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The 300-Horsepower Club: Toyota Supra, Dodge Stealth, Nissan 300ZX and Mitsubishi 3000GT

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author photo by Aaron Gold December 2016

Nowadays, 300-horsepower cars are common, and many of them are downright cheap -- Ford will sell you a 300-hp Mustang for $25,000. But it wasn't that long ago that 300 hp was a big honkin' deal, reserved for supercars and muscle cars. Then, 1990 happened.

Allow me to set the scene. In the late '80s, 300 hp was a magic number. Among other things, it was the figure claimed by every mullet who ever put a 4-barrel carburetor and an MSD ignition on their V8-powered whatever. "Yeah, man, it's got a Holly double-pumper and four 11s! The guy who built it told me it's puttin' out north of 300 horses!" Of course, no one ever dyno'd these cars, probably because they were so overcarbureted that you couldn't floor them without stalling them out -- as soon as the secondaries opened, the manifold vacuum would drop to zero.

And then, the Four Horsemen of the 300-hp Apocalypse showed up... from the Land of the Rising Sun, of course.

Nissan kicked it off with the 300ZX Twin Turbo. Now, turbocharging was nothing novel: Chrysler, lacking a V6, was turbocharging everything back then, including minivans and the front-wheel-drive New Yorkers they were selling to old ladies. (I'm not making that up.) But two turbochargers? Now that was exotic stuff! The 300ZX's 24-valve 3.0-liter V6 produced the magic 300 hp, but the 300ZX TT didn't stop there -- oh, no, no. It also had rear-wheel steering, and it was wrapped in a gorgeous new body, the first to do away with the long-hood, short-deck shape that had been a Z-car trademark since the early '70s.

All of a sudden, the Lamborghini Countach was competing for poster space.

The next one came from Mitsubishi. I realize that last sentence will elicit peals of laughter from young car fanatics, as it seems that nothing comes from Mitsubishi these days except sadness and despair. But back then, believe it or not, Mitsubishi was at the cutting edge of new-car technology (keep in mind we're talking about the days before the Evo), and no one was surprised when the 3000GT VR4 matched the Nissan 300ZX on displacement, number of cylinders, number of valves, number of turbos and power output. It even had its own 4-wheel-steering system and an adjustable suspension. But there was one key difference: The 300ZX delivered its power to the rear wheels. The 3000GT? All-wheel drive, thank you very much.

The crowd, as they say, went wild. No one cared that the 3000GT weighed as much as a city bus, that the engine was mounted sideways or that lesser versions used front-wheel drive. It was a technical tour de force -- and now those 911 posters started coming down, too.

Surprisingly, the next salvo came from Dodge, though we all knew the hardware was from Mitsubishi. The 300-hp version was called the Stealth R/T Turbo. It had the same hardware as the Mitsubishi, but it had its own styling, including a funky spoiler put at the forward edge of the trunk. (Some say this is where the trend of wearing baseball caps backwards started.) Yeah, it was a Mitsubishi underneath, but we all pretended that wasn't the case and that Dodge had come out with something truly genius rather than just another rehashed K-car. The Testarossa posters were the next to go.

They say if you're going to come late to a party, you'd better bring something special -- and Toyota did just that. The Supra Turbo didn't arrive until 1993, and its straight 6-cylinder was turbocharged to 320 hp. But the Supra was a rear-wheel-driver, and Toyota may have been just a bit too late; it never did sell in significant numbers. But... 300 hp. Plus.

I always expected these cars to become collectors items, but I see precious few at car shows and cruise-ins. Probably because nowadays 300 hp and all-wheel drive aren't that big a deal -- you'll find powertrains like that in your aunt's SUV -- and 0 to 60 in 6 seconds is no longer the domain of supercars. Still, there was a time when the 300-hp Club was exclusive. If you have a 300-hp car today, you can thank the Four Horsemen.

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The 300-Horsepower Club: Toyota Supra, Dodge Stealth, Nissan 300ZX and Mitsubishi 3000GT - Autotrader