‘Horsepower’ is a term frequently found in the vocabulary of vehicle enthusiasts. But what exactly does it mean? The term was coined by James Watt who is well known for both 60-watt light bulbs as well as his various improvements on steam engines and their functioning.
Watts frequently worked with horses – using them to assist him with lifting in coal mines. He began to see the power of a horse in terms of its relativity to the amount of work it could do (in reference to foot-pounds).
Watts deducted that one of these mine horses could do twenty-two thousand foot-pounds of work in one minute (in truth, they were probably overworked). He then added further calculations to come to the conclusion that one unit of horsepower meant thirty-three thousand foot pounds in one minute.
Although not entirely accurate and rather strange reasoning, the measurement seemed to have stuck and is now used to describe the engine capabilities of well…anything with an engine!
What it Means for Cars
In layman’s terms, many sources have reported that the average vehicle has approximately 120 units of horsepower, whilst a Formula 1 vehicle prduces between 980 – 1000 units of horsepower and the most powerful V8 engine allegedly produces 707 horsepower.
Does Horsepower Mean Speed?
Horsepower means that the engine is more powerful and therefore, more capable of pushing the vehicle to certain speed thresholds. Essentially, yes. The greater the horsepower, the more capable a vehicle is of reaching higher speeds.
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