What makes a car go fast?

I know what you’re thinking. “That’s a stupid and obvious question.” But is it really? I guess it is for some, but any question is stupid and obvious to someone. I have a few friends that are really into cars and they probably don’t know beyond the basics. I asked some of these car buffs and got some surprising answers. They would chuckle for a second and then start thinking about it seriously and giving me their opinion. So let’s see what makes a car go fast.


This was a phrase I grew up hearing. In the seventies it was a much truer statement than today, though. There was a lot less technology back then, so having a bigger motor in your car usually made it go faster than the same car with a smaller motor. Obviously, there are more factors than just that, but with all things being equal, the big motor ruled the roost.

In the time that I grew up, nobody was trying to go fast with anything less than a V8 motor. Big block V8s were super cool and made more power than small blocks but weren’t too common because of the cost. To rebuild a big block to go fast would cost a hell of a lot more money than setting up a small block. There were small block wizards all over the country making GM 350s and Ford 302s fast as hell.

In the eighties, the V8 still dominated the American fast car. Things were changing, though, and the 1987 Buick Grand National proved it. The Grand National had a V6 and was really fast without doing anything extra. This was probably the beginning of the end for the shade tree wizard mechanic. He’ll now need a dyno, a computer reader, and a lot more money to compete.

By the nineties, younger guys with little money were choosing the much cheaper Japanese-made four-cylinder cars to make fast. These motors are quite small so the new ways to make a car go fast were the focus as they had no real torque. Adding nitrous or a turbo to these little cars would really make a difference.


Way back in the early eighties, (narrated in an old man voice) I was a whippersnapper working at a go-cart track. The track mechanic had a fast car and on the weekends, we would go out and he would drive around looking for a race. It was a fun time. Guys with fast cars would meet each other on the road, pull over somewhere and start working out the details. The racers would pop their car hoods, inspect each other’s motors, negotiate the bet, and then pick a good drag spot and head there for the race.

James, the go-cart mechanic, had a rather heavy early seventies Chevelle with a mere 327-cubic-inch Chevy motor, so at a glance, his car definitely looked beatable. It looked like your typical street car that a younger guy would think was fast but usually wasn’t. The only thing that was different-looking with James’s Chevelle was it had an automatic transmission, which was odd for the time. The 327’s four-barrel carburetor was not oversized, and it had headers but that seemed about it.

Even though most of the cars that James raced had bigger motors and looked like faster cars, he won most of the time. The reason was a stall converter. His 327, which was very well built with performance parts, would take off from the line at the proper RPMs, which gave him a huge advantage over guys with just big motors. James also knew the proper air to gas ratio for his car, had good sticky street tires, and used special boosted gas.

Stall converters weren’t very known way back then, so James made a lot of money. His success was also because his car was properly configured for a quarter-mile street race. The proper configuration of all factors is a big key for going fast. Most cars today can be made to go faster just by changing its computer configuration. That was the trick even back in the day before cars had computers and guys like James knew it. The average punk with a four-barrel V8 and cherry bomb didn’t and would lose.


Ranging from silly to expensive, here are twenty things guys do to make a faster car.

  1. Get a dyno tune – Look it up. It’s cool
  2. Get wider wheels – Won’t do much unless it’s already a race car
  3. Get performance tires – Might improve traction
  4. Get a performance chip – Goes beyond factory settings
  5. Use higher octane gas – A total waste unless it’s already a race car
  6. Install a supercharger
  7. Install a turbo charger
  8. Install chrome valve covers – Yeah, no, this will do nothing.
  9. Adding nitrous oxide – Be careful. NOS can hurt your motor
  10. Installing headers – Good exhaust is important
  11. Changing rear end gears
  12. Make the car lighter – Replace existing parts with lighter ones
  13. Better exhaust system – May help, but louder doesn’t mean faster
  14. Remove catalytic converter – May not be legal
  15. Replacing mechanical fan with electric
  16. Replacing fuel pump with electric
  17. Cold air intakes – Could help
  18. Change interior motor parts to performance parts
  19. Install a performance torque converter
  20. Work you ass off and buy a Corvette

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