Author's Note: For the first time, CAFFEINE GT will publish photos that we did not take. It goes without mention that some of the cars in this post are either too rare or too new for us to reasonably be able to shoot ourselves. In order to continue these kinds of discussions, we may have to do this from time to time.
Let's get started:
Every once in a while, it's critical that we take a minute away from telling stories about ourselves and our own experiences in order to delve into thoughts about the greater community. In this case, since we're CAFFEINE GT, we'll be taking about the automotive enthusiast community.
In my opinion, the last five or so years have seen car manufacturers struggling to find their way. Fighting to create new definitions for who they are and what they sell. Even before the COVID-19 crisis began, car sales especially in the US were fledgling. The old model of micro improvements year over year involving customers that were willing and wanting to buy the new model because it had a slightly different polyurethane bumper mold and 5 additional horsepower wasn't really fooling anyone anymore. Planned obscilecence (knowing when you're going to retire certain features 10 to 15 years before retiring them) had been the name of the game for the longest time and Tesla rolled a flash bang into the conference room. Dazed and confused, automotive CEO's suddenly realized it's not enough to simply "be" Volkswagen or "be" Ford and expect car sales to come flooding in just because you eked a new one out. As a knee jerk reaction, traditional manufacturers tried to combat the spectacle that was EV 0 to 60 times and fart buttons by adding a frantic amount of horsepower and ride modes to all of their offerings. Enter the horsepower wars where SUVs, pick up trucks and luxo-bardges alike, bragged about sub 4 second sixty mile per hour sprints. About 4 or 5 years on, the horsepower wars have left a trail of interesting yet unenjoyable cars. It has gotten quite old.
Now that consumers aren't being forced to buy cars and drive an excessive number of miles due to their commute, many would be car buyers now see buying a new car as not only optional but unlikely. Manufacturers, now more than ever need to lure buyers into their cars. So what's next? The answer to that is thinking outside of the box, and even going back to the fundamentals. I'll be talking about the top 5 most interesting ways manufacturers are doing this now.
#5 2021 Nissan 400Z
Photo by @guillaumelerouge
There hasn't been a captivating new all JDM performance car in quite a while and Nissan aims to cash in on this. There was a time when Japan dominated the affordable performance car market. Everywhere you looked was a Camaro killer from the land of the rising sun. Mitsubishi had the Lancer, the 3000GT and the Eclipse. Toyota had the Celica, Supra and MR2. Even Subaru gave you a choice between the WRX and the SVX. Since then the Japanese sports car fleet has either been aging like the 370z and GTR or blissfully under powered like the BRZ/86 twins. And who can forget how Toyota swung and missed with the new Supra which many JDM enthusiasts see as a BMW doing JDM cosplay. (... mostly because it is).
Enter the 400Z. A 3.0 liter twin turbo powered, front engined, rear wheel driver sports coupe. Rumor has it that this car will churn out anywhere from 350 to 400 plus horsepower depending on tune and trim. If it stays fairly lightweight which I believe it will, this will be a formidable track day opponent and a real blast to drive.
Why is this significant? The reason is there are few manufacturers out there who are really striving to find the balance between providing driver focused experience, cost and decent stats. The typical manufacturer is looking at one of these aspects and ignoring the others. Nissan is looking to change that this coming year and I'm personally hoping that more performance car manufacturers take note. Now, we just need to see it fully unveilded.
#4 Ford Mustang Mach - E 1400
Photo by Motor 1
I would be amiss to think that there wasn't a single significant electric vehicle made in the last 5 years. For the enthusiast, however, it isn't Tesla who makes it. Surprise!,It's Ford. And car is specifically, the 1400 horsepower variant of the Mustang Mach E. As it turns out, electric vehicles aren't magical, silent or zero emissions. A dead battery is waste every bit as much as emitted exhaust fumes. EVs are simply cars with a different propulsion system. Without a generous amount of sound deadening, they aren't silent. They sound like very large power drills. That said, the reason the Mach E is so significant is because it's the first high profile EV that really lets the public see its inner workings, sounds and characteristics. These are all things that gear heads love. They want to be in tune with the machine. Not isolated from it. Ford takes a huge risk here and hopes that the sheer mind melt performance will be enough to melt the hearts of petrol heads. Whether or not it will, remains to be seen. One thing is sure though. this thing is all machine!
#3 2021 Ford Bronco
Photo by Car and Driver
The 2021 Ford Bronco is an extremely significant entry into the enthusiast car car ranks in and of itself. It's a back to basics off-roader with perfect retro-futuristic styling and one of the only major SUVs I know of that actually offers a manual transmission. What makes it even more significant is the fact that it comes from the same company and in the same year as the afford mentioned, all electric, Mustang Mach E. Companies like Volkswagen are jumping head first into an all electric future with a few short years and Mazda is busy squeezing even more power and efficiency out of their gas burning engines. Ford is making a bold statement by saying they don't really know what the future holds and that they're going to bet on both. I've always had a theory that EVs will end up carting the masses to work (if we ever go back to the office) and to the grocery store. On the flip-side, much like fine watches and whiskey, enthusiasts will always crave the warm blooded characteristics of their favorite Dino burning vehicles. In the best future, there will be room for EVs and ICE's and people will be free to use their preference. As for the new Bronco... this is the first SUV I have personally truly wanted since my last Bronco (a 1978 model). This is because the new Bronco follows the original manifesto of SUVs. It is a rugged, bareknuckle off roader that can carry your friends and your camping gear. Sure, there has been the recent 4 door Wranglers, but here is something a bit more special.
#2 The 2020 Chevy C8 Corvette
Photo by Motor Authority
A few weeks ago, the C8 was easily the most significant enthusiast car of the last 5 to 10 years. Why? Because for the first time ever, a $60,000 car made everyone question the value of Lamborghinis a Ferraris. While the C8, didn't dethrone the elites of the Italian supercar market many observers made comparisons between it and the Aventador. They did so for good reason too. The C8 is mid engined and quicker to 60 miles per hour. But the C8 isn't just a one trick pony. I personally don't like single minded stats like 0 to 60 times as the end all measure or a performance car's worth. The C8 is a performer on the track as well. The 495 horsepower base model variant set a 7:29:60 at the Nurburgring. I can only imagine what a 650 plus horsepower Z06 would do especially with all of the chassis and aero goodies added. It would be firmly in the company of the worlds premier exotics. A car like that would definitely be breathe down the neck of the fabled Lambo at likely less than half of the price. The C8 has done what no vehicle has done since the original NSX. It accomplished the fundamentals of being a supercar, but cheaper and more reliably than anyone else. Unlike the NSX, however, the C8 will be the first in a long continuum of mid engined supercars from America. Imagine what the C9 and C10 will be like. The potential is staggering and the C8 is the most important pivot point that American sports cars have ever seen.
#1 The Gordon Murray T50 Supercar
Photo by Gordon Murray Automotive
For some, it will be obvious why the the Gordon Murray T50 supercar displaced the C8 as the most significant recent enthusiast car and for others, it won't. Let's dive into why it is.
If you're thinking that this car looks slightly like the legendary McLaren F1, you'd be right. It's got the same designer. When it was introduced, the F1 was the fastest production car ever made. It made a habit of besting legends like the Jaguar XJ220, Bugatti EB110 and Ferrari F40. It was quicker to 60 than the all wheel drive Porsche 959 and moved on to 200 mph in just 28 seconds. As of 2017, it was still the fastest naturally aspirated production car ever made. Since then, McLaren tried to make a predecessor to the F1 by creating the McLaren Speedtail. Here's the problem with that. Propulsion systems have move ahead so much, that the fastest car isn't really an interesting thing anymore. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, hypercar vehicle performance has eclipsed their human driver's abilities. The Bugatti Chiron SuperSport has a top speed of 304 mph. The Koenigsegg Agera RS can reach 277. There really aren't enough straight stretches of paved road in the world for any customer to drive at this speed. If you're truly desperate to experience the peak performance of the hypercard you bought you're best off renting out a test track. Even if you could afford to pay the massive fee for that, why would you? I can think of much better ways to spend a weekend. Secondly. Because of the aerodynamic properties needed to reach speeds nearing 300 mph, these vehicles end up needing to stretch and morph into fairly ugly looking creatures. They resemble the type of animals you see on the Discovery Channel that took specialized evolution a step or three too far and have huge noses and tiny bodies. Many of these vehicles have sold out do to price speculation, but the public clearly has not fallen in love with them.
So how then, do you make a proper predecessor to the McLaren F1 if you don't try to remake it's amazing feats of speed dominance? You focus on the other thing it was good at. Being the best driver's experience offered in any supercar ever made. This... is the characteristic Gordan Murray decided to focus on again.
When the T50 was released, Gordon Murray didn't emphasize zero to sixty times, top speed or horsepower. There are no articles about Nurburgring times to be found. Al 2,174 pounds and 654 horsepower, however, I can assure you this car will not be a slouch. In my favorite interview on this car with Carfection's Henry Catchpole, Murray sums up everything you need to know about this car in one seriously understated quote. "It is just whatever is best with this car, basically."
Let's share some details here. Murray shaved weight from the steering wheel and the foot pedals because accuating objects with the least amount of unsprung weight simply feels the best. Did I mention that there are three pedals. Murray figured if you're going to have the best of everything, you may as well feel it. Rumor has it, this car has the best shift feel in the business. Sure, carbon fiber brakes are standard on supercars these days, but Murray secured Brembo's next generation of them for the T50. It has power steering but it only clutches in at parking lot speeds to enable livable everyday driving. The steering assist completely disappears at speed so that there is zero loss of feedback from road to driver. It's not gradual either. It's as if to say, we only gave you this feature because it would be cruel not to.
Hotspots in the engine bay are protected with real gold foil just like in the original F1. The body and chassis is over 100 kilograms lighter than the original F1 and magically twice as torsionally rigid. Honestly, I could go on and on about the specs and thoughts behind this build, but you should have Catchpole finish that for you. And of course, the fan at the back replaces the typical large rear wing. It keeps the lines of the car clean and provides insane amounts of downforce compared to its footprint. The T50 is a the most significant build not only of the last 5 to 10 years, but of since the McLaren F1. I've argued for years that the true measure of a performance car should no longer be sprint times and top speed. We've proven that we can get two and a half ton SUVs to get to 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds on a regular basis. The true measure should now switch to is quality of build and driving experience. The T50 concentrates on just that. We should hope that other sports and supercar designers take note. This car is $3.1 million dollars of money well spent. After all. It is now the watermark.