The limits never used to be this high. There was a day when weight transfer was something you could actually use on a back road to delicately place the rear of the car into a controlled slide, lining yourself up for the next sweeper. Blip the throttle just right to match the revs and fire out, before balancing on the brakes at the end of a short but straight strip of asphalt--just the right poundage on the middle pedal to avoid lockup and ensuing disaster. You couldn't wipe the grin off your face, and it was all happening at 30 mph.
Nowadays pretty much anything on the showroom floor equipped with modern rubber and the "sport package" will walk away from those hardcore sports cars of yesteryear without breaking a sweat. But while cars are becoming unquestionably more capable, are they getting any more fun? Is point-to-point competence all we're chasing?
Too many of us have become so lost in the quest for ultimate speed that we've begun to hear the words "race spec" to mean "the best," and the result is entirely too many roadgoing cars in which fun factor has been traded for outright pace. Or worse, for an overly difficult machine that's no faster on public roads than it was from the factory. Bottom line--a street car just ain't a racecar.
The only thing simple about a racecar is its end goal: setting the fastest lap time possible while being durable enough to last for hours of racing at a time. Street-driven cars, on the other hand, have decidedly more complex mission statements. While point-to-point rapidity is certainly not a bad thing, it shouldn't be a forefront concern. There are a number of fine lines a street car must straddle, while a racecar can simply poop all over them. These fine lines reflect important balances like comfort vs. stiffness, or horsepower vs. noise, but the most important difference is that in a street car, we must deliberately tune in "fun."
We decided to step in and play Mythbusters before the madness we've been witnessing on city streets gets too far out of control. To keep us all ahead of the curve, we went to Dublin, Va., to meet with James Clay, owner of BimmerWorld and the illustrious baby blue BMW 325i racecars you've seen competing in (and winning) the Speed World Challenge Touring Car Championship. As owner of the BimmerWorld performance store, he caters to customers looking to tweak their street-driven cars, and as the star driver of the BimmerWorld race team, he knows which parts go into a racecar and nowhere else.
"When I was in school, I drove a stripped-out, caged E30 M3 with a track suspension," Clay says. "As I've gotten older, I decided I climb out of racecars and race seats often enough at the track that it stops being fun every day. Likewise, whether you realize it or not, as you add harshness with each new race part, there's a building irritation factor that translates to you just not wanting to drive the car as much. Not everyone has the space, money, or time for a track car and a street car, so being honest with yourself to hit your personal balance will result in a car that can fill both needs to your satisfaction."