As I broke from traffic the other day, a very loud current muscle car began to roar. I got excited, actually, because I love to hear good engines roar. Except, it didn’t roar. Not really. If you know engines, you know when there is sound for sound’s sake and sound because before it and around it comes wonderfully powerful internal combustion. This modern muscle car made a lot of sound, but didn’t take off. With an open road in front of him, one I personally take advantage of whenever I can. The sound just got louder, and honestly, more obnoxious than anything else. And he was just…there.
Modern cars have to deal with modern concerns, and one of them is that most people don’t want that much noise. Plus, we don’t even really need the noise, the clear path of an exhaust or the wonderful openness of an intake. The sound we love so much is increasingly artificial. I can’t say I have anything against tuning a car to sound a particular way, after all, I am a massive Miata fan, and the wonderful people back then with Mazda wanted to make it sound a particular way. Great story there, by the way. Tom Matano, who many call the father of the Miata, said that the engineering team behind the original project didn’t really get sports cars or convertibles, so they just did exactly, and in a very technical way, what Tom and Bob Hall and the rest wanted. They did things like replicate sound waves visually to tune engine and exhaust, as opposed somewhat to sitting by a track and trying to capture soul. The end result still touches new hearts.
But it’s different now. Maybe there are way more engineers and way less car guys who care about this stuff. So, we have cars that have a muscle car heritage with a sound that may excite some people but certainly not the ones that remember it fondly. They are selling an experience, a lifestyle. And they have to construct it because it no longer comes naturally.
You can still get it right. The turbocharged Ferraris. The new Porsches. Audi five cylinders. The Lexus LFA. They are different from those before them, but they still enchant and excite. The big, BIG worry is actually in the near future. The electrics. How are we going to love these things when they no longer purr or roar or whoosh or snap or crackle or pop? Yet, they will be extremely able vehicles, and if you put racecar drivers in them, they will always go for whatever will let them go faster. What will it be like when we take these cars out and push them hard? Will we want sound that’s artificial, or will we get used to the clarity of hearing the rubber as it tries to maintain its link to the road? Will the lack of unnecessary (aural) input bother us, or will it let us concentrate on what we really need to do, drive good cars very quickly?