The Magic of the 'Sports' Exhaust
And why it will inevitably die and possibly even be forgotten...
For a long time, when we bought our cars, what they sounded like was a factor we considered. As much as the styling, handling and performance of a car had to suit our personality - so did the soundtrack. Now, the present Mrs. Stanley might disagree. Our Toyota Verso basically sounds like a tractor, but it's useful, bomb-proof reliable and it does a job. The sound of the exhaust on the Porsche 911 however is nice. It's rorty, with a nice wide range of tones and pitches. Dare I say it, the Porsche exhaust has the personality of a racing car exhaust when it's at full chat.
Of course, that soundtrack isn't for everyone. The other day I'd called at the Rookery Fish & Chip shop in Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent to pick up a bag of chips for the family. As I parked the 997 outside the shop I swear I heard a twenty-something girl shuffling out of Bargain Booze whilst muttering, 'that car sounds like its exhaust is falling off'. A moment later, as her fellow shuffled alongside - I'm pretty sure he muttered, 'it probably is'.
Now I'll be honest, the 911 exhaust IS a bit loud. It has occurred to me that it could be compromised. It pops and grinds a little bit, but to me it's in a nice way. I recorded the sound some time ago and shared it with my co-Porsche enthusiasts on their Facebook group and they were ALL adamant, that it sounded normal and just how a sports exhaust is SUPPOSED to sound. They may of course be tricking me and having a laugh at my expense. My hearing is shot from years of listening to heavy metal and punk at ear-shattering volumes and lengthy hardcore gaming sessions with headphones on. I like how it sounds, but I DO worry that I'm not hearing it right. Of course the other possibility is that the bods muttering and chuntering at my raspy, epic exhaust are just jelly because they have to drive around in some dull-as-wallpapering, 'white goods on wheels' like a 1 litre hybrid Nissan or worse. I suppose I'll never know...
Anyway, fast forward ten minutes, when I then rolled up at the house, my sister-in-law and her chap had called around to show off their new car purchase. I'll be honest I think it's a purchase that is literally 'as mad as a box of frogs'. Previously they were driving a Bavarian Motor Werks M140i Shadow Edition. Extremely fast, extremely good looking, genuinely desirable car - even for ME! (I generally dislike BMWs). Now they'd rolled up in a BMW i3. My first impressions of this car are mixed. It's futuristic and quite 'cute-looking' if you're into that sort of thing. I'm told it's really fast 0-30mph, they seem to like it. However the boot is tiny probably thanks to the batteries, the front trunk is only really useful for cable storage and the range is not what you'd really like for an electric car. I think it's 160 miles or similar, and that's typical for electric cars of this size, but hey.
It IS a nice car. Bit boring compared to the M140i, I certainly know which one I'd prefer, but it's fine. It sort of makes sense for them as they both work at Manchester University and EVs get 1/2 price parking and free charging. In theory it might actually save them money.
The unnerving thing about the car though is the silence. I've noticed this before when I've seen Teslas or similar parking near to me, but for some reason it really struck me the other day. I'm told you can buy a sound to be played through a speaker under the bonnet. It supposedly sounds like a sort of electrical whirring noise? I can't imagine they'd play a sound which was unpleasant, but it's never going have the audio aesthetics of an internal combustion engine. The bottom line is that electrical motors just DON'T sound nice. Worse than that they CAN'T sound nice. I can understand the silence being a boon for shift workers who don't want to wake their neighbours at ungodly hours every day. But safety is an issue. Even on the day they'd bought the i3 they'd already had a number of incidents of people almost stepping out in front of them. I can imagine it's a bit like going to Cambridge for the first time. People will have to re-train their brains. In Cambridge, you can't just step out onto the cobbles because it's silent, not unless you want some tweed-clad professor, with his academic gown flowing behind him, careering into you on his 1950's bicycle. Okay, I'm over-egging the stereo-type. The bottom line is, you REALLY have to watch for bicycles when you're walking around Cambridge. The same will become true of everywhere for electric cars one day. And that day WILL be sad.
Yes, I appreciate you could make some clever speaker system that fakes an engine noise. But that would lose all the magic. It would have no integrity. You'd know it was fake and that would render it pointless. It'd be the difference between going to see the London Philharmonic orchestra play live and being given a 1990's cassette of them to listen to on your slightly crap 1980's Ghetto Blaster.
I was watching David Attenborough's Witness Statement the other night. Climate Change IS turning into a Climate Crisis. We're going to have to change the way we consume on this planet, or we won't survive. I hate it, but I accept electric vehicles are probably a part of that solution. There will come a time when the only place you'll hear nice exhausts blaring away will be on old vintage TV shows from 50 years ago and kids will wonder what these cars that burned oil products and sang.... Were really like to drive.