Old car versus new car

Which is best? But brace for impact, if you’re looking through the rear-view mirror with your rose-coloured glasses


A lot of people reach out to me - not always all that diplomatically - and point out that they don’t make them like they used to. This is of course true - but often these correspondents get it arse-about.

So let’s compare two desirable performance cars about 40 years apart - one with a five-litre V8 and the other with a 2.0-litre turbo engine. Completely arbitrary choices, apropos of nothing … except to demonstrate how far cars have come in a million different ways.

The contenders

The cars are one I used to lust after as a teenager - the Holden LX Torana SL/R 5000. Hey - the Summernats recently took over Canberra. Seems appropriate.

It’s up against one I lust after today: the Hyundai i30 N >>. (Released in 2018.)


Least obviously, let’s talk price - actually, affordability. It was $7458 back in 1977 for the Torana - when average weekly earnings in Shitsville were just shy of $200. Therefore, owning one of these fine muscle machines meant putting 37 weeks’ pay on the line - before tax.

The i30 N is $40,000 (near enough) - and average weekly earnings today are $1165. So an i30 N costs you 34 average weeks’ pay. Let’s be kind and call that - close enough - a dead heat.


The engines: five-litres of thumping, red-blooded bent eight versus two litres plus hairdryer. No contest, right? Correct: the i30 N murders the V8. 161 kilowatts for 1977’s SL/R versus 202 for today’s two-litre - that’s 25 per cent more power in the domain of modernity.

Check the SL/R 5000 specs >>

124 watts per kilo for the Torana. 137 for the i30 N. The new baby has a 10 per cent power-to-weight advantage. Despite an explosion of additional features in the current car. They’re about the same size, too.

Interestingly, though, the old Holden makes about 14 per cent more mid-range power from 2200 to just over 4000 revs.

Still: six-speed manual today versus four-speed manual then. It’s really no contest - the modern car makes it far easier to be in the high-power operating rev range more often. It’s that simple.

Grip and handling

It would have been slower, but more interesting in the bends in the Torana - those 14-inch wheels. Those 70-series 205 tyres.

You know the i30 N almost has brakes bigger than those Torana wheels, right? They’re 13.6 inches at the front, and it runs on 19-inch rims in the i30 N. With 235/35 tyres and and 40 years of additional compound and carcass development therein.

And the tech - there’s no comparison. ABS, stability control, direct injection, rev matching, e-diff, brake assist, brake force distribution, pre-tensioners, airbags, advanced high-strength steel, throttle by wire, etc.

Hey Charger

I remember vividly driving a genuine Chrysler E38 Charger from the 1970s - a punter’s car - against a then-current FPV blown six Typhoon-type Falcon in a retrospective road test piece for Wheels or Motor magazines - back before they became embarrassing.


That E38 was a weapon back in the day, too. So I jumped in, enthusiastically, at the behest of the owner, who had lovingly, over countless hours, restored that classic car to showroom condition.

It was gorgeous … and awful. The seatbelt was up here like that, and the seats bounced out of phase with the suspension. The steering wheel was about three feet in diameter, and the connection with the road was tenuous at best.

And the brakes were good for about 60 seconds of real driving. I’d never been happier to hand a car back. And yes, it was still gorgeous, and I had nothing but admiration for the guy who owned it and sweated blood over the restoration.

But it cured be of the desire to ever do the same.


What I find most interesting of all between the V8 Torana and the i30 N is that ‘performance’ still costs about the same - in the context of the number of weeks an average person has to save to procure it.

But the bar has definitely been elevated. Massively elevated. Like, you can’t see the other end of the scale here, because of the curvature of the earth. It’s that far away.

And of course if you crash in an old car like the Torana, you’re dead, basically. Not so much, in a modern car.

They didn’t have star ratings back then, but if they put them in retrospectively, all 1970s cars get minus about a million stars.

And if you put them on a track - racetrack or dragstrip - no competition. There’s no universe there the V8 Torana can hope to win, all other things being equal.

How will modern Muscle age?

Interesting with the Summernats on recently in Canberra, however. (That’s a huge muscle car festival in the Shitsvillian capital if you’re not from around here.) Do you suppose - if there’s still the same enthusiasm for performance cars in 2059 or something - that people will still be as worked up then about cars like the i30 N, as they are today about bent eight performance specials from 40 years ago?

Let me know what you think in the comments feed below.

And before I let you go: Interestingly, I just looked on Carsales.com.au - there’s a 1976 Torana SL/R 5000 with 220,000 kilometres on the clock currently on offer for $95,000.

What do you suppose people will pay for that genuine 2018 i30 N in the same condition around the middle of this century? Let me know.

CONCLUSION: Don’t take my word for it

About 20 years ago I went to a lecture by Chuck Yaeger - the guy who broke the sound barrier. Total death-cheating hero. You’ve got to read his autobiography >>. It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff.


So he talks for ages about flying a P51 Mustang in World War II. He was an ace in that war, meaning he shot down five bad guys, before getting shot down himself and escaping occupied territory over the Pyrenees.

There’s Q&A at the end. So I ask how he felt about flying the Mustang versus all the newer hi-tech stuff he flew subsequently as a test pilot - the X1 and F105 Thunderchiefs modified to fly up to the edge of space.

(Because it sounded to me as if he had a soft spot for the older planes. Like they were better, which is how some people feel about classic cars.)

He said - and I’ll never forget it: “Son, it’s like this. The best plane is always the newest one. You can’t let nostalgia cloud your vision on that.” It always stuck with me - because I reckon that’s true for cars as well, no matter how you feel about the old classics.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.


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