Gentlemen, show us your engines.
This inquiry concerns the means by which engineers from four nations put massive horsepower under the right feet of a small number of lucky drivers, where it waits, begs to be used; the means, in short, by which enough torque is produced to pin heads against headrests when a car's in fifth gear.
The most powerful production cars in the world are built to be exactly that, without apology to anyone who doesn't want to drop up to a quarter-million dollars or burn through a small oil-exporting country's daily output on a run up to Big Sur. There is no excuse for these cars, except one: the fascination of engineering huge power from a 125-year-old invention, the internal combustion engine.
In basic terms, the powerplants that drive the Dodge Viper, Bentley Arnage T, Porsche 911 GT2, and Lamborghini Murcilago-the four cars, available in America, that carry the power flag for their respective nations-work just like the four-banger in an old Corolla, or the one in a 20-horse Model T, for that matter: suck, squish, bang, blow. A piston slides down a cylinder, drawing in air and fuel, suck. It moves back up, compressing the mixture, squish. A spark ignites the volatile brew, bang. The piston forces exhaust from the cylinder, blow. A connecting rod and crank convert the back-and-forth action into circular movement at the wheels, and the cycle starts again.
Mind you, we're talking about three times the power of the typical "sporty" car engine. The Italians and Germans may protest, and the British look askance, but there's no One True Way to achieve this kind of muscle. The approach each design team has taken is as distinctive as the country its members hail from. Power is a universal language, but in each case here it comes with a heavy accent.
Next: Dodge Viper