I recently got my Jeep J10 pickup on the road again and, while it’s quickly becoming my favorite vehicle, I couldn’t help but notice one thing: It’s slow. As hell. And now that I look at the numbers, I can see why; Its power-to-weight ratio is laughable. Here are some lethargic cars that somehow beat or come close to my J10 in this metric.
After having sat for about four years, I devoted my summer to fixing my 1985 Jeep J10 and now it’s back on the road. All of that wrenching was totally worth it; depressing that left pedal to activate the clutch that I installed, rowing through that lovely four-speed manual that I rebuilt myself, and revving up the 4.2-liter inline-six that I did a bunch of work to (but still need to fine-tune) makes me feel true joy even during routine errand runs. And looking back at the truck after I’ve parked it gives me glimpse of true truck-ish beauty.
But as much as I love driving this handsome machine with an extremely satisfying Tremec toploader transmission, I am amazed by how slowly it accelerates. Much of that has to do with its really tall 2.73 axle ratio, but power and weight are big factors, as well. According to specs I’ve found online, the horsepower figure for this vehicle was roughly 112 HP, and while I’ve replaced the single-barrel carb with a Motorcraft 2100 dual-barrel, and I’ve cleaned up some of the emissions bits, I bet that power number hasn’t changed much.
One-hundred-twelve horsepower may not seem like a terrible number in the grand scheme of automobiledom, but this long-bed, body-on-frame, four-wheel drive, AMC-engineered Jeep weighs roughly 4,200 pounds according to folks on forums who say they’ve weighed their truck, bringing the power-to-weight ratio to 2.67 horsepower for every 100 pounds of weight. (I did find a NHTSA document claiming that the curb weight is actually 3,724; that seems low, but in case that’s right, the 2.67 figure becomes 3.0).
That’s laughable, and if you don’t believe that, here are some vehicles with similar or higher power-to-weight ratios.
The Dodge Journey is a seven-passenger crossover powered by a 172 horsepower four-cylinder engine. It’s considered highly underpowered by modern standards, but with the base model’s 2.4-liter four-pot banging out 173 horsepower and lugging around a relatively lightweight 3,818 pounds, the bankruptcy-era Dodge’s horsepower-per-100-pound rating is 4.5, destroying my J10's 2.67 (or 3.0).
Yes, my J10 is significantly underpowered even compared to a four-cylinder, three-row Dodge Journey.
Okay, so my J10's vastly outdone by what’s arguably America’s “value” people-hauler, but what about other cheap cars around the world? How about, say, the former cheapest new car on earth, the $2,500 Tata Nano?
That thing’s 624cc twin makes only 37 horsepower, but at 1,400 pounds, its power to weight is 2.64, pretty much in line with my J10's assuming its weight aligns with what I found on forums. My coworker Jason Trochinsky says the Nano is “sort of fun” to drive, so maybe he’d like my J-truck?
Sticking with the theme of worldwide budget cars, let’s check out VW’s Polo offered in Europe. No, it’s not as cheap as the smaller VW Up, but it’s significantly heavier and not a whole lot more powerful in base form.
The rental-spec Polo that I drove earlier this year makes only 64 horsepower and has to lug around 2,450 pounds worth of hatchback, bringing its horsepower-per-100-pounds figure to 2.61—or pretty close to that of my truck if the forum weight figures are correct.
But it’s probably not too surprising that even the humble Journey would smoke my J10 in a drag race, and the Tata Nano and VW Polo could probably hold their own, too. After all, even a base-model car from the modern era enjoys significant advances in internal combustion engine technology over my old J-Series truck.
So let’s look at some older shitboxes, starting with one of the most infamous ones ever to be brought to American shores: the Yugo. My coworker Jasons has communicated just how underrated the car is, and while that’s true, let’s be clear: it’s far from powerful.
The GV Plus that Jason now owns makes 67 horsepower with a curb weight of 1,870, so it’s making an amazing 3.58 horsepower per 100 pounds. Even the base Yugo, which made 54 horsepower and weighted about 1,750 pounds scored a figure of over 3.08—roughly four tenths higher than that of my J10 if the forum weight figures are close.
While we’re on the topic of sad American-market crap-cans, we may as well mention the Geo Metro—a vehicle that, like every other car talked about thus far, is in some way underrated. In this case, it was a fuel efficient car that offered decent interior volume and an extremely cheap asking price—what’s not to love?
The most fuel efficient variant was called the XFI, and it made 49 horsepower and weighed around 1,600 pounds, yielding 3.06 horsepower per 100 pounds, or similar to that of the Yugo.
We can’t mention all these tiny underpowered cars without bringing in tiny Japanese bubble-era cars, so above you’ll find my coworker Jason Torchinsky’s Nissan Pao. Its little 987cc inline-four makes 52 horsepower, but since the car weighs only about 1,600 pounds, that’s 3.25 horsepower per 100 pounds. Not bad.
If I’m going to mention notoriously-slow cars, I may as well bring in some diesels, starting with GM’s notoriously unpopular Oldsmobile diesel engine family found in GM cars in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The 4.3-liter version can be found in mid 1980s Buick Regals and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes; it made only 85 horsepower and had to accelerate nearly 3,400 pounds of weight in both vehicles. That’s gave it roughly 2.5 horsepower per 100 pounds, giving my J10 the win by over 15 one-hundredths. Nice.
The Ford Pinto gets a lot of crap because of that whole rear bumper fire fiasco, but really, it was a pretty good car for the money at the time. When it first debuted, its base motor was a little 1.6-liter engine that, after its first year, was rated at just 54 horsepower. But the car didn’t weigh much more than about 2,000 pounds, so it made roughly the same power-per-100-pounds as my J10—2.67-ish.
The really famous pinto engine is the 2.3-liter overhead cam four banger, which came out in the mid 1970s, the same time that the 5 mph bumper standards were tightened—this, and the deletion of the small 1.6 was part of the reason why the base Pinto gained quite a bit of weight.
Still, 82-ish horsepower to move roughly 2,500 pounds wasn’t terrible. That’s roughly 3.3 horsepower for every 100 pounds of weight. That kicks my J10's butt!
Okay, so before I complain too much about my J10's lack of power, I should mention that there were many, many vehicles available in the U.S. that made my J10 seem downright quick. Among them were the VW Rabbit pickup, which, in diesel form, only made 52 horsepower. And though I don’t know its exact curb weight, a quick internet search shows around 2,200 pounds. That’s 2.36 horsepower-per-100-pounds; not good.
Then there’s the VW Bus, which, in 1966, made 53 horsepower from its 1.5-liter flat-four. And that paltry sum of ponies pushed around 2,381 in the van with windows and seats. That’s an incredible 2.22 horsepower per 100 pounds.
So as slow as my J10 is, it could be much, much worse.