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 Chevrolet Corvette
1971 Porsche 911
1991 Nissan 300ZX
1991 Chevrolet Corvette
1991 Porsche 911
2011 Nissan 370Z
2011 Chevrolet Corvette
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
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.