Saturday, 3 September 2016

Loosing our aural history

It's been a beautiful winter's night with spring on the way. I was outside cooking up dinner on the grill sampling the sounds of the suburbs. People coming home and noisy cars in the distance. As I listened and grilled, it struck me I was listening to a different soundscape than when I was growing up.

Now of course that makes sense. I'm 25 years into adulthood.

Even still, and maybe I'm being old and nostalgic, I felt that things have changed. The engines I heard in years gone by have, by and large, disappeared. So I thought I'd wheel a few of them out to reminisce.

A few of my friends will laugh their heads off to read this, but the first of them has to be Holden 202. It was available in red and blue versions. I've often complained how awful they were, but the sound of them was around us all the time. A good 202 had a HUGE droning exhaust and holley. Really good 202s had SUs or Webers and struggled to idle. It was usually attached to a torana 4 door or a one toner with cragars or welds wheels.

Often the car sounded like it was going to explode. Thankfully, the awful cylinder head design prevented that. There are plenty of good after market heads for them now. Sadly, it's apparently pretty hard to find a good engine block these days.

A similar but better sound came from this motor...

It's true that the 265 was the motor everyone pined after, but for most of us the 245 was a lot more common. It too had a drone. Much smoother than the breathless holden, the Hemi always sounded smooth and pretty effortless. Stock hemis sounded good too. This is one of the curious things about older cars; you could hear the engines. New cars, you can never hear. Hemis were attached to variety of things from trucks, the valiant sedans and centuras. Any centura with a Hemi 6 was an weapon. I'd still love a hemi powered car... with a turbo. They're famous.

The other 6 hanging around the place was of course the ford crossflow. It was a little better than the 202, but not as nice as the Hemi. People have done lots of good things with the crossflow, but mostly they were the second class citizens to the Ford V8s.

The ford crossflow was perhaps the most prolific six in Australia after the Holden 6. Occasional they got a big exhaust and a carb. Later in the piece, they got turbos and then things really got interesting. They were attached to falcons and the odd cortina. In a cortina, it was burnout machine. Which brings me to the biggest engines.

Although Australians love their V8s, they've always been pretty expensive to run and own. So, even though there were a few around, they were mostly small blocks. The most common of them this one. The holden 253...

People pile cowpads on the 253. Smaller, heavier and inferior to the Hemi 265 they were described as "boat anchors". It's a shame they're remembered so poorly because they were the most popular thing around my way. And I have to say, they could sound mighty good. Lots of exhaust with not much muffler and they were a favourite. VB Commodore SLEs sounded pretty great stock. Some extractors and it was fantastic. That popping, detached rumble was gold.

Which brings me to it's bigger brother. The 308. These were floating around in a variety of commodores, monaros and toranas. Invariably they were lacking mufflers and went hard. The top of the tree was the VN group A.

 A school mate of mine's father owned one. Let's just say we regularly heard the rev limiter.

Then there was the ford 302. It was in everything. Falcons, utes, F100s, etc and the occasional cortina. Like 253s, they often had a nice set of duals on them. Around my way lived a tow truck driver called, "Borgie". His 302 power F100 towie was a weapon and got thrashed outside the school every arvo as he picked up his younger brother.

Now, I know everyone will want to get carried away about 351s and the like, but there weren't many of them around. Like 308s and Chevy 350s they were rare. Having said that, you knew a small block chev when you heard one.

The other motor I heard over and over were rotaries. Again, the most common engine was a 12a or stockish 13b with a huge exhaust. I didn't really know much about them for a long time, but I remember them being around.

It's hard to describe the sounded of a modded rotary. There were regularly RX2s, RX3s and RX7s struggling to idle only to race off at 8000rpm and 130decibels. I'd still love to own a series 1 RX7 with an atmo 13b.

The other small engine running around the place was the L series Datsun engine. It's hard to describe how prolific the Datsun 1600 (510) was to so many petrol heads and racers. Yes, I know we had escorts and there were scores of them too, but the datto was more popular.

The L18 and L20 was the king of them all really. Again, open exhaust and webers if you could afford it. My parents in law had a 200B that did over 300,000km with this motor.

The most distinctive small car sound though, was of course the VW flat four. Whether it was powering a beetle, kombi or type 3, you could hear it coming a mile away.

Most of these engines were dead stock. The occasional one had extractors or a slight overbore kit, but compared to the US, VW speed parts were expensive and mostly left off street cars. Anything with anything more exotic than mentioned was always labled a, "Porsche engine". I never got why, but that's what people said. Over the exhaust, the whine of the fan always gave these engines away too.

There were other engines floating around, the odd twin cam toyota or alfa, 2 stroke diesels or suzuki sierras, but in my childhood these engines were the norm. In traffic, round the burbs or at school pickup they were the sounds we heard. I miss some of them, but then people probably don't give much thought to it. Newer cars are by and large quiet, efficient but somewhat soul-less. I guess it's just times changing.

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