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Pobst Position: Car Guy Heroes
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Ever drive a car and wonder why the manufacturer built it that way? I am always second-guessing the car companies, yet at the same time, wishing I could speak directly with the people that made the decisions on what to build. With my Volvo connections, I did have the chance to hear the designer of the S60 describe his choices to a press audience; "...like a crouched cat, poised to leap." He was very proud of his creation, and there was a reason for every bend in the sheet metal. In spite of my years in the car industry, most often in sales training, this is still a rare opportunity for me. Recently I had the good fortune to spend some quality time with engineers from deep inside Chevrolet's high-performance skunkworks. It was a comparison test of two of the latest, greatest American muscle cars, the 444HP Boss Mustang Laguna Seca, and the brand-new 580HP Camaro ZL-1. These are definitely among the last of the factory hot rods that can still be driven in the historic, pure sense: rear-drive, fully manual H-pattern shifter with foot clutch and no perfect-but-brainless downshift rev-matching, and stability/traction interference that can be fully switched off. Danger, danger; no computer to step in it is all you. I'm not saying these safety features are bad, they are saving many dollars and injuries on our roadways right now, leave them on unless you are willing to greatly raise your risk of crashing. However, I am saying they dumb down the driving experience, especially and specifically on the track. It offends my racing sensibilities to listen as a race car leaves a corner with misfiring sounds as the electronics decide how much power to apply, not the driver. At some point, cars may become like the military drones, controlled by computers, remote video and joysticks. In the meantime, there's the Seca and the ZL-1. The Chevy guys spoke fluent Nurburgring after many laps there developing the chassis. 168 mph at the bottom of the Foxhole, yeow. They spoke in the same pure racing terms we use at the track. They were very proud of the magnetically adjustable viscosity of the fluid in their shocks, giving constant computer-controlled damping changing every few milliseconds, nearly like active suspension. This kind of control is more than fine with me, ha. They shared stories of tuning the Camaro end-to-end for more speed on the track, just like you on your E Production Prelude or ITB Golf. Both cars have real brake-cooling ducts. The Camaro has coolers for the engine, trans, and even the diff. I could feel the seduction. At one point talk turned to fly-by-wire throttles and sport settings. Ahh, now that was a prime opportunity to pull out a favorite ax of mine to grind. "Sport programs", I proclaimed in my best know-it-all column-writing tone, "always open the throttle faster, to make the car feel faster, 'sport'-ier. This is exactly backwards. The LAST thing the average driver needs is a faster opening throttle. If it was me, I'd make it open slower!"

"We did that," snaps Tony Roma, ZL-1 engineer and SCCA club racer. My jaw drops. It won't sink in. I felt dazed and confused...uh...whut? "The last thing you want is to snap that throttle open in the middle of a corner," he says. They did that... Then it happened. I swear it. A shaft of light shone down from the heavens, right onto the Chevy guys, like in those old movies. Heroes were born. They did that... I coulda kissed 'im. Mostly I was awed with respect. They get it. The 2012 Camaro ZL-1 sport program opens the throttle SLOWER. Think about that and apply it to your driving, street and track...Hero.
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