Published: Friday, July 26, 2013

THE JOY of pistons

The Lamborhini Miura changed everything about cars when it came out in 1966. Mid engine layout and a shape to die for. It was uncomfortable to drive, unstable at very high speeds and caught on fire ocassionally more often than pop stars get drunk. Yet, people pay millions because of the way it looks, sounds and goes. It epitomises the allure of cars.

The Lamborhini Miura changed everything about cars when it came out in 1966. Mid engine layout and a shape to die for. It was uncomfortable to drive, unstable at very high speeds and caught on fire ocassionally more often than pop stars get drunk. Yet, people pay millions because of the way it looks, sounds and goes. It epitomises the allure of cars.

Three boxes, four wheels. Metal. Air conditioning. Safety. Privacy. Ease.
Somehow, almost everywhere, the definition of an “automobile” has sunk to these few words bundled into a package that you can buy off a dealership by trading in some of your hard-earned cash. As important to day to day human activities as the micro-wave oven, or a washing machine. Buy, operate, maintain when necessary.
I refuse to think of a car as an appliance, just another convenient by-product of our mechanized world. Appliances don’t have enthusiasts. A micro-wave oven will never be loved by someone, a washing machine will never be observed with the slightly catatonic stare that teenage boys reserve for rare beauties like Bar Refaeli (swimsuit model) or the Lamborghini Muira (the better swimsuit model). You can hardly race a blender, build million dollar race teams and businesses around it. You cannot show pride at how beautiful and smooth to operate your toaster is.
If you thought car aesthetics were important to a car enthusiast, wait till they start explaining how the mechanical bits work.
shift03Intake, compression, combustion, exhaust. Chemical energy converted to mind blowing amounts of kinetic energy and torque. Rotational forces converted to translational forces, then back again. A mass of gears, valves, pistons, chains, sensors, electronic brains, all working in unison, perfect harmony, magically converting a liquid and some air into something useable, while the main components rotate NINE THOUSAND times a minute. 150 times a second. It doesn’t break, doesn’t complain, doesn’t groan under incredible amounts of stress. The engine just pushes the car forward.
Some will point out that jet engines are much more intricate pieces of machinery and that one can get doctorate level degrees and not fully understand how a space shuttle works.
I ask them, did you ever own a jet engine? Or even a chip off the heat resistive tiles that cover a space shuttle? Nope. The automobile is the single most piece of pure machinery you will own, the most amazing work of man’s innovation in engineering and technology. Your PC is smarter and your phone is probably a better source of entertainment than your car. Again, not pure machines. Just the black magic of electricity coursing through their veins. In a car, you have a mix of air, fuel, electricity and mechanical motion, a mix you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Unless you own a motorbike. Take everything you love about cars, add the experience of wind in your face and the thrill of balancing yourself while the world moves at warp speeds around you. It’s a pure adrenaline rush, even on tiny 50 cc motorcycles with louder exhausts than proper punching power.
A motorbike is even more of a purely mechanical marvel, compared to the car.
It’s a balancing act on the edge of your life, its unsafe, its cheap. Millions in third world countries have love affairs with the motorbike, preferring to ferry around entire families of five on a motorbike designed for a maximum of three passengers. If you’re not a family man, you probably love the freedom and maneuverability that a motorbike offers in a crowded city. Motorbikes are almost an anti-social statement, and motorbike owners alone will know what it feels like to be a rider.
Speed and the need to go faster than everyone else is ingrained in our minds and bodies. If you’re not a car geek or a bike lover, you’ll find your hit somewhere else. Most people have not had their inner speed demon released yet, but it takes one ride along in a high horsepower car, on a sport bike or maybe even a theme park roller-coaster to set it free. Once its out, there’s no stopping your love for everything mechanical, man-made, and moving.
Whether it’s two wheeled or four wheeled, we get it. We get your passion for the mechanical, wheeled modes of “transport”. We know it pains you to think of the car as just another useful commodity and nothing else. Shift caters to YOU.