Friday, January 18, 2013

The ANF Alphabetic Guide to Being a Gearhead

I love Vice.  From shopping at the Taliban's gun market in Pakistaninsane cooking shows, documenting kids racing their way to the World Superbike Championship to Eddie Huang's absolutely brilliant new travel/food show, they're producing some of the best content on the internet on a near-daily basis.  The other day they put up the rather excellent 'Sad-ass Guide to Being a Man', providing inspiration for this piece.  

Though far from comprehensive, I aim for it to be a (very) rough list of knowledge any accomplished, articulate and erudite car slob should be at least minimally familiar with.



Typically the middle of a curve, this is where to apply throttle in order to maximize traction and exit speed.  Flying around curves with the gas floored from beginning to end makes noise and understeer, and not much else. Wait - it also makes you look like a rank fucking amateur.  Driving well is like chess - it takes strategy and skill.  Take your checkers game to the kiddie kart track.


Blow-off valves

More specifically the atmospheric type.  Otherwise known as the 'audible D-bag alert' or 'give me a ticket device'.  Exceptions to the rule include duck calls.


Cadence Braking

A lot of the fun old heaps people like us enjoy don't come with ABS, or come with broken ABS, so learn how to cadence brake.  Basically, grow some nerve endings in your hoof and apply pedal pressure right up to the point of lock-up, thus allowing the car to be steered under maximum stopping force.

2. Clutch

It's not an on-off switch.  Use some finesse, even when you're in a hurry.  Not only will your driveline and motor mounts thank you, you'll be less likely to break traction when you're really committed, thus reducing your chances of ending up in a ditch. 



Positive mechanical valve closure, achieved through many subtle varieties of design, wherein a cam-operated rocker arm lifts the valve stem into the closed position.  Originally developed to eliminate valve float at high RPM's, advances in valve spring metallurgy have largely made desmo systems unnecessary.  

One more reason to love Ducati is their stubborn refusal to retire such an overly-complex and obsolete mechanism purely out of a sense of tradition and an old-world take on engineering artisanship.

2. Dorifto

Is fun and looks cool and requires real car control, stop hating.  Lots of posers out there though, so understand an $800 S13 and an eBay SR20DET do not endow talent - talent does that.  Get thee to a track and practice, and stop driving like a dick on busy, public roads - save it for mostly empty ones like grown-up, semi-responsible hoons do. 



See 'Dorifto'.



The last pretty one was the F355.  Bought mostly by posers and D-bags in branded polos, they're pretty magic cars nonetheless.  Get an older one with three pedals and for God's sake, not in red or yellow.

2. French Cars

If you can't appreciate an oleopneumatic-suspended Citroen, asymmetric wheelbases or a hatchback with an engine stuffed into were the back seats would normally go, GTFAC. 



The genius designer behind the Miura, Countach, Stratos, and EB110 among many others. See Gandini signature wheel opening:



Is not the same as grip.  Handling is precision of response, delicacy, malleability, ease of control.  A high skidpad number doesn't equate to a good-handling car - stop reading Motor Trend.


Individual. Fucking. Throttle. Bodies.



Japan makes some legitimately awesome sports cars, they also build a lot of properly boring beige-mobiles - so does Europe.  Eurosnobs, GTFAC.



Shift karts are how most high-level race drivers started out as kids, and how many stay sharp in the off-season.  Race karting can be a very expensive hobby, but with 'high-speed' indoor karting tracks gaining popularity, most of us who don't live in the absolute sticks are now within an hour's drive of an affordable alternative.  The karts run at these places aren't normally the insanely quick, 2-stroke powered shift karts used in pro-level racing, but they're a far bit away from anemic flathead Briggs & Stratton lawnmower-engined things with centrifugal clutches, too, and are easily powerful enough to warrant the use of helmets, harnesses, and your full attention.  There's no better way to spend an afternoon than with some friends in competition for the day's best lap time.



Before they were known for half-hearted rebodies of half-engineered Fiats and re-badged Chrysler's,  Lancia built some of the finest cars ever made.  Lancia's were quality, precision machines, full of innovative and advanced engineering - stuff like narrow angle V4's with single cylinder heads (Lamda, 1922), rear-mounted transaxles, and the world's first production V6 (Aurelia, 1950).  Later they built the Stratos and the Delta Integrale, two cars of which either one alone would have qualified Lancia as one of the all-time greats.  

If you've got a week to waste and the patience for navigating a hedge maze, head over to Eddin's Moto and poke around - the man's a mechanical genius and his labyrinthine site goes into great, geeky detail over the idiosyncrasies and inner-workings of old Lancias.


Manuel Trangsmisión

Because three pedals > two pedals.  There are some great cars equipped only with flappy paddles, but they'd undoubtedly be better (if slower) with a stickshift.  On the street, fun is of greater importance than fractions of a second.


Negative Camber

A little is good for agility, at the expense of stability.  Too much makes you a bandwagon-riding poser.  If spending a fortune to build a car that's virtually undriveable in order to impress other guys in a Starbucks parking lot is your idea of a hobby, you need to read a book or two and get out more.  Throw away the Supreme hat, too.



Oppo is the essence of life, it is evidence that God exists and wants his petrolsexual children to be happy and to prosper.  Vita brevis, carpe oppo.



908, 911, 917, 935, 956, 959, the list goes on.  The most consistently brilliant sports car manufacturer on the planet, flame-keepers of the manual transmission, overpriced options list world champ, masterminds of the one and only ass-engined Nazi slot car - the immortal super-Tatra 911 Carrera.



LSD, maaaaaan.  Benevolent British benefactor of oppo.



It's said to 'improve the breed' through a sort of trickle-down effect, where competition-bred engineering filters its way down through to mass-market solutions designed to make everyday cars faster, safer, and more efficient.  Racing has given us twin-cam engines, multi-valve heads, carbon-ceramic brakes, double-wishbone suspensions, flappy-paddle gearboxes (ugh), carbon-fiber structural reinforcements and on and on.  Nearly all the great leaps and bounds in the history of automotive engineering can be traced directly back to developments originally bred for competition.  

It's also just plain freaking fun to watch on TV, in person, or best of all - to experience first hand (so I've been told).  Tracking or racing are the only 'safe' ways of really pushing your car, and there's no better way of developing your driving skills.  Someday soon I'll get out to a trackday, or maybe even LeMons.  If you have the means, we highly recommend picking one up pursuing some sort of track-based driving.



Keeping your hands at 9 and 3 is best for control, 10 and 2 is for this guy, and one hand at noon with your seat reclined at a 25 degree angle is for these fine young fellows.  Practicing the 'fixed input'  technique will help you make more precise inputs, thus making you both faster and safer.


Taki Inoue, baby.  

Follow him on Twitter.



Avoid it.  If you're driving properly it's mostly avoidable.



See 'Understeer'.




2. WRC

The greatest show in motorsport.  Formula One, touring cars and endurance racing are all world-class entertainment, but the World Rally Championship is king. 


The Letter

Besides a WRX, avoid any car with this letter in its model name, unless you're an uppity housewife or live in a gated golf community, in which case it's perfectly acceptable.

(Edit: or an X1/9, NSX, MX-5, GTX... and quite a lot of other good cars with 'X' in their names.  What I meant to say is avoid posh crossovers, lifted wagons with offroading pretensions, and needlessly complex AWD versions of normally RWD sports sedans - not that you wouldn't already be inclined to do so on your own.)



Masterminds behind the lovely and delicious 2000GT, the 18RG, 4AGE, 2JZ and pretty much any performance-biased Toyota motor ever made.

2. Yaw

If you're doing it right, you'll be yawing.  See 'Oppo'. 


The Letter

It's pronounced 'zee' not 'zed', and there's no pretzel in an Impreza.

As I said, it's not a comprehensive list, and I'm currently cold and tired so that's all my brain wishes to contribute for now.  Please feel free to list what you feel are any glaring omissions below in the comment section.


  1. There's so much to love in here, but I think my favorite is the dig at the "stanced" crowd. Has ever then been a more inane fixation? No Moar Low.

  2. liked this but have to point out you're wrong about the last one, it's zed in English ;P