Yesterday, 11:46 PM
Back in 1989 Japanese manufacturers informally agreed to a cap of 276 horsepower on domestically produced cars in order to prevent a horsepower war. BoostAddict believes this agreement handicapped Japanese high performance options with ramifications still felt today.
In other words, the cap was about as shortsighted as this Bill Gates statement on RAM, '640k is more memory than anyone will ever need.' The Japanese essentially handcuffed themselves and throughout the 90's you may have noticed how many of their cars neatly on paper adhered to this agreement.
The 1990 Honda NSX? 270 horsepower. 1992 MKIV Toyota Supra Turbo? 276 horsepower. 1990 Mitsubishi GTO (3000GT)? 276 horsepower. 1994 Subaru WRX STI? 271 horsepower. 1995 Mitsubishi EVO III? 270 horsepower. The Nissan 300ZX? 276 horsepower.
While there may not have been anything official other than what the people involved with JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association) knew the manufacturers were all respecting the agreement on paper with their outputs.
What was the point of this restriction? For one, for there not to be the never ending horsepower arms race we now have and secondly to reduce Japanese road fatalities. For whatever reason the Japanese tied horsepower to road fatalities and did not see the giant error in their logic. Fatalities have fallen in Japanese car accidents from the 80's to today yet horsepower has risen so make of that what you will.
This artificial limit led to a tuning arms race. If you could not get the horsepower from the factory, tuners would give you it. This is part of the reason turbo Japanese cars and tuning became popular. Many of the cars were relatively cheap, plentiful, and horsepower was fairly easy to extract from the turbo powerplants. In the case of the Supra, it literally was as easy as pulling a hose.
This gave rise to some legendary builds and tuning houses. Look at the output of this stock 1989 Nissan GTR RB26DETT:
260 horsepower at all four wheels is not shabby for a car from 1989 but it also is not much. Especially with competitor's output rising and the Nissan GTR essentially being stuck at that level of output due to the agreement.
Now look at this tuned example with bolt on modifications (baseline figure is with a tune):
With a Garrett GT3582R turbo, 6Boost exhaust manifold, Turbosmart 50mm external wastegate, Sard 750cc injectors, an upgraded fuel pump, custom exhaust, and a tune output rises to just under 475 wheel horsepower. In other words, another 200 horsepower at the wheels on the stock internals.
Any wonder why tuning the GTR became popular? Especially when you can get crazy with it like this 1000+ horsepower example:
In 2005 Honda simply felt they could no longer adhere to the horsepower limit and compete. They released a Legend model with a 300 horsepower 3.5 liter V6. Soon other manufacturers followed and the agreement was over. The truth is the majority of them were making cars with more than 276 horses anyway as the R32 dyno shows but they did not want to break the agreement on paper.
The Japanese really were the first ones to dramatically sandbag output. All under the guise of supposedly keeping the roads safer when it was improved safety standards doing that regardless of horsepower.
It took a long time for the Japanese to truly recover and start producing world class sports cars again. The current GTR of course is pointed to but look at how long it has taken for Honda to produce a new NSX. Toyota still does not have a real Supra successor or high performance sports car on the market (no the LFA does not count).
The good thing is that the Japanese tuning market exploded with the turbo cars barely being pushed from the factory and offering such tuning potential. So, maybe, the agreement was a good thing for enthusiasts. Especially considering the rest of the world ignored it anyway.