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Who Invented 0–60 MPH? Why, It Was Tom McCahill, Of Course

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Fifty years after Tom McCahill invented “zero to 60,” it remains the road-test’s benchmark number. Simple to understand, easy to compare, McCahill’s 0-to-60-mph yardstick captured the public’s imagination. Bolstered by frequent use in automotive advertising, nought-to-sixty took on a significance way beyond its true value. Nobody cared about other figures. Forget quarter-mile times, esoteric 45-to-65-mph passing numbers; only top speed gets close to resonating with enthusiasts in the same way.

Thomas Jay McCahill’s first road test, on a 1946 Ford, appeared in the February 1946 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine. Readers soon learned that, as well as his elementary, much quoted 0-to-60 time, McCahill provided irreverent, vibrant words that made the car live for the reader. McCahill entertained, combining a quick—if sometimes corny—wit, exaggerated metaphors and similes, and a stimulating and original writing style with serious foundations. You always knew if a new model met with his approval. McCahill didn’t believe in hiding behind euphemisms. Of the new 1949 Dodge with Gyro-Matic transmission, which advertising claimed was the greatest improvement in 39 years of Dodge history, Tom wrote, “It’s a dog.”

Only McCahill could write of the Jowett (a long-forgotten British marque) Javelin’s ashtray, “It looks like it was invented by Lord Whiffenpoof after he was shot in the rump during the Boer War. Like the cup your favorite dentist tells you to spit your teeth into, it hinges out but spends most of its time just rattling.”

Legendary NASCAR builder Smokey Yunick (left) with automotive journalist Tom McCahill next to a Ford Thunderbird at the old NASCAR offices in the mid-1950s.

To a reader who needled McCahill in his popular MI “Mail for McCahill” column, saying, “I suppose you consider yourself the best automotive writer in the world.” Tom replied: “I certainly do not, and no other automotive writer can consider himself the best as long as Terwilliger Muffinpuss is alive. There is a writer who gets to the soul of things.”

“I quote from his recent test of the Bentwater Biscuit Six, ‘Satisfactory mechanized transportation will be enjoyed by owners of the Bentwater Biscuit Six. Its lateral stability negotiating rounds and its ascending properties on vertical curves, not to mention its get-underway dash, are truly astounding. ‘”

Tom McCahill loved cars and knew they were fun, but before MotorTrend and the other enthusiast titles hit their stride, his words could make or break a new model. In 1956, Packard president Hugh Ferry told Tom, “We never really liked you, but we always respected you.”

“It was,” said McCahill, “the finest compliment I ever received.”

McCahill was born into a wealthy New York family in 1907. His father was manager of the local Mercedes branch, and there were always interesting cars around. Tom was given an old Winton when he was 14. After rebuilding the car, he promptly bent it around a tree. He became a salesman for Marmon, and in the mid-1930s opened a garage in Manhattan and later another in Palm Beach specializing in Rolls-Royces and other exotics. However, the Great Depression ruined the business. Tom took up freelance writing, turning out fiction and articles for Popular Science and The Reader’s Digest, before getting the idea readers might like some facts and figures about new cars.

Tom McCahill (white hat) with boxing champion Jack Dempsey (center) at Daytona Speed Weeks in the 1950s.

Selling the concept to MI was easy; getting carmakers to agree quite another matter. Several told him, “We test our own cars and aren’t interested in outside opinion.” To get around the problem, Tom pretended to be a photographer and borrowed the cars anyway. After the first few tests appeared, the manufacturers cooperated, launching the career that made McCahill King of the Road Testers and his dog, Labrador Joe, a common sight at motoring events around the world.

Tom’s fondness for Nash once led to a request for a testimonial for the new Ambassador. The reply came after a long pause, “It handles like the Queen Mary,” he announced. Amazingly, the insult sold cars. “Many people seemed to want a car that handled like the Queen Mary,” he said. He was one of the only journalists ever to drive the Tucker, having rung Preston Tucker on a dare, never believing he would get to drive the car Detroit was convinced was a non-runner. McCahill was impressed: “The best-performing automobile in America by far,” he wrote.

Between 1946 and 1975, when he died, Tom road-tested more than 600 cars and, together with Ken Purdy, helped make car fanatics of two generations of enthusiasts—who still reckon a car’s performance is best demonstrated by its 0-to-60-mph figure.

This article was originally published in July 2006. Photography by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images and the MotorTrend Archives.

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Tesla Model S Plaid Fast-Charging and Range Test: How Far Can It Go?

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When the now popular Tesla Model S electric car was first introduced in 2012, there were no Superchargers available. Today, there are 25,000 Tesla Superchargers around the world, and with the Model S Plaid adopting a new powertrain, Tesla was able to re-design the battery to take advantage of the third-gen 250-kW Supercharger. Despite Tesla still using the 18650 form-factor cylindrical battery cells, these now have improved chemistry to deliver higher performance and durability. (This is the fourth major chemistry improvement since the first Model S.) With it newest 100-kWh battery pack, Tesla claims the Plaid can recover 187 miles of driving range in 15 minutes of charging at a V3 Supercharger. But just how realistic is that claim in practice? 

First, a little background on charging an EV in general. Many factors are in play to determine the charging performance, from ambient temperature to battery temperature to state of charge to charging station type. As a result, charging rates do vary in practice. Lithium-ion batteries have a certain working temperature range, typically 40-130 degrees Fahrenheit, and the higher end of the range is typically conducive to rapid charging. For an electric car that has sat unplugged overnight or in cold weather, charging time is prolonged. In a Tesla, when a driver puts a Supercharger into the navigation as its destination, the car preconditions the battery pack for rapid charging before it reaches the plug.  This helps to deliver a more consistent rapid-charging experience and eases congestion at charging sites. 

The V3 Supercharger

In our testing, with a preconditioned battery pack and an ambient temperature of 71 degrees, the Tesla Model S Plaid needed 51 minutes to charge from 5 to 95 percent, which added 87 kWh. The latter figure indicates the usable battery capacity is about 97 kWh, with 3 kWh as a buffer. As shown in the charging curve, it indeed reached the 250-kW maximum V3 Supercharger rate and sustained that figure for the five minutes it took to charge from 10 to 30 percent. 

In order to take advantage of peak charging rate, showing up to a Supercharger with the Model S Plaid depleted to between zero and 5 percent of its full charge is the optimal starting point. After the peak, the charging rate gradually ramped down as the pack’s state of charge increased. (Imagine people rushing into an elevator: It’s easy when the elevator is empty, but as more people get in, it takes longer to let them find space to wiggle through.) If you’re on a road trip, 60 percent is a good point to stop charging the car and continue driving until you reach the next Supercharger. The reason is, after 60 percent, the charging rate begins to dip below 2 kWh per minute, so you may as well go to the next charging site, at least from a pure time standpoint. And hey, 18 minutes of charging time is good for another bathroom break. 

As for Tesla’s claim of adding 187 miles of range in 15 minutes of charging time, it is pretty dead-nuts accurate with a Model S Plaid. (At least with the standard 19-inch Tempest wheels.) However, this can only happen when you begin charging the car when it already has a low amount of juice remaining. And on a Model S Plaid with the more energy consumptive optional 21-inch wheels, you are looking at adding 167 miles of range in 15 minutes. 

Tesla Model S Plaid with 21-inch Arachnid wheels

SOC Time Recharged 

Energy

Recharged 

MT est range

(highway/city/)

Recharged

EPA 

est range

Recharged 

Drag Strip 

est range

5% to 30% 6 minutes +24 kWh 75/82 miles 84 miles 2.4 miles
5% to 55% 15 minutes +48 kWh 151/165 miles 167 miles 4.8 miles
5% to 60% 18 minutes +52 kWh 163/178 miles 181 miles 5.2 miles
5% to 70% 23 minutes +63 kWh 198/216 miles 219 miles 6.3 miles
5% to 80% 31 minutes +72 kWh 226/247 miles 251 miles 7.2 miles
5% to 90% 41 minutes +81 kWh 254/278 miles 282 miles 8.1 miles
5% to 95% 52 minutes +87 kWh 273/298 miles 303 miles 8.7 miles

Range: Dragstrip vs. EPA vs. MotorTrend’s Real-World Estimate

Manufacturers love to talk about their electric cars’ range to sell people on buying an EV, but in reality, range is heavily dependent on the way you drive, traffic, and weather conditions. The Model S Plaid with 21-inch wheels uses 2.5 percent of its battery to finish a quarter-mile run on a racing dragstrip, so in theory—we didn’t actually launch it repeatedly until its battery died—it has roughly 10 miles of range if used for 40 consecutive dragstrip runs. Tesla says the Model S Plaid with the 21s has an EPA-estimated 348 miles of range, and that is according to EPA’s conditions and using a mix of 55 percent highway and 45 percent city driving. See the range difference from different use cases there? 

We took the Tesla Model S Plaid on separate road routes for highway (70-75 mph) and city driving, then looked for the efficiency. We drove the car four times on each route, two times with air conditioning on and set to 72 degrees, and two times with it off and only the fan on.

With the ambient temperature below an average of 75 degrees, we saw 3.43 miles/kWh for city driving and 3.14 miles/kWh on the highway. Using the same EPA highway-to-city ratio, our theoretical measured range is 318 miles. 

Multiply the number with energy, and you can reveal the estimated range. For example, on a road trip, chances are you would drive mostly on a freeway or highway, so you’re looking at 305 miles of total range. However, in real life, chances are you are not driving from a fully charged pack to empty. Let’s say you recharged 72 kWh (from 5 to 80 percent): Expect about 226 miles of driving on a freeway at 70-75 mph. 

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No Yoke, the Refreshed Tesla Model S Ditches the Round Steering Wheel Entirely

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  3. No Yoke, the Refreshed Tesla Model S Ditches the Round Steering Wheel Entirely

It’s yoke or nothing for buyers of the updated electric sedan.

Despite it appearing in images pulled from Tesla’s own website, as well as making cameos in a handful of the automaker’s test cars, a traditional round steering wheel is not in the cards for the refreshed Model S electric vehicle. Instead, the brand is committing to the funky yoke-style steering device that the updated luxury sedan debuted with, which looks much like a normal steering wheel sans the upper rim. For those with a knack for pop culture, think of the steering setup used by Knight Rider‘s K.I.T.T.

Admittedly, we rather like the design of Tesla’s new tiller (admit it, it looks cool), however, we were left underwhelmed by its execution after a week of living with a so-equipped Model S Plaid. This was especially true when driving at lower speeds where the car’s quick, but not quick enough, 14.0:1 steering ratio made it difficult to complete near-full-lock turns without awkwardly fumbling for the device’s (purposely) missing upper rim out of habit. 

We’ve heard a variety of reasons for Tesla’s decision to fit every variant of the new Model S (and presumably the similarly updated Model X SUV), ranging from the company’s hope to improve visibility to the car’s gauge cluster to its desire to create a better Autopilot experience, but we have yet to hear any rumblings that the automaker has any plans to offer a traditional steering wheel as an alternative to the yoke. 

Sources within Tesla revealed the steering wheels seen fit to aforementioned 2021.5 Model S prototypes were strictly there for engineering purposes. Nevertheless, it’s clear Tesla has the resources and capability to build and offer a more traditional steering wheel for the updated Model S. While the revised EV is currently offered exclusively with the yoke, it’s possible a more typical steering wheel may find its way to the car’s cabin as an optional feature in the future. After all, Tesla moves quickly and the brand may simply decide to fast-track production of a full-rimmed steering wheel for the refreshed Model S if enough customers find the yoke more charming in theory than in practice.

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You Can Buy Ken Block’s Menacing 1977 Ford F-150 Hoonitruck

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  3. You Can Buy Ken Block’s Menacing 1977 Ford F-150 Hoonitruck

The 914-hp, Ford-GT-engined Ford pickup premiered in Gymkhana 10.

The widebody F-150 pickup truck premiered in Gymkhana 10, where the tire slayer wreaked havoc through Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas. He topped off his tire-slaying tour by drifting around a drove of artfully staged rusted vintage cars. But the career highlight of this custom Ford F-150 came when it conquered the allegedly most dangerous road in China, the Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road located within Tianmen Mountain National Park.

Peeking through the hood is a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 EcoBoost pulled from the Ford GT Le Mans race car. The modified engine develops 914 horsepower and 702 lb-ft of torque, routed to all four wheels via a Sadev six-speed gearbox. The customization includes a tube frame chassis and military-grade aluminum bodywork, finished in the signature matte black and gray color scheme. It has a carbon fiber dashboard, Recaro race seats, FordPass remote start, and a backup camera.

The raucous Hoonitruck comes fitted with a uniquely designed set of Fuel Block forged beadlock wheels painted in gloss white and rides on ST/KW suspension. Because the widebody flares make the pickup truck just over 79 inches wide, an issue during transportation. Detroit Speed in Mooresville, North Carolina, designed the Hoonitruck to be highly modular. If any problem arises or in case of an accident, the truck can be taken apart and rebuilt on-site.

Detroit Speed built the hardcore F-150 pickup from the ground up, and it reportedly cost upwards of $1.5 million to bring to fruition. LBI Limited is handling the sale, and the asking price is a mind-boggling $1.1 million—a decent discount, we suppose? Additional parts included in the listing are an extra 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine, wheels, body panels, and suspension components.

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