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Why Did American Sports Cars Used to Have Such Poor Handling?

Posted by Jess Stoeckeler on

-The 2014 Shelby GT500 - a prime example of what I'm talking about.

‘These days, fast American road cars are excellent at going around corners. New developments in engineering and an altered approach to their philosophies mean there is more emphasis on the importance of good breaking and handling, as opposed to outright straight-line speed.

Whilst the size of the engines they deploy in their flagship cars are still ludicrously big, every other aspect of the car is upgraded to be able to handle the vast quantities of power, making for a much better all-round driving experience. As a result, American cars are now a staple in most racing series' across the world.

The Dodge Viper ACR set a blisteringly quick lap-time of 7:01.3 around the Nurburgring back in 2017, which makes it the fifth fastest production car lap of all time around the green hell. That same year, Chevrolet's Corvette C7 Z06 set a time of 7:13.9, meaning it just about sneaks into the top ten. There's no denying that American cars can do battle with the best that the rest of the world has to offer.

It's common knowledge that this wasn't always the case. They've always had a penchant for speed, that was never the issue. But even up until the mid-noughties, their handling capabilities were, generally, quite woeful. I want to take a look at some of the reasons why this was the case.

The Chevrolet Corvette C5 - another classic case in point.

The first reason was cost - you got what you paid for. American cars were always built to suit the masses, and the iconic ''blue-collar'' working class market that began with Ford, eventually translated across the nation. When you build a car on a budget to suit the masses, you can't really make every aspect of the car excel, you focus on what matters to customers most.

During the 60s, oval stock-car racing and drag strip racing started to become a prominent part of American culture, thus, leading onto the next reason: big engines equal big speed, and that's all that matters in high-speed racing. Due to its popularity, the cars that would be successful in those particular competitions would also become popular with the public.

This meant manufacturers would see a direct correlation between success on the track and an increase in sales - the fastest cars would sell the best. Whilst this doesn't really set the tone for manufacturers these days, it did set the route of design for what the primary focuses of American cars were for American people at the time.

The sleek Viper GTS was a straight line monster, but around the corners, it was a complete no.

Another reason for their previously poor handling abilities was because they adopted a straight axle at their rear-ends. This meant they could stay arrow-straight when accelerating on a drag strip, but made for poor maneuverability the moment a corner showed up.

Luckily, this wasn't actually that much of an issue considering the nature of American roads and how Americans enjoyed their driving. Most roads in the States are long and smooth, so naturally, people preferred a magic carpet-esque ride when it came to comfort.

Over the last few years, thanks to a priority reshuffle, American cars now are actually built to the high standard that their looks and speed merited. Even up until the start of the last decade, you couldn't really imagine an old Mustang or Camaro being a daily driver for those who live in compact cities like Paris or London.

Oh ... how times have changed. The old cliché has been well a truly quashed. I must say I love seeing American muscle cars becoming a normal part of society now - and long may it continue.’

- Drivetribe.com, 6/7/2020 & Photos from Drivetribe

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