Feeling the noise at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

At some point in the mid-90s, my parents replaced an Electrolux washing machine that was as old as me with a posh new Hoover one. When it was first plugged in and powered on, I couldn’t get over how awesome it sounded. It had a gas turbine whistly whoosh to it, and I was mesmerized. Being that I was 14 and probably a bit of a late developer, with no real idea yet of what girls were all about, and not yet knowing the first thing about being cool or fitting in, I would often go into the utility room just to listen to it doing its job.

Fast forward to my being 41 years old and I’ve just regretfully thrown away a Panasonic vacuum cleaner with variable power control, just like the one my parents had back then. Manipulating its fader-like power slider took the Panasonic from tick over to full chat, and I used to pretend that I was on the flight deck of a jet, easing the throttles forwards, as I did so. I loved how the sound changed, how the pitch of the motor increased along with the increased airflow, the latter gradually overtaking the former as power increased and we had taken off. Or vacuuming.

I give you this preamble because of what happened recently when I unleashed a Tweet. The subject was Ford’s unhinged new Transit Pro Electric Supervan 4, and my assertion was that it sounded great:

I was utterly convinced about how awesome the electric Transit sounded as it shot up Goodwood’s Hillclimb, so the responses my Tweet was met with had me a little, well, disappointed.

First reply: “Sounds bloody awful”.

Another was “Sounds like an RC car…”

Further down the list came the classic “A washing machine on wheels”. Well, I’ve established my feelings about the sound of a good washing machine.

Of course, whether or not you like a sound all comes down to subjectivity, but I can’t help but think there might be a little bit of conscientious objection going on. And I get that. We all want to listen to big petrol V8s, mosh to loud rock music and eat barbecued meat. But my wife has just cooked me a delicious jackfruit chili, and my heavy vinyl pressing of Gershwin sounds just great on the turntable at a moderate volume when I’m in my easy chair. And some electric vehicles sound great, too.

I mean, surely it’s the association — the wrongness of cars having that pumping oil-fired mechanical heart — that’s the real issue, and not the sound itself. Think of Pod racers, or the alien ships that fought the F/A-18s in Independence Day, the hoverboard in Back to the Future II, or the USS Enterprise engaging warp speed. All of those make really cool noises. Noises, incidentally, that we’d not have imagined other than hearing them via small-screen fantasy. And now they’re here in real life. Surely that’s exciting, rather than depressing?

Listen to the otherworldly shriek of a Formula 1 car as it revs to an ultrasonic frenzy and tells me that it’s wildly different from an electric motor whine, apart from being substantially louder.

And it’s not as if there’s a lot of fear that our beloved internal combustion roar is due to disappear any time soon. Okay, it’s hard to bear that the V8 bellow is fading from the streets in favour of breathless I4s and, of course, electric motors. But it’ll be ages until it dies out forever. NASCAR will continue to pack the stands until it’s legislated out of existence

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

4 Comments

  1. Great seeing you write here again! There are a lot of very vocal, very staunch defenders of “ignition only!!!1!1!!”. I don’t quite understand why so ferocious. In any case, I easily agree on the potential of exciting sound in EVs.

    Even our bread-and-butter Leaf earns comments on the zoomy sound when we pass other cars and such – from friends and family from other countries, who are not quite as used to EVs as Norwegians are. Even my sister, not interested in cars at all, liked that one enough to bring it up herself.

    The coolest thing with the video above though is how the tire sounds get through. It’s very clear how the van is pushed to its limits constantly from the shrieking tires alone.

  2. As someone with a profoundly deaf father, I’ve always reckoned the noise is something vastly overrated. Deaf people can love cars without the noise, what’s the big deal?

    Especially these days when so many road cars, if the noise is not artificially created on speakers, is all nonsense of exhaust tuning to make it sound sweeter rather than being useful audiotory feedback that has anything I’d refer to as “mechanical honesty”. This is why I hope EVs steer away from sound symposer gimmickry apart from pedestrian safety reasons. Let us hear what is actually going on.. not just the motor, but the chassis and all the other bits.

    The other thing that I find hilarious in all this, is it’s such an “armchair” perspective. If you were strapped into one of these TIE fighters on wheels and properly on it, the LAST thing you’d be thinking about is “oh this doesn’t have that nice V12 engine note” as the horizon comes at you at a rate of knots. You’d be just focused on keeping it on the tarmac, if you’ve got time to worry about that, you are not going fast enough. The noise inside a lot of GT race cars is mostly straight cut transmission whine and not engine noise anyway.

  3. From my mild experience, video doesn’t do a great job of translating the real life EV sounds to ones and zeroes either, which doesn’t help much. I can only imagine how ferocious the eSupervan sounded in real life. Meanwhile, ICE cars seem to either be getting severely muted, or go for something completely fabricated (I’ve gotten sort of bored of the default high end boosed V8 BWUUUGGGHHHBWUUUUGGGHHBWUGH BWAPBWAPBWAPBWAP).

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