x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

It's music without the radio

Neil Vorano: I hate to spoil things, I really do. But if you read up about the Boss Hoss motorcycle, you'll see I wasn't really happy about its sound.

I hate to spoil things, I really do. But if you read up about the Boss Hoss motorcycle, you'll see I wasn't really happy about its sound. Kind of a tame whine from the motor, as opposed to that thrilling, high-revving howl a V8 is supposed to give. I mean, when you're looking for driving fun, it's all about the whole sensory overload. The art - and enjoyment - of driving isn't about mechanical perfection, it's about all the things that can't really be quantified, such as how sharply the gear shift snicks into place. Or how you can get the rear end to just slightly kick out under hard acceleration in a corner. Or how the engine sounds when you punch the throttle.

The last bit is so important that some companies spend a lot of money developing that desirable sound for their vehicles. Take Harley-Davidson, for example. It has a dedicated sound booth, built on a floating floor, to develop that particular "potato potato" sound its V-twins make on idle, as well as their distinctive, choppy roar on full bore. In fact, HD has even tried, without success, to trademark the sound of its engines.

Car makers, professional tuners and shade-tree mechanics have played with exhaust notes in cars and bikes for decades. Different diameters and lengths of exhaust pipe can fine tune an engine's growl to make any petrolhead weak in the knees. But Jaguar went a step further: when building its current crop of XK coupe and convertibles a few years ago, engineers found the exhaust note was a bit too tame, so instead of playing with the exhaust system they built what they call a "bark tube". Essentially, it's a tube that stems from the intake manifold and runs behind the dashboard, with a diaphragm at its base that vibrates to enhance the engine's note.

But all that is ancient technology compared with what Brabus has accomplished in its latest venture. The German tuning company turned its skills on the Tesla Roadster, the electric car from California that's making everyone want to become an eco-warrior (at least, on the roads). Because the Tesla doesn't have an electrifying exhaust note to go along with its shocking performance (sorry for the puns), Brabus installed what it calls a "space sound generator". This electronic device mimics the sounds of other cars, such as a V8 or a high-revving race car engine, and links it to the throttle pedal to make it sound like the driver is gunning a real engine.

But Brabus also included two sounds on its generator called "Beam" and "Warp" - the company won't say what they sound like. But I'll hazard a guess it's not a Ferrari V12 or a Ford Mustang. This begs the question: if you could choose the sound of your car, what would it be? Horses' hooves? A rocket? The sound of the 1980s' TV car KITT from Knight Rider? The possibilities are endless. A purist would turn his nose up at the idea, but it would add excitement to the trip, wouldn't it?