As automakers ramped up to the horsepower wars of the 1960s, oil companies stepped up to the plate to produce fuel that could keep high-compression engines from blowing up pistons. Eventually, the fun stopped and the Clean Air Act, outlandish insurance premiums and an oil crisis killed the demand for 100-plus octane fuel at your local pumps, which made performance enthusiasts and hobby racers either hunt for 100-plus octane race gas or detune their cars to run on 91 octane. Automakers and enthusiasts have done a great job at making power with the lower octane fuels in recent years, but those gains might plateau soon without better fuel.
Good news — the Detroit Free Press reports automakers are quietly working with oil companies to bring back super premium fuels, which will help automakers introduce engines with higher boost pressures and compression ratios. Higher compression ratios and more boost will make engines more efficient, but both are limited by how the fuel resists detonation. This is good news for the 3,300 folks who get to own Dodge’s Challenger SRT Demon, which makes 840 hp on 100-plus octane gas and only 808 hp on 91 octane.
While this is great for performance-minded enthusiasts, indifferent drivers might suffer some sticker shock. Higher octane fuels require more additives to increase their octane, which costs oil companies more money. That extra cost then trickles down to the consumer at the pump. The article says automakers will continue to invest in costly longer-range technology like new transmissions to eke out similar bumps in efficiency, but fuel is the easiest and cheapest solution.
This drive for efficiency comes from the U.S. Department of Energy's efforts to reduce petroleum consumption by 30 percent. There’s no word when high-octane gas will hit the pumps or how much extra it'll cost, but we imagine it’ll be less than the 100-plus octane unleaded gas you can find currently. And as long as fuel refiners don't just stuff gas with more ethanol to achieve higher octane, we could be on the precipice of the next golden age of performance.