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Thread: What's the point of all these 160 mph speedometers?

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    What's the point of all these 160 mph speedometers?

    Almost every new car I test drive (including four-cylinder economy cars) has a speedometer that reads to at least 120 mph.

    140 is common; 160 not unusual. Some cars have 180 (or even faster) speedometers.

    And the cars could, in theory go that fast.

    But of course, they almost never do.

    Probably not one out of 100 cars (no matter how fast it could go) ever sees the high side of 120.

    Not in the USA, anyway.

    First, of course, it is feloniously illegal to drive that fast. Literally. Get caught anywhere near 120 and you are going to find yourself on the wrong end of a Glock and facing the very real possibility of jail time. Your license will be history, at the very least. You won't be driving anything for some time to come; maybe not ever again.

    Fact is in most states anything over 80 mph (or faster than 20 mph above the posted limit, regardless of the limit) is sufficient to get you plastered with a reckless driving charge.

    And that's not even close to triple digits.

    Second, few people have the balls. How many people (yourself included) do you know who have ever, even once, honestly driven a car faster than 130 mph? Possibly one or two. And 150? Unless you're a weekend racer (or know people who race) it is very unlikely you've ever even met someone who has driven that fast on public roads.

    Third, it's damn hard to do even if you have the balls (and the other necessary equipment) to make the run. Yeah, there are vast stretches of deserted, nearly flat highway that run for miles and miles in rural states like Nevada and Wyoming. But most of us don't live in such places. Most of us live where there are other cars on the road, and where the roads are not nearly perfectly flat and straight, with great lines of sight, for literally miles on end. Which is what you must have to reach speeds much above 140 mph, even in a really fast car. You simply run out of room - or time.

    A Porsche 911 or Corvette Z06 will accelerate like a slingshot to about 140-ish before you start to notice a decline in your forward progress. Oh, the car is still building speed, but much less rapidly than it did from 0 to 100. Wind resistance is increasing exponentially; to get from say 150 to 170 will almost certainly take more time and road than you have available - again, balls aside.

    Check out the speed runs at Bonneville. Those cars (some of them with 1,000-plus horsepower, or twice what a Corvette has) still need 2-3 miles of perfectly flat road to do their thing - and slow down with a reasonable cushion of safety.

    So our 160 mph speedos are a form of car porno. It gets us excited, but there's no real outlet. So it's ultimately a kind of self-abuse.

    What's the point?

    I remember the old 85 mph speedometers. Do you? In the late '70s, Congress thought people might be less tempted to really speed if the speedometer didn't really tempt them. I had all kinds of fun twisting the speedo in my 1980 Camaro all the way back around to 5 or 10 mph - which was about 115 or so.

    Today, it is all but impossible to "peg" a 140 (let alone 160) mph speedometer, even if we wanted to.

    Maybe we were better off with more realistic goals in front of us....

  2. #2
    Ridin Dirty dom's Avatar
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    I have an 85 mph gauge in my 82 Camino, love that thing.

    After 85 mph I use the tach to gauge speed. I had a buddy track beside me on his bike yelling my speeds back to me all the way up to 130. That was a decade ago. Now I have no clue how fast I am going after 85. I do know 4,000 rpms is 125 though.

    "Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato "
    -Mussolini
    All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

  3. #3
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    I guess the real question is why have cars capable of high top speeds? 'Cause surely a car should be equipped with a speedometer that will display its top speed if called upon to do so.

    And the simple answer is that high top speed is a byproduct of a car with enough acceleration to be satisfying, and long enough gearing to cruise at freeway speeds.

  4. #4
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    I guess the real question is why have cars capable of high top speeds? 'Cause surely a car should be equipped with a speedometer that will display its top speed if called upon to do so.

    And the simple answer is that high top speed is a byproduct of a car with enough acceleration to be satisfying, and long enough gearing to cruise at freeway speeds.
    I guess I'm just weary of all the posing.

    If we could use these cars - if people used them - it'd be great.

    But almost no one does, for the reasons mentioned.

    The futility, the waste - the pointlessness of it - is kind of hard to get around.

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    I understand the point about futility and waste when it comes to optimistic speedometers and even average cars that exceed the capabilities of drivers and the roads, however, does anyone seriously want to return to the 85 mph speedometer? I sure as hell don't.

    I remember being perplexed when most cars went from 120 mph to 100 mph in 1975 and then to 80 and 85 mph in 1977. Those were dark days.

    Automakers don't cater to the lowest common denominator when it comes to their vehicles. They largely, though not always, cater to people more like us.

    If we went to realistic speedometers today, they would all read about 100. Is that what we want? I like to twist the needle past 100 mph when I can. I just wish there was more room.

    I would argue that it is easier to drive faster today than it was in the 1980's. Back then, the number of troopers per capita was about twice what it is today. In addition, there was a lot less cover for those quick bursts. Back in those days, 85 mph was a dead bang loss in court. Today, its not quite that bad. It's a lot closer to the speed limit. People are driving on the average about 10-15 mph faster than they were back then. There is a case for higher speedometer numbers, although maybe not 160 mph....

    If we went to lower speedometer numbers, say 85 mph again, the needles wouldn't be able to twist around themselves like in the old days. Speedometers are driven by electronic speed sensors today, the equivalent of that little peg at 85 mph in the older cars.
    Last edited by swamprat; 06-14-2010 at 06:39 AM.

  6. #6
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    I understand the point about futility and waste when it comes to optimistic speedometers and even average cars that exceed the capabilities of drivers and the roads, however, does anyone seriously want to return to the 85 mph speedometer? I sure as hell don't.

    I remember being perplexed when most cars went from 120 mph to 100 mph in 1975 and then to 80 and 85 mph in 1977. Those were dark days.

    Automakers don't cater to the lowest common denominator when it comes to their vehicles. They largely, though not always, cater to people more like us.

    If we went to realistic speedometers today, they would all read about 100. Is that what we want? I like to twist the needle past 100 mph when I can. I just wish there was more room.

    I would argue that it is easier to drive faster today than it was in the 1980's. Back then, the number of troopers per capita was about twice what it is today. In addition, there was a lot less cover for those quick bursts. Back in those days, 85 mph was a dead bang loss in court. Today, its not quite that bad. It's a lot closer to the speed limit. People are driving on the average about 10-15 mph faster than they were back then. There is a case for higher speedometer numbers, although maybe not 160 mph....

    If we went to lower speedometer numbers, say 85 mph again, the needles wouldn't be able to twist around themselves like in the old days. Speedometers are driven by electronic speed sensors today, the equivalent of that little peg at 85 mph in the older cars.
    Yeah, I don't want to go back to 85 mph speedos, either.

    What I want is to be able to use the capability of modern cars.

    Right now, it's a chicken-choke.

    I get to drive all sorts of very high-powered, incredibly capable cars. But the prospect of a very possibly career-ending (and financially ruinous) incident keeps even me (and I am a fast driver) from doing much more than the occasional, furtive burst. That's with a radar detector (illegal in VA). Without the detector, I would probably not risk driving much faster than 80 for more than a few seconds at a time. The consequences have become too severe. Yes, the limits are higher. But the fact is in VA that anything over 80 is statutory "reckless driving." That's a mandatory court appearance and (if convicted) six demerit points on your license. A lawyer is absolutely essential, so even if you "win" you will lose $1,000 or more to pay the lawyer. If you lose, you will be uninsurable for the next 3-5 years, or be paying twice what you currently do - and you will likely have your license at least temporarily suspended in the bargain.

    And of course you'll still have to pay the lawyer, on top of all the foregoing.

    Total cost to you - possibly several thousand dollars, all told.

    So, driving a 180-mph 911 or Corvette (or even a V-6 Maxima) is incredibly frustrating. All this capability, all this power - and you dare not use it.

    That's what I am defeated by...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Probably not one out of 100 cars (no matter how fast it could go) ever sees the high side of 120.
    A couple of years ago I was driving on I-90 to LaCrosse WI. It was midweek, a sunny day, no traffic, had my Valentine-1.

    My Volvo S80 T6 was several months old - it's speedo goes to 160, has Z rated tires.

    Anyway, a Porsche pulls up, passes. I can see he has a radar detector also. We proceeded to drive for 10 - 15 minutes around 100 mph. On a real straight stretch, we were up to 130. The S80 still had more power to accelerate. I was about 1500 rpm below the redline.

    It was fun once.

    But I agree with you that there's nowhere to use that much performance.

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    I guess I'm just weary of all the posing.

    If we could use these cars - if people used them - it'd be great.

    But almost no one does, for the reasons mentioned.

    The futility, the waste - the pointlessness of it - is kind of hard to get around.
    You need to get out of Virginia more then. Outside the realm of Officer Bob Speed, there are people who use their performance cars for their intended purpose. I see it all the time.

  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel View Post
    You need to get out of Virginia more then. Outside the realm of Officer Bob Speed, there are people who use their performance cars for their intended purpose. I see it all the time.
    It's not just Virginia; it's like this in/around every major population center. (I travel all around the country attending car company "ride & drive" events.)

    If I drive faster than about 15 mph over the limit on secondary roads, I am passing virtually every other car on the road. On the highway, you can run faster (and so does traffic) but over 80 is still the exception, not the rule. And it's once in a blue moon you see a car doing 100 or more.

    My sense of it is that people have just been defeated by the combination of traffic and the constant threat of fines/punishment that end up being more severe to the average solid citizen than the consequences faced by a thug who holds up a 711 or beats someone up.

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    Eric, I reread your posting, and thought about it.

    You ask: "What's the point?"

    The answer probably lies somewhere in the "Enlarge Your Manhood" adverts.


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