Will the Z06 Corvette someday drive itself?
The invention of the electric starter motor
did have its appeal. Electric headlamps sure did make driving at night a bit
safer. Pneumatic tires were a lot easier on the back and kidneys. And let’s
not forget the essentials like a closed cockpit, windscreen and even
windscreen wipers. The automotive industry was on a roll.
But is there a point when a vehicle is just too good, and way more than
anyone needs? Do you need your car to parallel park itself? How about
distance control? What about air conditioned seats? Maybe when we get to the
point where we no longer have to drive the car we will finally be happy. You
will simply get in, set a destination point, and sit back and enjoy the
ride. A nice Latte, copy of the NY Times, and a recliner. Maybe you can even
sleep until you reach your destination. Now that I think of it this sounds a
lot like public transportation.
It seems that the competitive nature of the automotive industry has caused
the engineering staff to work overtime. Don’t get me wrong, I am not
advocating we ignore progress, I am simply implying we might want to look at
what we really enjoy about our driving experiences. Many new cars are so
quiet, so comfortable, so smooth, and so convenient, we almost fall asleep
driving them. The adventure of going out onto the road is, well,……not so
Remember when going 80 mph seemed really fast? These days the lowest cost
econoboxes can do that all day without breaking a sweat. I know safety is an
issue, and I don’t advocate going back to bias ply tires, but what happened
to the adventure of the open road? A time when you actually had to DRIVE the
car. There were no antilock brakes, dynamic stability control, electronic
brake force distribution, etc. to save your ass. There was no electronic
throttle to slow you down. By George you could do a one-eighty on an exit
ramp quicker than you can say hit the ONSTAR button.
There was a time when you could appreciate the sound of the engine, take
notice of the spacing of gear ratios the engineers had selected for the
transmission, observe the balance of the vehicle during various maneuvers
and declining radius cornering. The things about driving that excited the
senses, things that made cars like the BMW 2002, the VW Rabbit GTI, and
others so appealing.
Back then you could drive a car to its limit, hang the tail end out, run the
engine to redline between shifts, and bring it back with the brakes
smoldering. Try that nowadays and you’ll be going so fast you’ll see 8 to 10
in the state pen. The new cars are good, much too good for most drivers to
challenge them, and thus incorporate computer technology to make up for
driver inability. You can push many new cars to the limit without much
regard for skill, after all the car will save you.
So, how do we enjoy driving again? Is it too late? The cars just seem to
be getting better. Maybe the cars won’t need us much longer. Where do we fit
in? We already know the onboard computers on many new cars are capable of
recording our evil deeds. Try telling the judge you were going slow because
you had a bowl of goldfish on the seat, all the while the prosecution is
presenting the data from your onboard computer that indicates the vehicle
speed at 140 mph, and the engine speed at 7,000 rpm’s……………Bailiff, take him
Are new cars so good they take the driver out of the equation?
There could be a light at the end of the tunnel for the true driving
enthusiast. It’s really about how we approach designing our cars. There is
little adventure in driving most of the high end automobiles on the market
today. I have driven most of them and have always been impressed at how good
they are, much too good for me. You see, I’m not trying to impress the
neighbors, it really does me no good. I just want to have fun driving my
Let’s take a look at what we need in a car in order to have some fun driving
• The engine should rev freely and produce enough power to move the car
along briskly. This does not mean a rocket ship with 400 horsepower.
• There needs to be a manual transmission, not automatic, not SMG. In this
way you actually have to play a role in getting the car moving, it connects
you to the car.
• The seat must be just right, comfortable, good bolstering, a lengthened
lower seat cushion, and the proper lower back support.
• The ergonomics in the car need to be as such that they put things at hand
so as not to detract from driving.
• The car needs to be tossable and nimble, without too much body roll.
• The car needs to be relatively quiet for extended drives and enjoyment of
• The car needs to have a somewhat upright seating position to allow for
good all around visibility and low levels of fatigue.
• The car needs to track properly on the road, not wander about the lane.
Wandering causes fatigue, and fatigue is no fun.
• The gearing needs to be such that it easily keeps the engine in its sweet
spot during spirited driving. When done right this can be an absolute
• The car should make you feel brave, and allow you to exercise your ability
to control it. The car should feel as an extension of your body, you should
control it, not the other way around.
We can have these things in our cars, along with air conditioning, power
windows/locks, cruise control, and some other basic necessities. We can
drive these cars to work, or to the mall, out to dinner, or on a trip, and
have some fun along the way. We don’t need power shades, automatic parking
systems, air conditioned glove boxes, and double dipsy bars. We need cars
that are pleasing to the eye, fun to drive, and economical. If you want to
impress the neighbors go do some volunteer work at the local hospital, or be
a mentor to a young person trying to find himself/herself.
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