A fossil fuel addict rethinks green ‘muscle cars’

Climate Voices

A fossil fuel addict rethinks green ‘muscle cars’

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Can an EV be unadulterated driving fun?

I feel the suction to the road before the speedometer clocks 110 mph. If my Burmester sound system weren’t near live-concert decibels, I’d probably hear the 4.8-liter V8 engine of my 2013 Porsche Cayenne GTS. I feel it — the same with my Pirellis’ grip on the asphalt. The sound, and adrenaline rush of “unadulterated driving fun,” as Porsche calls it, is what I wanted in a car. With a top speed of 162 mph and 0-62 in 5.7 seconds, she’s a seductive car with speed to match. Unfortunately, she’s not environmentally friendly. A mere 16 gallons to the mile in the city and a sad 22 mpg combined city and highway cause me angst. Troubling as it is to admit, I still love my fossil fuel-guzzling ride.

As a climate and environment journalist, this is not ideal. I’m also a cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed fitness freak and mom whose day job is flying the globe on commercial jetliners. We all have our vices, and we all contribute to the problems the planet is facing. Being honest about them is the only way I know. So at 56, I have some sins to atone for. But driving an electric car — or “mobility vehicle” as some in the industry are calling it — wasn’t going to be my way of greening my lifestyle if it meant giving up the thrill of driving.

For me, growling engines and the squeal of tires that leave rubber on the asphalt were part of growing up. Both of my parents loved the fast muscle cars of the ’60s. My mom wanted a white Stingray Corvette as her first car. My grandpa nixed that idea –– convinced that she’d kill herself in it. 

But after getting married, she and my dad bought a new 1965 gold Pontiac GTO. With a brand new muscle car and a lead foot, my dad wanted to show off.  So, for Christmas that same year, he took my mom’s family to Las Vegas — driving the GTO they covered the 107 miles from Kingman, AZ in 90 minutes. That’s probably about the average these days, but at the time it was a pretty good clip. My mom said it was the ride of their life.  

After getting a new Porsche Taycan as a loaner, I started rethinking owning an EV.

My dad never tired of engines that called attention to themselves. Even his ’70- something black and white GMC “family” pickup truck had that kind of engine. When I became a teenager, my taste in boys was all about their cars. If a guy drove a fast, beefy, throaty muscle car, I liked him, with little thought about his other qualities — or lack thereof. 

I’ve matured since then. I no longer date someone just because of their car. But I am picky about the kind of car I own. I still geek out over them. I also run with a crowd that loves them. Within our circle, one girlfriend drives a 2019 Supercharged V8 6.2l Corvette Z06, another friend has his dream car, a 2012 911 Porsche, with a 3.8L flat 6 speed, X51 race pack and does 0-60 in 3.8 seconds. My best friend has a super fun, rocket-on-rails 2020 Mini S Countryman that she says enjoys drinking petroleum, has heated seats with a John Cooper leather interior, and can fit a 5-foot Christmas tree inside.

Hell, I even like my ex-husband’s bright orange Australian-made 2017 six-speed manual Holden Commodore with $15,000 in aftermarket upgrades. It produces 482 horsepower, 475 pounds of torque wrapped up in all race-grade aluminum and magnetic ride suspension. His Holden is so loud that when he comes to pick up our kid, the dogs hear it well before anyone else.

For us adrenaline junkies, the faster, the better. We love cars that, well, look and feel like having sex on wheels. Maybe it’s an American thing. But for me loving a car usually involves speed. My husband loves his Tesla Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor with AWD. He says it’s the first car he’s ever really loved. He still gets excited and a bit giddy when he sees it. He also gets a little cocky when he leaves someone in a hopped-up muscle or European sports car (like me) in the dust. Truth be told, the acceleration of his Tesla is astonishing –– 0-60 in 4.2 seconds.

I’m glad at least one of us is happy driving an environmentally friendly car. But the Tesla was not enough to convince me that I should make the change to an electric vehicle in my future. The Tesla is quiet — too quiet. Plus it doesn’t have all the accouterments I’ve come to associate with high-end sports cars. However, it does have other likable features, including a hilarious emissions or “fart” mode for the horn or one of the five passenger seats, your choice. Oh, and it goes really, really fast. From 60 to nearly 125 mph was like driving a smooth, very controllable rocket.

After getting a new Porsche Taycan as a loaner, I started rethinking owning an EV. It had bells, whistles and dials on the dashboard! Having driven the Tesla enough, I knew the acceleration in an EV is lighting fast. I had no intention of checking out the Taycan’s hyper-acceleration in traffic on public streets. But I did love the sports car feel! It was all there, the dashboard, the sound system, the tachometers, dials, bucket leather seats that hug your butt for those hairpin turns. Now, this is an electric car I could see myself in the future.  

EV vs. internal combustion is not a question of either-or, but yes-and … There’s room for both. 

Laura Burstein, an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles, says via email, she often hears the EV vs. internal combustion (ICE) powertrain debate. She also says it is not a question of either-or, but yes-and … There’s room for both. 

Which is also good for keeping independent auto mechanics in business, like Frank Beck, owner of local Beck’s European in Scottdale, AZ. Beck says that when it comes to all-electric cars, they won’t touch them and that keeps owners tied to the dealerships. But if the Porsche and Siemens Energy hydrogen-powered eFuel gains traction, both EVs and ICE cars will benefit. Easily converted into high-octane fuels, eFuel can be used in most gas combustion engines. The pilot program is expected to produce around 130,000 liters of eFuels in 2022 up to 550 million liters by 2026.

Porsche is fully committed to electrifying about 80% of the cars we sell by 2030, with eFuels as a parallel program for use in a smaller share of combustion engines, as well as the many Porsche cars with combustion engines already on the road,” Marcus Kabel, of Porsche Cars North America, Inc., says. “Important in all this is that Porsche sees eFuels as a complement to electrification, not a rival tech,” Kabel says. 

Change is difficult. Even when technology helps make driving safer and better. Despite owning my car for over three years, I’ve only recently started using the rearview camera in my Cayenne. I’m still getting used to it, trusting it and adapting to it. 

But heck, I’m all half in! EV technology is actually used in many conventional gas cars today, Burstein says. And thanks to the technology developed in motorsports, hybrid supercars like the Porsche 918 Spyder opened the door to electrification for high-end production cars. She says eventually enthusiasts like me will embrace electrification and things that make cars more fun will always be welcomed. 

I guess. For now, with the prospects of eFuels for my naturally aspirated Cayenne, means no one will have to pry my cold dead hands from the steering wheel of my tarted up hussy. She thrills me beyond measure and the growl of her engine is something this petrol-head girl will always love.

Written by

Barbi Walker-Walsh

Barbi Walker-Walsh is a freelance journalist and currently pursuing a Master of Journalism at NYU. A veteran flight attendant with a serious case of wanderlust, she has spent a lifetime traveling the globe and seeing the world from different perspectives. Walker-Walsh brings the same broad worldview, curiosity, and adventurous spirit to her reporting and writing. She’s as interested in telling stories from those often overlooked to taking readers inside local hotspots, hangouts, and hideaways. She graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and has written for The Arizona Republic, Green Living AZ, Phoenix Home & Garden, The West Wing, Zoniereport.com and other periodicals.