Whaaaaaaa-un vs. Zweeeeeee-in

Written by Zoomy (Carl)

The concept of the open air roadster brings out the driving enthusiast in most that pursue the purchase of such a car. The top down, wind in your hair and face feeling conjures up images of carving down twisty country roads walled in by towering trees and listening to the sound of the engine as you accelerate, brake, downshift, upshift and attack the next section of pavement that awaits your assault. The car doesn’t necessarily need to be one that exudes tremendous horsepower or cost hundreds of thousands of dollars as it belches out a heavier exhaust note and the engine comes to life in the higher torque ranges of its own capabilities. Neither does it need to grip the road with exceptional “uber grip” that makes it feel like a roller coaster on rails…after all one can only go so fast on back roads within the scope of personal and legal safety limits. It just simply has to be fun to drive and tap into that open road open roadster Zen feeling.

The past few weeks have taught me about the nuances of this concept as I have had the chance to drive to and from work early in the morning when the fog and early morning haze lifts of the lakes that I pass by, or as the feel of the crispness of the fall air lumbers into the cockpit waking you up. It’s not as cold as a motorcycle ride but it is exhilarating and refreshing first thing in the morning. The smells of fresh cut hay or that distinctive fishy water smell as you pass by a lake infiltrate and overwhelm your nostrils bombarding them with nature’s cologne. The experience of the every day drive to work is somehow transformed because you aren’t just driving to work, you are taking in the environment as you approach and pass by landmarks that you have seen every day. One notices birds overhead as they zing past the windshield, or the eagle or turkey buzzard that is soaring on the updrafts directly above you. Your capture of visual things around you is abundant as the sense of peripheral vision is greatly enhanced without a roof over your head.

The past week and a half I’ve had the unfortunate–or should I say “fortunate”–experience of having to drive to work in my car without the enhanced power of my supercharger. Yet another cheaply made part shelled out its bearings causing me to shred another serpentine belt that drives the supercharger alone, but that’s a whole other topic of discussion not pertinent to what I am writing here. Fortunately for me the car is still drivable but in a naturally aspirated configuration…a well thought out concept on behalf of the designers of the aftermarket product I purchased I might add. Throw a belt…no problem…keep driving. But the thing that I have discovered in this experience is the pure joy of driving my car without all the enhanced power.

The engine purrs softer and thus I am able to hear other things happening around me and with the car. I’ve come to discover some little annoying sounds that I didn’t know existed–will have to chase down a rattling sound in the right rear when encountering bumps that I wasn’t aware of before. The exhaust tone sounds more at peace as it lets out a more tonal Whaaaaaaa-un as I shift through the gears and gradually accelerate. Without the supercharged acceleration I have more time to experience and listen to the sound of the engine as it climbs through the rpm and torque range. The slower acceleration also finds my brain interpreting things in a more relaxed manner…I don’t have to be on edge so much as the car approaches other cars in front of me. I have the time to process things and to take in other “extraneous” information that I otherwise would have missed while under the more intense acceleration of a supercharged engine. Things such as actually listening to the engine as it approaches the torque band and you can hear and feel the car suddenly wake up and come to life.

The forced induction of the supercharger transforms the whole car but also everything that you can or can not take in while driving it under heavier throttle. The noise level raises from under the hood even at lower rpms…things just sound busier…like living in the city and having your windows to your bedroom open at night while you are trying to sleep. It’s not annoying, just different, and, well “busier.” The exhaust tone sounds different as you push more air through it, it doesn’t sing in a softer subtle tone like an operatic tenor the likes of Placido Domingo…it coughs and rumbles and snorts more like your dad clearing his throat first thing in the morning. Stomp on the gas now and everything gets mutated. The engine doesn’t purr from a Whaaaaaaa-un sound, it screams like a heavy metal rock star trying to hit a note that his voice isn’t trained to do as the pitch starts out low and gets higher…Zweeeeeeee-in… The exhaust is no longer singing, it’s growling in a hoarse manner trying to force as much air out as it can.

The added acceleration between naturally aspirated and forced induction impacts your senses. You no longer process subtle sounds from the engine your mind is focused on things rapidly approaching you, your mind and body is more focused on reaction time now–processing a thousand things a second like a super computer, interpreting images, scanning distances, contemplating reaction times, contemplating car handling capabilities all while also intermingling safety factors associated with driving on public roads. The torque curve isn’t something that you slowly approach, it’s already there sending you into “hyperspace”…the hell with the smells of the lake, the hell with the soaring birds…all senses are focused on the road and what’s directly in front of you. The driving experience has transformed from Zen-like to “holy crap, hold on.”

Well as I become Dr. Frankenstein today and begin working on the beast subbing in new parts to the engine I will briefly think about my “Zen” experience and remember those things that I have had the time to take in and smell and see. But quite frankly the adrenaline pumping, screaming noise on the edge of the seat fun of having the supercharger transform the car from an old man into a pimply faced teenager full of raging hormones exhilaration has been missed and thus the monster must live again. Bwooo ha, ha, ha! See you at the next autocross or just “see ya”….Zweeeeeeeeee-in…