Open Mic

There are some things about cars on my brain, and I'd just like them out. I do want to point out, I don't know what I'm talking about, even if I say I do. 

I like all cars, I may shit on vehicles, but deep down I like them. On the top of the heap is my appreciation for the Japanese vehicle. It is my observation that the Japanese don't have original ideas. It's a creative culture, but their most admirable cultural stereotype is the perfect things. Meaning, they steal ideas outright, but manage to create an ultimate version of whatever has been stolen. This is very true about their cars. Higher quality, at a cheaper price. 

Jump back to the mid 70's when rallying was the sport of a RWD car. Skipping to the meat of the subject, the European Ford Escort MK1 and MK2 were the vehicle of choice for rally. A cheap, lightweight car with great support. It was a potent rally vehicle, and cheap to make mistakes with. The Japanese saw this, and too wanted to compete. Like always, they copied better. In comes the first generation Toyota Celica. This "Cherry car" had a visual nod to American car styling of the era, and a mechanical nod to the much more approachable MK1 escort. Many examples of the Celica were campaigned as rally vehicles, and it did well, but the Escort still remained top. 

Classes were often limited by displacement, and although the 2L classes were popular, the 1600cc classes had the muster. With the Celica, the 2TG was a DOHC variant of the 2Tc engine. Funny enough, being a copy of a Chrysler hemi with 4 cylinders chopped off. The 2TC using push rods, and the 2TG having overhead cams and the push rod holes unused. Ford worked with Cosworth and developed the Ford BDA. a 1.6L DOHC motor with a simple side draft carb/injection setup, proved itself well in the MK1 Escort, and in the MK2.

The MK2, like the MK1 Escort, was a cheap economy car happily converted for rally use. Toyota wanted in. Building a nearly direct copy of the BDA motor, the Toyota 4AGE Lasre was first bolted into the Toyota AE86 Chassis. The Sprinter Trueno and Corolla Levin were Toyotas version of the MK2 Escort. The purpose; to copy and improve on the Ford chassis and motor. 

Why is this on my mind? I don't think people realize that the AE86 was just a direct copy of the MK2 Escort Cosworth. It was originally intended for rallying on public roads. This ties in with the beginnings of drift culture in such a serendipitous way. Drifting wasn't originally a culture of style, but of replication as well. The whole intended goal was to copy British rally culture. Japan around the beginning of the 80's didn't have a strong rally interest publicly. It was the performance minded enthusiasts who followed an idolized Rallying, but Japan was well ahead of the curve of the world when it came to road paving. Most roads were paved, and paved well. 

A cultural twist that strongly affected this was the fact that Japan law is based around different religious and cultural expectations, meaning the mountains are sacred and cannot be built in. It's was uncouth and eventually illegal to construct homes for personal pleasure in the mountains. Only structures of religious and spiritual importance could be constructed on a mountain. This created drifting culture in two very significant ways. 

1. Japan is mountainous; resulting in a high population being restricted to not much space. Cities are dense and well organized to allow for the most amount of elbow room as possible. For most though, it's not enough. This compactness actually accentuates the value of the car as an item of freedom of movement. Suddenly your home feels claustrophobic and restricting, but your car can take you anywhere. The youth and adults of Japan focus more on a beautiful car than a beautiful home. 

2. The mountain roads are empty. Since the mountains were unable to be used for personal lifestyle, they remained quiet and uninhabited.  Ever notice churches always have the best parking lots? The same is true for the roads to the Shrines on Japanese mountains. Each mountain has a shrine or place of worship and the road leading there needs to be well paved and accessible. For the youth, idolizing the European rally racing, it was a logical place to visit in the middle of the night.

So, let's put all this into the pot and stir. You've got advanced construction techniques paving, low traffic volume roads, around the rocks and trees on every mountain of a mountainous country. Additionally you have cramped residents who idolize the freedom of the automobile which happens to be an affordable economy clone of a famous racing rally car. Sprinkle in a bit of youthful rebellion, some European broadcasts of rallying heroes and the beginnings of an economic boom, and what do you have? The beginnings of Drift culture as we know it. 

Another thing on my mind is gas pedals. It's my job to operate expensive European cars at high speeds. I'm a racing instructor with a German themed dealer group at a racing track on the West coast of Canada. Before this job I was excited about electric cars - I'm more excited now. Fuel economy is a strange bird of a problem. Read: there is a physics issue we can't overcome. Cars have drastically become more efficient since their introduction, but the cars motor hasn't been the primary improvement of fuel consumption. This is contrary to popular belief. Let's put some logic to this. 

Internal combustion gasoline engines reached their efficiency peak, like 50 years ago. Yes, there's been improvements since then, but not significant. The problem is that gasoline has a certain percentage of burn at a certain compression ratio. If you weren't aware, gasoline engines don't burn 100% of their fuel: This is literally what we define as emissions. A by product of the spent fuel. The amount of energy harnessed from gasoline is close to being defined as pathetic. 

To combat this problem, we've improved tires, bearings, lubricants, transmissions, even road designs. The idea is to improve efficiency, reducing consumption of fuel. Less fuel consumed for the same result of travel equals less emissions. It's a pretty logical route. An alternative to this problem is to burn the fuel more completely. Harvest as much energy from the explosion as possible, but this is where the core of our problem stems from. Gasoline burns too hot for the budget of the average consumer. Meaning, to get a more complete burn, we need to design the engine differently to take a bigger, and hotter explosion. It's difficult to harness the sun. This is another reason atomic cars never caught on. lol

We just can't build engines that burn at a hotter temperature and make it financially viable for the general public. This is why we've had so many improvements in all the rest of the car. However, a secondary problem persists. The weakest link of fuel economy is the driver. It's funny, but the two biggest problems of a cars efficiency is the consumer themselves. Not only do they expect to have infinite convenience to move around at their own will, but they refuse to learn to do it efficiently. What does this mean then? 

It means that clumpy footed drivers accelerate towards stop signs, pick congested routes and generally throw fuel in the garbage for ego and laziness. I do it too. I'm also a piece of shit. 

A new conflict appears! Consumers expect a car that is safer than older vehicles, and more fuel efficient than the previous model. Which doesn't sound like an oxymoron, but it entirely is. A vehicles safety and consumption is directly associated with it's weight. Adding weight, improves the safety of the vehicle based on the measurement standards of safety measurement standards. Adding weight reduces the fuel economy of the vehicle. Safety devices like air bags, crumple zones and crash resistant structures, all add weight to a car, along with ABS and traction control systems, and high grip multi-link suspensions. The heavy vehicle occupant is more likely to survive a crash with all these helpful devices, so it's advertised safety rating is high, making it desirable for the lazy slobs to operate carelessly. Physics hates this, as the more weight the vehicle has, the more energy transfer needs to happen to change the vehicles momentum. This directly translates to more fuel needed to accelerate the vehicle. 

Manufacturers at this exact moment in time are panicking. This is where the VW scandal comes from, this is where the cash for clunkers program comes from (older cars are more fuel efficient naturally, but it's bad for sales, so they blame poor maintenance on bad economy. The government offers incentives to consumers to buy, newer, fuel inefficient cars to stimulate sales), this is where the small displacement turbo craze comes from, this is where the electric hybrid craze comes from......etc etc etc. Endless bullshit to try to sell new cars as the major manufacturers scramble to remain relevant due to their commitments to gasoline engines.  

Some of the brightest minds have come together to find a solution to appease the financial sociopaths running the car companies. The solution to all these problems of physics and perception? Drive by wire gas pedal. Yes, it's a simple solution. By introducing a delay to the throttle pedal usage, it removes the need for the driver to be better, it tricks the fuel consumption ratings to read lower on tests, and manages to retain the safer image of new cars without correcting the problem of weight.  

Why does this affect me at my job? I'm so excited for electric cars, solely on throttle response. lol Operating these drive by wire vehicles on a circuit is a nightmare. Steering remains direct, as does braking, but even putting these vehicles in race mode results in sloppy and unresponsive throttle inputs. Control of the engines RPM is dramatically affected. Imagine stepping on a throttle pedal, which has a delay to tell the throttle plate to open, the throttle plate opens to the modern turbo engine, which has pre-programmed lag in it, in order to save fuel further, only to spool very late, to then deliver power to the electronically controlled transmission which then checks in with the traction control system whether or not to shift down to the next gear or not. Bam, you're now in a performance situation with nearly a full second of delay to the delivery of power to the wheels. This is a sloppy drive. I fucking hate this, and so do other people, which throttle cable retrofitting kits, and ECU reflashes/replacements just to delete this whole culture of conflict. I'm excited for electric cars, as this is not a problem they need to overcome. Bring on the immediate torque, now if only we could solve the issue of battery weight soon.....

Please remember, I don't know what I'm talking about. This is purely an open mic rant. 

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  • Electric cars may not have as many hurdles in the way, but they will probably need re-programming/ecu flahing to access the instant torque too, as I believe the delay in power delivery in modern performance cars to be as much a safety feature, as it is an efficiency feature. So I feel electric cars will also be hindered from the factory as a safety/legal precaution.

    Looking forward to reading more of your Japan trip, by the way.

    • Derek