Friday, July 16, 2010

Five generations of car noise

I love cars with a characteristic and well tuned noise, always did. So I certainly admire an Aston Martin DB9 or a Lamborghini Murcielago. But let's take one step back and look at the past. We probably have seen five generations of car noise.

A) Early stages
In the beginning cars often were equipped with low revving large pot engines often not delivering a great noise

B) Unlimited fun
Until the sixties countries didn't know noise emission rules for cars and it was more a comfort thing whether your car was making a lot or little noise. Cars like the early Astons made great sounds, but it's also surprising how quite a Jaguary SS 100 can be. Low noise was a luxury attribute. You bought a Rolls Royce or Cadillac also because it was so quiet.

C) Semi-silent fun
Beginning in the sixties countries defined noise regulation and cars had to get more and more quiet. More and more sophisticated rules on how to measure the noise were developed, i.e. enter with 50 km/h of speed, reach point A, then accelerate in the 3rd longest gear with max throttle input, measure after 20 or so meter at point B with a distance from 7 meters .... etc. These rules made cars more and more quiet and many Ferraries of that age actually have a quite disappointing sound. Also with the introduction of catalysts and fuel injections a lot of earlier car's sound quality got lost

D) Electronically controlled exhaust noise
In the late 90ies and the 200x the car industry developed new exhaust systems that changed their throughput in a way to fulfill the regulation, but still being quite noisy and well-designed for revs and speeds not measured during the noise emission tests. Good examples are the Aston-Martin DB9, but also the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, a car that reached more than 130 dbA measured by a German car magazine. That's actually so loud that on some race tracks the car which is legal on the road was banned because many race tracks only accept up to 100 dbA (measured differently though).

E) Silent generation
Soon we will have cars that actually make almost no noise, i.e. electrical cars. And to make traffic more save they will create artificial noise, i.e. imitate an 8 cylinder engine. The noise in the interior can be tuned to fit your taste and will probably come through your stereo rather than through an exhaust system.

So, in a few years we will be more than happy to buy some of these 90ies and 200x cars with engineered exhaust systems to create a nice noise. Take the Maserati Quattroporte GTS, what a sound! However, there's nothing better than real engine noise created by a straight six from the 50ies or 60ies, I find. But that's my humble opinion.

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