Auto tech - Morley's World 450

By: Dave Morley

Presented by

clay model There were two types of motor trimmers back in the day clay model

The packing crates used to ship Model T kits to Geelong were chopped up and used as the floorboards

Let’s talk useless stuff in cars. Back in the old days, a car would be made up of just enough parts to qualify as an actual car. Trust me, if a car-maker could skimp on a few bits and pieces, we’d all still be driving cars with three wheels, one windscreen wiper and a single tail-light. When Henry Ford decreed that the packing crates used to ship Model T kits to Geelong were to be chopped up and used for the car’s floorboards, you knew that money talked.

Eventually, though, enough people ticked the option box for `extra wheel’ and the manufacturers finally had to admit that four was about the right tally for wheels and tyres. But now, it seems (probably in order to justify a price-tag that Superman himself couldn’t leap over) new stuff is the new black.

Car-makers love to lump this new technology under the rather broad `innovations’ banner. Which, technically, is fair enough, because an innovation is reliant on actually being new. But what leaves hot-spots on my spiritual flywheel is that the term innovations also infers that this new stuff is actually good for me. I mean, why else would a manufacturer go to the trouble and the expense of adding new tech if it didn’t actually improve my driving or ownership experience, right? Yeah, right…

In a broad sense, the whole current-day innovation of taking a hatchback, jacking it up, making it ride poorly, making it heavier and slower, making it uglier and then charging me an extra ten-grand for it raises the concept of `questionable’ to an artform. You listening SUV? But I also have to wonder out loud at various bits and pieces that are finding their way into even conventional cars under that innovations banner.

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Morley isn’t an SUV ambassador

Most recently, I drove a high-end SUV that shall remain the Genesis GV80. Now, this is an important car for Genesis because it marks the South Koreans’ first stab at a proper, luxury SUV along the lines of a BMW X5, Audi Q7 or Benz GLE. So, clearly, Genesis decided that it would need a lot of, er, innovations to make the cut.

Most of this stuff I have no problem with, although I do reckon the lane-keeping assistance that kept trying to steer me back towards the B-Double I was overtaking could do with some calibration massaging. But what really had me scratching me poor old scone was one of the GV80’s many infotainment functions. Now, the Genesis is a pretty silent jigger (that’s a gimme with luxo cars, of course) so for those with tinnitus or a guilty conscience but who couldn’t figure out the radio controls, the Genesis also includes an ambient-noise generator. No shit.

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There were two types of motor trimmers back in the day

And you have choices. I can’t remember them all, but one was titled `Street Café’ and amounted to a background hubbub of indistinct chatter, cutlery clanging and chairs being scraped across the floor. Perhaps this is a US-market thing where, every year, hordes of retired Florida dentists do, in fact, find themselves mysteriously parked in just such an environment. Anyway, the ambient racket moves around the cabin from speaker to speaker, as if you’re walking past a typical footpath eatery. Street Café? Should have been called ‘Bloody Annoying’ or `Miami Pedal Error’.

The second choice was ‘Crashing Waves’ or somesuch and, as the name I probably just misquoted suggests, was the soft chorus of waves crashing upon a sandy shoreline. This one should have been called ‘Why didn’t you go before we left home?’

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Finally, there was ‘Cosy Fireside’ (or something) which filled the GV80’s ample cabin with the crinkly sound of an open fire, played through the rear speakers as if you’re standing with your back to the fireplace, glass of cognac in hand and a supermodel on the bearskin rug in front of you. At least I’m sure that’s what it says in the owner’s handbook. My interpretation? As a bloke who’s been driving rear-engined, air-cooled VWs for decades, my immediate thought was `Oh, my Car Is On Fire. Again’.

I’m really not sure under what circumstances I’d be inclined to use this ambient noise stuff. But I suppose it’s no worse than the tech that plays an exhaust note through the car’s speakers. This isn’t new, but it remains a bit of a pet hate of mine. If I want to hear the car’s mechanical noises, it’s because they appeal to me from a musical point of view or I’m trying to identify a new lifter tick.

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Purposeful tech

What I don’t want is a random Gen X engineer who’s never heard a GT3 RS Porsche at wide open throttle, or some galoot from marketing who wouldn’t know a resonator from his rectum, deciding what I hear when I sink the clog in second. Surely, synthetic exhaust notes are the Milli Vanilli of the automotive artform. And I have to say, the worst of them, the BMW M3/M4 with the twin-turbo six (Which should sound like the second coming of the Valkyries. On acid.) leaves me colder than a well-digger’s arse. Exactly how BMW managed to make a high-tech, high-steppin’ straight six sound like a Holden 186 with a tight exhaust valve on number three is way beyond me. And yet, here we are.

The point is that with the addition of every one of these tautological `new innovations’, cars become just a little less pure. Does purity of design matter? You bet it does. To people like us, anyway. How else do you explain a new SUV from the Huphuc-Yew Motor Co, that is built in the millions, that you and I have never even heard of. And yet, when something low-volume and niche like an Aerial Atom, a new Caterham or even a Morgan three-wheeler comes along, we’re all salivating like a butcher-shop dog.

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M3 pipes wrapped in carbon

That’s because the Huphuc-Yew Wristy-Boy Hybrid will have innovations that include a synthetic exhaust note based on the sound of nuns cage-fighting, along with diamond-quilted, supplementary testicle-restraint straps, taking it even further from being a car and closer to being a lounge-room. (That said, the concept of having your bollocks unexpectedly take flight while sitting in a comfy chair watching the Boxing Day Test does seem, on the surface, a touch unlikely.)

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Morgan three-wheeler

Meanwhile, the latest Caterham or Aerial will still have manual steering and floor-boards made from the packing crates they arrived in. And the Morgan three-wheeler goes one better by sticking with the four-minus-one wheel-and-tyre tally. Forget expensive soap, laboratory conditions, a baby’s innocent chuckle and fresh powder-snow…a car with three wheels and no goolie-straps? That’s purity, right there.

 

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From Unique Cars #450, March 2021

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