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Sports Car Economics, A Retrospective

Posted in auto industry, Car Buying, Cars, Corvette, General, Nissan, Porsche by Kurt Ernst | October 11th, 2010 | 4 Responses |

I’d have started this off with, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, but that particular line’s already been taken. Still, there’s quite a bit of meaning behind it, especially when you take a look at the current pricing and capabilities of modern sports cars. Today’s cars, straight off the dealer showroom floor, are the equal of (or even superior to) race prepped examples from just a few short years back. Technology has brought us things like drive by wire, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability and traction control and even variable rate shock absorbers. Tire and brake technology has improved exponentially over the past several decades, ensuring that modern sports cars stop and handle just as well as they accelerate.

If there’s a downside to all of this, it’s the economy. I know a lot of people who are unemployed, and I know dozens more who are underemployed. Cars that were once within reach are now as unattainable as Scarlett Johansson’s cell phone number; the hope that things will get get better is what keeps most of us getting up every day, but it’s still hard to face the facts that you should have bought that Z06 Corvette when you had the chance.

Below, I take a brief look at three base model sports cars: The Nissan Z, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Porsche 911. Over the past 40 years, they’ve all gotten faster and better handling, but how do the economics work out? Are they priced comparably today to what they cost in 1991 or even as far back as 1971? Let’s take a look:

1971 Datsun 240Z


1971 Cost: $3,596
Equivalent Cost in 2011 Dollars: $19,000
1971 Horsepower: 150
1971 Weight: 2,301 pounds
1971 Horsepower to Weight Ratio: 1:15.34
1971 Cost Per Horsepower: $23.97

1971 Chevrolet Corvette


1971 Cost: $5,300
Equivalent Cost in 2011 Dollars: $28,100
1971 Horsepower: 270
1971 Weight: 3,150 pounds
1971 Horsepower to Weight Ratio: 1:11.67
1971 Cost Per Horsepower: $19.63

1971 Porsche 911


1971 Cost: $6,400
Equivalent Cost in 2011 Dollars: $33,900
1971 Horsepower: 155
1971 Weight: 2,255 pounds
1971 Horsepower to Weight Ratio: 1:14.55
1971 Cost Per Horsepower: $41.29

1991 Nissan 300ZX


1991 Cost: $27,300
Equivalent Cost in 2011 Dollars: $43,000
1991 Horsepower: 222
1991 Weight: 3,300 pounds
1991 Horsepower to Weight Ratio: 1:14.86
1991 Cost Per Horsepower: $122.97

1991 Chevrolet Corvette


1991 Cost: $32,455
Equivalent Cost in 2011 Dollars: $51,100
1991 Horsepower: 245
1991 Weight: 3,220 pounds
1991 Horsepower to Weight Ratio: 1:13.14
1991 Cost Per Horsepower: $132.47

1991 Porsche 911


1991 Cost: $52,000
Equivalent Cost in 2011 Dollars: $81,900
1991 Horsepower: 215
1991 Weight: 2,600 pounds
1991 Horsepower to Weight Ratio: 1:12.09
1991 Cost Per Horsepower: $241.86

2011 Nissan 370Z


2011 Cost: $31,160
2011 Horsepower: 332
2011 Weight: 3,232 pounds
2011 Horsepower to Weight Ratio: 1:9.73
2011 Cost Per Horsepower: $93.86

2011 Chevrolet Corvette

Photo: © GM Corp.


2011 Cost: $49,900
2011 Horsepower: 430
2011 Weight: 3,208 pounds
2011 Horsepower to Weight Ratio: 1:7.46
2011 Cost Per Horsepower: $116.05

2011 Porsche 911


2011 Cost: $79,450
2011 Horsepower: 345
2011 Weight: 3,075 pounds
2011 Horsepower to Weight Ratio: 1:8.91
2011 Cost Per Horsepower: $230.29

So what do all these numbers ultimately tell us? The obvious answer is that speed cost far less money in 1971, when manufacturers didn’t have to worry about things like emission control, airbags, electronics or multi-million dollar product liability lawsuits. All those things add up, and while horsepower may have been cheap in 1971, cars weren’t exactly what you’d call safe by modern standards.

Cars today are more expensive then their 1971 counterparts (on a dollar equivalency basis, of course), but they’re cheaper and faster than their 1991 counterparts. I’m willing to bet this is the golden age for sports cars, and the numbers seem to back up my assumptions. If you’ve got a job and disposable income, now is a great time to be shopping for a sports car.

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4 Responses

  1. Motoriginal says:

    Interesting, but where is 1981?

  2. Corey says:

    Cost per horsepower may have gone up from 1971, but we also get fun things like 1.0 G turns and 120 ft. 60 – 0 stops – none of which was possible in 1971.

    Pretty darn cool comparison though.

  3. Kurt says:

    Motoriginal, I looked at cars in 20 year spans, not 10. Both 1981 and 2001 are omitted.

  4. Kurt says:

    Corey, you’re correct – sometimes technology IS a good thing.

    The years around the late 80s and early 90s were pretty bleak, though. Horsepower, what little was available, was pretty damn expensive.