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The Sound And The Fury

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

The DriveWrite Archives

The Sound And The Fury

Geoff Maxted
September 17, 2013

Giant Muffler Honda Accord
It is often possible, when out and about, to hear what seems to be a monster car approaching only to find that it’s an old Citroen Saxo with a drainpipe for an exhaust. This, it seems, is what passes for customisation today, along with after-market rear light clusters.

As the car goes past it will make a noise suggesting that the vehicle has under the bonnet an engine of extreme raw power. It hasn’t. It is just noise. There are a few true performance cars that offer this huge exhaust feature but mostly we’re over it.

As cars have fallen prey to increasing regulation so noise whether real or artificial has become a social no-no but that hasn’t stopped the customising brigade from getting up to speed with the times. Car noise can now be created digitally. It is apparently called ‘dynamic sound technology’. Eventually even the humble city car could awaken the neighbours with a magnificent V8 bellow.

One new example of the digital tuners art has to be fitted when the car is built; it isn‘t meant to be a bolt-on toy. A speaker in the silencer portion of the exhaust pipe is linked to the cars engine and, not knowing the science, is presumably amplified. It appears that it is even possible to download new sounds as they become available.

Renault have something like it on their Renaultsport Clio which can ape various cars from the company’s sporting past but it is only for the occupants and is not broadcast outside. Quite why the proud owner of this hot hatch - which is actually very good - would want to do this and drown out the stereo is unknown; but there‘s no accounting for people is there? Renault must see a demand for this sort of thing.

Engine noise has always been emotive. Enthusiasts love a car that ‘sounds right’. The trouble is car makers have had to develop smaller and smaller engines to meet environmental legislation and improve fuel economy which has meant that these little motors are as quiet as a mouse with a throat infection.

Auto purists don’t like this. In a sense, quiet cars are dangerous cars because pedestrians simply can’t hear them coming. This is why similar technology is being added to electric cars for example so that they at least will have to make minor internal combustion noises as they approach to alert the unwary. On the other hand it isn’t much help if the sound of an approaching car makes pedestrians’ ears bleed thus causing deafness because then we’re back to square one.

It’s pointless technology. If you want to make a proper serious car noise then buy a car like the one featured in the video here. It’s a five litre V8 supercharged Jaguar and it makes that noise for real. There’ll be more on that particular model tomorrow.

Yes, cars should make some noise for safety’s sake but this digital sound is daft. It won’t be long now before a version of this factory fitted option will be available at the local car depot and then every ten year old Vauxhall Astra in the world will make our roads sound like a Formula 1 grid.

Quite by accident Ford’s position might be helped by the news that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, blocked a deal in June that would have set Europe's car industry an ambitious target to reduce CO2 emissions to 95g/km by 2020 from an 132.4g/km last year. Ostensibly this was to help German luxury car makers (there’s an election coming up) but a little relaxation of the pressure on manufacturers to conform to ever more stringent targets has got to aid everybody as they battle to maintain market share.

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