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

Why did American sports cars used to have such poor handling?

A short analysis of the old cliché.

39w ago

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 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.

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 manoeuvrability 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.

Thanks for reading - leave your thoughts down below!

As good as anything Europe and Japan can conjure up.

As good as anything Europe and Japan can conjure up.

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Comments (101)

  • Let’s be honest here American cars have came a long way and are much better than before. But they really wasn’t hard when you consider they were getting 200hp out of 7 litre V8.

    They are still the poor mans sports car. Europe is and always will be the leading class in sports car manufacturing

      8 months ago
  • 'cause quarter miles don't got no corners.

      8 months ago
  • You would have to define "sports car" for this question to work. Even the Corvette didn't start with independent suspension on all four corners and an 8 cylinder engine. Neither did the Mustang. Is that what it takes to qualify as a sports car? Most "sporty" cars from the big makers were just re-bodied parts bin specials. They were more grand tourers than sports cars, if that much. Handling was a non-issue. Look at racing in the U.S. Either straight line or simple tracks.

    I guess the bigger question is are there US sports cars now? Is the new 'Vette a sports car or a GT?

      8 months ago
  • Good article Shafiq.

    It is difficult to express opinions about any car manufacturer without offending someone out there, in some way or another. On that note, I am only wishing to add to the conversation, not correct anyone or argue.

    Growing up in America, I have my own perspectives, of course. I have been exposed to both, the deeply rich and fascinating American muscle car culture and their owners, as well as the American marketing machine known as Capitalism.

    To American auto makers, "success" isn't about engineering a better quality product. Success is based on how many units are sold.

    The original 1953 Corvette wasn't built to *be* a sports car. It was built to *look like* a sports car. Same with the original 1964 Mustang. It was all a marketing gimmick to sell more cars. They increased sales by fooling Americans into thinking they were buying sports cars when in fact they were merely buying re-skinned models of cars already in production.

    Americans love to fool themselves into thinking they are superior to the rest of the world, in almost every aspect of life. We do so with ignorance and false pride. And we're really good at it!

    The Dodge Viper is a good example of this false sense of American Exceptionalism. Yes, the Viper is an extremely exiting car! It has lots and lots of horse power! And yes, it can go fast, really really fast... in a straight line. Unfortunately it can't handle worth crap around corners unless it has a rear spoiler the size of a dining room table bolted on it, and it took them nearly twenty-five years to come up with that solution. Don't even get me started on build quality and panel gaps, because they're atrocious. There's no excuse for such shoddy workmanship. Especially on a car America looks at with pride.

      8 months ago
    • Thanks for such a reassuring answer Robert. I was sure at least one person would be offended but it’s the truth. American cars are excellent these days though and that’s also the plain truth which the rest of the world needs to accept.

        8 months ago
    • The Ferrari also cost 3 times as much as a Viper. I find it equally frustrating when arrogant Europeans or self hating Americans compare an American vehicle to a limited production luxury vehicle that costs multiple times that of the...

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        8 months ago
  • There were a lot of reasons. If you have some time, read "The Reckoning" by David Halberstam. It's a history of the American automobile industry, concentrating on the 1950's through 1970's. Lots of interesting stories and interviews in the book. Basically, Detroit took their customers for granted until the Japanese showed up in the US in the 1970's. It took Detroit a long time to get over the shock and change their ways.

      8 months ago