesn’t diminish my interest in them. Goldilocks horsepower? As the man said, I know it when I see it. — Aaron Robinson

Less than 400

I’ll go out on a limb and say that anything much more than 400 horsepower is really just a unit of … well, member measurement for the average skilled driver in an AWD or RWD platform. Make it FWD and I’d go as low as 250–300 horsepower. Straight-line speed is fun, but moderate power where you can plant your foot and not get in too much trouble (either from lack of skill or that by way of that cop you didn’t notice) is my preferred state. — Greg Ingold

36 Horsepower

Eddy Eckart in a go-kart, side profile on track
Merriman Industries

The answer is 36 hp—in my 370 lb go-kart, anyway. Any less and it wouldn’t scare me, and any more would probably make it illegal in my class. — Eddy Eckart

2400 horsepower!

Underground Racing

Sorry y’all, but I gotta get all Texas up in here. Texas mile and TX2K to be precise, and we will take the biggest figure the aftermarket provides. I’ve driven a couple of 1000+hp, pump gas Lambos and they provide tame performance in traffic, while also offering mind-altering thrust in places like Mexico.

But it’s been a minute, and the number of turbocharged Lambos with 1500+ horsepower to the wheels suggests that might be about right for my needs. But 2400 horsies at all four wheels sounds delightful, as my foot knows how to treat a throttle pedal like a rheostat and not an on/off switch. Texas Tea also comes in race formulations, dont’cha know? — Sajeev Mehta


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    300 – 400HP is the sweet spot for most street driven cars. It is enough to get you arrested but not too much to break much. It will get most cars in the 13 sec range and about 103 MPH in the quarter. 4 second 0-60,

    If it is FWD the power over 300 HP is hard to put to the ground as the weight transfer moves to the back.

    Many people are not responsible enough for much more and the cars and coffee videos kind show this.

    400 HP is ok too but in a street car much more is hard to hook up. At 700 HP it is more top speed vs 0-60 as it is difficult to put to the ground. Many can run 700 HP and still get the same time in the quarter with 800 HP in street trim..

    300-400 is the range I was in the most and it is fun and reliable.

    My Vette is 350 HP and 3100 pounds. I have driven Vettes with 100 HP more and on the street it means little. I do not street race and I don’t track the car so it is enough to get that feel.

    Now if this was a track car more brakes and power would be great.

    The one thing many people fail at with more power is this. It is not how much power you make but how much you put to the ground. Tire spin is useless. My buddy has a Duster that looked stock but he would be much more powerful cars and tubed cars. I asked him how did he do it. He showed me how the car did not loose traction. Some good MH soft compound and a slightly altered wheel base. made that car hook up and not spin. It ran 9 sec 1/4 miles in street trim. Yet no tubs etc.

    I agree with everything you said, hyperv6, except for “tire spin is useless”. For driving, yes, it is. For impressing youngsters and drunk guys with mullets, hardly anything beats a vehicle-engulfing cloud of tire smoke. 😉

    I never understood ignorant people being impressed with a more ignorant person spinning his tires often running over the prior ignorant person.

    People get hurt and tires are wasted most can’t afford to replace.

    My mom’s old 73 Malibu could toast a set of Goodyears on a 2bl carb.

    These are the folks that got us run out of areas in town due to their stupidity.

    So, am I reading that you think spinning tires is only done by stupid people, but that your mom was fine with it?
    Seriously, though, I’m constantly amazed at how easily triggered you are, bro…

    Not triggered. Just not impressed who think they are something they are not.

    My point was what is the big deal doing something an old lady’s car can do?

    You appear the one that is triggered by replying I just shake my head and go on.

    If you have em smoke em if you like but I can reserve my own option.

    Impressed? Are you so arrogant to think that people spin their tires to impress you or to impress others? I spin my tires because its down right FUN!!!!

    You may think it fun I was taught it was pure ignorance.

    Some people find fun in odd ways and destroying a set of expensive tire for attention is not my definition of fun or intelligence. Nor is spinning out and hitting people or a tree leaving cars and coffee.

    It is ok if that what you think but I have a different view.

    Just how is it Fun?

    It is just ego driven exhibition.

    I expect you do it most often only when others watch?

    Can you name one thing smart about spinning tires? Risking a ticket. Killing expensive tires. Possibly crashing. Etc.

    One local idiot got a cruise in shut down here because he thought he was cool and ended up putting his car in a store front.

    Sorry I have a low tolerance for fools. Especially when they do damage to my hobby.

    Yes when I see a video of a cars and coffee crash where no one is hurt I do get a smile. 😊

    There is nothing smart about smoking tires. There is nothing smart about drinking Bourbon. There is nothing smart about jumping out a perfectly good airplane. There is nothing smart about getting a Covid shot. Yet, many, many people do many of these things and enjoy the heck out of it, and continue to do it. I guess one man’s aggravation is tires smoking while another man’s pleasure is smoking tires. To each his own.

    I don’t drink, I don’t jump out of planes, I don’t do drugs or smoke anything including tires.

    But then again I don’t crash cars, never been to jail for a crime, never ran over someone etc.

    It is all in what you want.

    Playing it smart keeps you off On Patrol Live with the country laughing at you.

    I love the ones drag racing in front of cops and get pulled over only to have the cops find a bag of meth.

    Bad judgment often leads to problems. If that is fun.

    Also Hagerty may be taking note on folks promoting wreck less op on their site. lol. Not the best place to admit this.

    That was like the Subaru guys claiming warranties on their clutches but posting videos of them auto crossing. That did not turn out good.

    Okay, I seldom post here but let’s jump into the fun. A good reason to responsibly roast your tires. Here is the scenario. Did not have a chance to over inflate tires prior to winter storage. Now the flat spot is driving you nuts. Do a nice burn out, rotate and do the other two. No more flat spots and some fun. As far as wear and tear, most of our tires probably age out rather then wear out on our special vehicles.
    This is all just fun and I agree on 300 to 400 horsepower for a street car

    It is fun till the tire lets go and you eat a quarter panel. LOL!

    Look I was raised around racing where guys spent a lot of time working to get the tires to bite be it drag racing or stock car racing. Also you took it easy on the engine as if or then the valve spring breaks it eats a head and sometimes a block.

    Things like tires and broken parts cost money and spins cost wins.

    Add on top it can get people hurt or crash a car as the many videos show.

    I am sure Hagerty would be more than happy too that people not behave that way too. It cost them money too.

    I just was raised to respect the car and that spinning tires means little.

    Then I had my Chevelle I had it so it would hook up. When I launched the left front tire had daylight under it. I did not have the biggest engine but the suspension worked. Rode bad but it hooked up. Pull a tire and people will be more impressed.

    Could not agree more. Early on when I was a wannabe drag race star we learned by loosing to get the car hooked up and quit spinning the tires. That and we were scrounging leftovers from the big dogs so we could stretch our money. To this day whenever I hear tires burning up I cannot help wondering if daddy is still buying the kids tires, because only an entitled child would burn up hundred dollar bills to create worthless tire smoke. That or someone to whom money and safety are not issues.

    My family worked for a major tire company with a nice discount but even then I was taught not to waste them.

    I was always too chicken to steal and too cheap too gamble.

    All of your lecture points have merit and I don’t disagree with any of them. But more many, A tire roasting smoke clouding burn out is a lot of fun and very satisfying. One that forced me out of my car due to the smoke was very memorable.

    For me, it’s 400hp max. Anymore is to much for the street for me. Give me 100mph thru quarter and I’m happy!

    Juan Fangio in mid-drift, four wheels pointed four different directions none of which was the path of travel, leaning out of the cockpit and looking *back* at the inside rear, judging from its spin rate when to let off and let the Alfetta link up. I never even noticed his mullet.

    I guess my answer to “how much is just right” as to HP is- it depends! Yes that may sound evasive but it really does depend- is this a street car that has to function fully day to day as a driver or an all out racing machine that has none of the needed compromises to make it “perfect”. My own personal opinion is that, at least when it comes to a street car- that sometime “less is more”. I subscribe to the idea that its more fun to drive a slow car fast (relatively) than a fast car slow. 800 hp supercars are a dime a dozen with all the technology these days but it always begs the question of where you can use the sub-2 second 0-60 (like anyone will really stop accelerating at 60- LOL). Yes neck-snapping acceleration and 200 plus top speeds are great- but useless if you can’t enjoy all that performance without getting arrested IMHO.

    I have been driving legally for fifty years. I can drive anything with wheels. 350 350hp. period amen end of story

    My ’02 Mustang GT only makes like 240hp (which I agree is not enough). I know modern V6 Mustangs are way faster and higher hp. But I’d rather walk than drive a non-V8 Mustang.

    Have a 2000 GT with the manual and it needs another 100 to be perfect. 10 lbs per hp is about right.

    A buddy of mine had a Z06 Corvette and a 3 Series. He told me one day that he actually liked driving the 3 Series more, because you had to put a little work into it to get it to perform.

    I now have a 1 Series, and a big block Corvette and a range of other selections covering everything from 200 to 400… and I would say that is about the right range for street-driven cars… 200 to 400

    I have had underpowered cars in the past (Subaru GL Wagon, an unmodified version of the pictured Celica GT, etc.) and I flogged them mercilessly, so there is such a thing as too little, and good sense tells me I don’t need more than 400

    How true!
    You can still have fun driving the car, flogging the heck out of it, maintaining speed through corners, and look down and you are only doing 40.
    Agree 200-400 is perfect depending on weight and engine placement but slow cars can be fun too.

    Add snow (with no salt) and even a VW Bug can be a full lock rally car.

    I used to do donuts in the parking lot of my local shopping center in my 79 Cadillac every time it snowed. This wasn’t actually goofing off though, it was my way of getting ready for winter driving

    S**** Mitsosquishy.
    It’s astounding to me that anyone knowing anything about WWII would have one. 😛

    What then of Hitler’s “People’s Car”?
    Mengele’s family makes farm machinery.
    And good ol’ Henry F. was an anti-semite.

    Everybody’s got a skeleton or two.

    It has been a LONG time since Mitsubishi (I am guessing that is what you mean by “Mitsosquishy”) built Zeros. The world continues to turn, and time changes most everything – including international alliances. We can live in the past, or we can move on, when appropriate – as many of us choose to do

    My dad was in WWII. My mother bought a new 1984 Dodge 600 and when my dad raised the hood to check out what was inside, he cussed a little and said that was the same company that built the Zeros that bombed Pearl Harbor. He said, well, it seems to run good. My mom kept the car until she traded it for a new 92 Crown Vic. The funny thing was that the engine and transmission was the best part of the 600. The front suspension was horrible and in the shop several times for that. The heater core leaked, the rear windshield spontaniously shattered one day in a parking lot, and a few other things, but the engine and trans never failed.

    I know far more about WWII than most people, an education started by my father, who was a twice-wounded WWII combat veteran. If you think we should still hold a grudge against Mitsubishi for Pearl Harbor, then the Japanese are just as entitled to hold a grudge against Boeing for providing the bombers that incinerated over 100,000 Tokyo residents on the night of March 9, 1945.

    Point is, even the good guys do horrendous things during wartime, and it does no one any good — on either side — to hold grudges after the shooting stops. Especially against Japan, who has been among our staunchest allies for nearly 80 years.

    I’m a historian myself and I could not agree more with this comment. Times, and people, change. When you dive in to the study of wars and their causes, it is always the same story. Politicians and their pride and what they want are the root cause. It is almost never about what the people want.
    Most people just want to live their lives and raise their kids in peace. Politicians want their own way and, sadly, fail us in their pursuit of their goals. Oh that we were more selective and careful of who we put into office, and who the rest of the world allows to rise in power.

    250-350 HP on a street driven car, weight also being important (“add lightness”). Much more than adequate power for any realistic situation and will still create a smile on demand. Anything more is gilding the lily.

    10 lbs per horsepower is a decent guide for fun. 170 horses in a 1700 lb VW can be considered dangerous.

    I’ll let you know when I finish my ported/polished big valve 2110 with 44 Webers. 🙂 I think it’ll actually be about 150, but I should also have it down to 1600 lb. 😀 I don’t really want any more than that in such a car, but there are those who are pushing 300 or even closer to 400 on street VWs.

    To me 300-400 is plenty even for something like a pony car, but I’m not power mad like some and I’m definitely not racing someone else on the street. Adequate power with great throttle response (whether opening or closing it), tight suspension and quick steering are what I’m primarily looking for. If it’s a bit harsh, then so much the better.

    Horsepower and brakes…if you know what to do with either, you can never have enough. Hopefully you have as much brakes as horsepower.

    Great question! I have owned vehicles with a range of 70 HP to 425 HP and they have all served their purpose just fine.getting me from point A to point B. Do I prefer the one with 425 hp? Of course,but at the expense of gas mileage.if money was no object I’d like to own a vehicle with 5-600 HP.any more would be unwarranted,i.m.o.now if I was a professional race car driver thats a different story.

    My vehicles are similar, 74 and 385 HP. However I enjoy the 74 HP vehicle the most. The 385 HP only requires that you know how to steer. The software will brake the appropriate wheel when its called for and do all manner of technical stuff to a much higher degree than I am capable of. The 74 HP vehicle has zero computers, no power anything and demands that you know how to actually drive in addition to just steer.

    I agree entirely. My favorite 2 cars have been under 100 HP. Both light seat 2 roadsters. The old saying that it more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow, for me is true. It’s even more true with motorcycles.

    People like big numbers, but the answer is: whatever you can control and stop, and where you are using it. A 250-HP Mustang can be wrung out within an inch of its life on track. A 540-HP musclecar can blow off a normal tire like a Radial T/A and needs at least drag radials to accelerate at max throttle. Neither of those stunts are a good idea at a C&C or car show…

    I have no idea, as I have a pickup that puts 650 to the tire, a luxury SUV that’s AWD with a rated 400 that’s a blast to drive, an an old SUV that’s lucky to put 200 to the tire…….And I enjoy everyone of them

    Things I understand:
    Being fast.
    Things I do NOT understand:
    Building a car for bragging rights as opposed to performance.
    Revving engines
    Shooting flames
    Bouncing off the rev limiter.
    All of the above seem like ‘performance’ as defined by people who have never known real speed, and don’t know how to drive. Years ago, I was invited on a ride in the pace car at a Lime Rock Park IMSA race. A Pontiac G8 driven by a trained professional, when you are in the back seat can be a truly terrifying event. My wife sweet talked Eric Wensburg into getting her a hot lap with Bill Auberlain. She still talks about it to this day.

    For a mostly street driven car with maybe a few HPDRE tracks days thrown in, a 3,500 to 3,900 pound vehicle with a naturally aspirated drivetrain, 350 to 450 is plenty. My advice is concentrate of the suspension and brakes, that where you’ll really see the benefit.

    With speeding tickets today with their huge fines, surcharges and increasing of insurance rates you are better off killing someone. The overall penalties are about the same. Take it from someone who drove big powerful cars all his life it’s just not worth speeding anymore. I’ve gone from looking at a car’s horsepower to what kind of gas mileage does it get. The days of a dollar a MPH over the limit and a few points are long gone.

    Yep! 400hp + brembos +ls6 + manual = a (sh**)load of fun aka the right amount. Now the right amount = 40 mpg.

    Where were you when I traded my ’04 Mazda6 3.0 liter, 220 hp, V6, 5-speed manual on my current ’14 C6, Z51, 460 hp, 6-speed automatic? The Mazda weighed in at slightly under 3,400 lb, and the Vette at slightly more than 3,400 lb., a factor not mentioned in the article or in the responses. Don’t even get me started on the relationship between horsepower, torque, and engine speed.

    Even better was my ’94 (2nd generation) 2.5 liter, V6, 160 hp, 5-speed manual Probe GT at about 2,800 lb.

    Having said that, the acceleration, sound, and thrill of the Vette cannot be approached by the other two cars.

    I have a 75HP Fiat X-1/9 and a 450HP Mustang GT. If I’m asked to give up one, I’d have a hard time choosing.
    Basically, numbers do not define the car, seat time does.

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