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The Gentlemens AgreementPosted On August 10, 2016
When is enough, really enough? Well, that answer seems easier to answer when we look back over the history of the automotive industry and step back to a time when vehicles were pushing limits and offering drivers overpowered options that not only posed potential problems to those behind the wheel but also to others on the road.
It may seem overly cautious, but it was enough of a concern to merit a coming together of the major manufacturers at the time to set a foundational agreement – one intended to shift away from the statistically significant increase in car-related incidents – behind figurative closed doors the leaders of the industry came to a compromise and agreed to limit the development of their vehicles to specific parameters and specs.
Many like to point to the Autobahn – a lengthy stretch of land that allows drivers with heavy feet to really push their vehicles to their design limits – and in this a question must then be asked: “Why aren’t there more Autobahn areas around the world?”
Interestingly, it comes back to the title of this article – an automotive gentlemen’s agreement that saw fit to create restrictions from one automaker to the next. With the emerging need for governance across the industry becoming obvious as early as the 20th century – in Germany – when the Big Three German automakers agree to limit the maximum possible speed of their cars to 250 km/h (155 mph).
This was a manner with which the companies were able to recognize the limitless nature of the Autobahn while also, ingeniously, setting their own cap on possible speed allowances – reducing the risk of collisions or driver errors at higher speeds. In modern times we owe the speed limitations to situations like this one – with clever marketing practices that sought to navigate around the issue – like Audi – who launched vehicles with built-in electronically-limiters that made it impossible for the vehicle to go beyond the agreement… UNLESS the vehicle’s limiter is removed! At which point the possible top speed is significantly increased without officially rejecting the established norms.
Back to Chrysler – because, at the same time that these agreements were coming into effect in Germany, Japan, and across the automotive landscape they were also coming into effect in North America. The 300 “letter series” is often considered to be the lineup that led to the muscle cars of the 60s and beyond – and were also the first iterations of vehicles that fit into the American-equivalent of this global limiting phenomenon.
These vehicles, originally marketed for their performance on the racetrack, soon found a place in driveways across the country – and offered drivers with the power and the presence on the road that has continued to set standard and expectations. In 1956, with the release of the Chrysler C-300 – a vehicle earning the title of being the first American production car to top 255 horsepower – came, too the self-limiting features that ensure safety and, a fact that many overlook, the durability and sustaining qualities of tires – many of which are not built to withstand the speeds that some vehicles could possibly reach.
Chrysler’s clever way around the limiting was to name vehicles by their potential horsepower output rather than the top speed and in this same practice we find that there are more bragging rights, these days, over the horsepower possibility than there is on the top speed. Again, a clever go-around for a system that is meant to keep drivers safe.