Today's muscle car ought to think a little too, because great and terrible power shouldn't be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Like a teenager's.
So last week, when Chrysler announced the details of the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, which it claims is the most powerful muscle car ever, it included a dual-track engine-control system operated by distinct key fobs: a red one that limits access to just 373 kilowatts (500 horsepower) and a black one that gives the full 527 kW (707 hp). Note that the lower limit beats the upper limit of many a Corvette, Porsche and BMW.
It all roars out of a 6.2 liter, supercharged V-8 engine.
But whether the Hellcat will really be the most muscular muscle car ever is unclear. Today manufacturers claim every last horsepower they can demonstrate, but back in the 1960s they downplayed the numbers to keep the insurance companies from raising premiums too high. Not that the insurance companies were fooled.
The dual-key system, however, is clearly not an industry first, following as it does in the wake of the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss. That car came with regular key and a full-power "TracKey," the software for which had to be installed later on at a registered racing dealership. The owner was supposed to go to a racetrack before using the key, an arrangement that Ford noted gave drivers what they wanted "without compromising factory warranty." Earlier still there were dual-key systems that just kept the parking valet out of the trunk and the glove compartment.
Chrysler hasn't released technical details, but it seems likely that its system also uses an in-key chip that encodes data that lets the car recognize the owner and switch at the owner's command. That would involve scores or even hundreds of settings that govern the engine; who knows, it might even tweak the safety system. That might be a good idea if you're wielding the red key.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.