Driving Fast

Posted on December 11th, 2007 in Driving Emotion,Opinion,Power,Safety by Julian Edgar

derestricted.jpgYears ago – say getting on for 15 or 20 years ago – people used to ask why I had a performance car.

“There’s no where you can drive fast,” they’d say, “so why bother?”

I’d enigmatically respond with something like: “Oh, there are still plenty of places left to drive fast.”

And, in those days, there were.

The Northern Territory had no open road speed limit, and while the other Australian states and territories had 110 km/h limits, the philosophy of enforcement was then completely different.

There were no speed cameras – all radars were hand-held and, a little later, mobile in-car. In most states, radar detectors were completely legal, and all police communications were unscrambled voice. Trucks didn’t have speed limiters and on the open road typically sat well over the speed limit. CB radios were constantly used by trucks to communicate the presence of police cars (“double bubbles”) and police motorcycles (“Evel Knievels”).

In my Commodore VL Turbo I ran a radar detector, CB radio and police scanning radio. And they weren’t there for looks.

My BMW 3.0si ran to an indicated 220 km/h, my Commodore Turbo to 210 km/h, my Liberty RS to 220 km/h (which seems slow but that’s what I remember), my Daihatsu Handi turbo to 180 km/h and my R32 GTR to 260 km/h. And none of these were figures I got from just reading a book…

Any tight, windy road was a challenge there to be taken: the chances of being caught were tiny. In addition, the speed limit for the stretch of road was seldom set on the basis of the corners, so it was common for a 100 km/h limit to be in place on a road that included corners with advisories down to 30 km/h.

In those days turn-in understeer at 150 km/h was a real consideration; lightness in the steering at over 200 km/h was a right pain in the butt, and anything less than 130 on the open road and you must have had Grandma on board. I remember I boiled the auto trans fluid in the Commodore when going for a top speed run – the car was slipping its clutch-packs and the fluid got so hot it came out of the breather onto the exhaust. A guy I know used to sit on 180 km/h on the open road, ear plugs firmly in place.

Without any doubt the roads today are much safer – I’m sure the enforcement of speed limits and low/zero blood alcohols have resulted in less fatalities and injuries.

But now there really aren’t any places to drive fast. These days, they literally put you in jail if you drive fast, and take away your car if you have a few quick traffic light races. I am not saying that’s bad; what I am saying is that the road use of a performance car is now so limited that I wonder at their purpose.

I live at the top of a steep and windy country road. There’s about 15 kilometres of it – and I know it far better than the back of my hand. I’ve at times driven it extremely quickly, but any time I have done so I’ve been risking my license – the speed limit is 60 km/h. At sixty I can go around every corner without slowing.

Apart from flicking through an urban roundabout quickly (so what…), there is nowhere – literally nowhere – that I can drive fast. And that’s living smack-bang in the middle of what many call the best drivers’ roads for hundreds of kilometres.

And is it any different for other people? I was in a workshop the other day and the proprietor told me how the Falcon XR6 Turbo out the front had 450kW at the wheels. Or was it 550? – I don’t know, I wasn’t really listening. The prop went on to say that it was a really hard car to dyno because of wheelspin. Apparently, on the road it wheelspins up to 4th.

Now, honestly, apart from dyno bragging rights, what is the point of having that much power in a road car? As I have implied, once upon a time it would have been really useful – 100 to 200 km/h in just a handful of seconds. But now, spinning wheels will cause a police booking, a quick traffic light race ditto, and exercising anything like the top-end potential would immediately result in jail time.

Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense for people to have cars so low in power that you can have fun at what can only be described as slow speeds? Or instead of spending money modifying an already powerful road car to make it even more powerful, invest in kart, budget open-wheeler or dedicated drag car?

24 Responses to 'Driving Fast'

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  1. Tristan Roberts said,

    on December 11th, 2007 at 10:18 am

    I totally agree. I’ve had an old Fiat 850 Sport for the last couple of years with a puny 37kw, but chuckable rear engined handling and under 700kg to push along. Yeah, it’s slow in a straight line but, as you say, you can drive the ring out of it and keep up point to point. For the occasional drive to work, or a weekend fling, or even hillclimbs and motorkhanas, it’s a hoot.

    Yet most manufacturers don’t seem agree – why can you now get a Tarago or a RAV4 with 200kw? Not that Toyota are alone, as I don’t think 190-200kw in the base model falcodores is really such a great idea either. The manufacturers have become obsessed with this power war, and at the same time physical size and mass are spiralling upwards also. And these cars consistently find themselves at or near the top of the sales charts, or on the fleets of government departments and large businesses.

    So we’ve got a bunch of heavy, powerful, enormous cars that will spend their lives stuck in traffic jams and obstructing overtaking opportunities when they do occasionally, timidly, stray onto a country road…

  2. Davin Field said,

    on December 11th, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    A few years back I would have totally disagreed with Julian and continued on my merry way with a succession of turbo Subaru’s and Mitsubishi’s. Five years ago I purchased a Formula Vee open wheeler for minimal dollars and with around 60HP at the back wheels you wouldn’t imagine the amount of fun you could have out on the track. It’s a hell of a lot safer, cheaper on the wallet and much more fun to boot. I’m a slower and safer driver on the road now as circuit racing gives you an appreciation of how bad our public roads are.

  3. Matt said,

    on December 11th, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    There IS a place you can use it – on the track! There are club level sprint days held all over Australia and around the world.

    You can argue against the logic of modifying a car to be useful both on the street and the track, but remember that not everyone can afford or justify owning two or three vehicles (daily driver, tow car and race car).

    That said, a low powered car is still heaps of fun on the track!

  4. Led_blind said,

    on December 11th, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    While i agree that society has moved swiftly away from what was once thought manley there are still plenty of opportunities to use the performance of a car.

    Every open corner for example, but the most satisfying use of performance is to overtake those realy bad drivers 🙂

  5. Julian Edgar said,

    on December 11th, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    Overtaking is a good example of what I am talking about. I can remember when a bloke went to court in South Australia for doing 150 km/h in a 110 zone. He basically got off because he was overtaking.

    Yeah, try that now.

  6. Ben said,

    on December 11th, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    Ironically in Britain, despite the outcry over speed cameras, speeding is widespread. A small number of fixed speed cameras, painted bright yellow and at well-publicised locations, are pretty much all the enforcement there is. Traffic policing is practically non-existent and It’s possible to get away with speeding pretty much anywhere over here, but heavy traffic often slows you down. New Zealand was a different story, with cop cars patrolling the open roads with cameras. The out-of-town driving was still fun, though, thanks to lots of twisty country roads which could be enjoyed below the speed limit. Now I’m considering emigrating to Australia, your story is putting me off. But then, I’m a cyclist as well, so maybe I should be glad the speed limits are enforced!

  7. Brett said,

    on December 12th, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Finally convinced my WRK bred friend (4 in a row now) to try my HQ race car at Oran Park. Imagine my suprise when he said that was the most fun he had nearly ever had in a car. Take it ot the track people and you don’t need money or horsepwoer to have fun.

  8. Tony Smyth said,

    on December 12th, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    In a car, I believe a minimum of 150kw (or 100kw per tonne – whichever is greater) is necessary for safe open road driving. That mainly being for safe overtaking.

    I don’t pay a great deal of attention to the open road speed limit, preferring to pay attention to the road and the conditions and set my speed accordingly. Still, the fear of some cop fulfilling a quota has me down around 10-20 over the limit most of the time.

    Roads like the Hume Hwy or Monaro Hwy from Canberra to Cooma are some of the most dangerous in my opinion because you are forced to spend far too much energy concentrating on not creeping up over the speed limit.

    I believe that the individual should still have the final choice as to how they travel – what they buy to drive (or ride), where they drive/ride and the speed at which they do so.

    Calls for speed (or power) limited vehicles miss the point in my opinion. Exceeding the speed limit is NOT the determining factor in the majority of accidents regardless of what the continually flawed statistical studies allow politicians to announce to the public. Support of the erroneous political crap from bodies such as the NRMA or motoring journalists will only further the cause of the politicians turning the country into a police state

    That said, I would be willing to accept the government legislating the loss of freedom of travel on the proviso that they build/implement excess public transport infrastructure. If they are not willing to do this I believe they are failing the people they are supposed to be representing

  9. Rick said,

    on December 12th, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Most of our roads are barely safe enough to drive on at the national limit, let alone higher. On the smooth freeways, it’s a different story but I think 130-140km/h is about the safe limit in Australia. Having come from the Northern Territory, most people that lived there never exceeded this as it just takes too much concentration to drive any faster for any length of time. The novelty of being able to do sustained high speeds soon wears off. Any modern car is capable of doing the national limit (and more) safely, regardless of power output. It seems pointless to continually increase the power of our local cars just for sales reasons. Yet the countries biggest selling car magazines routinely pay homage to the more power is better theory. A current issue has a HSV GTS with the 7 litre LS7 engine fitted. It has over 400kw. Where can you use this power safely? On a racetrack circuit due to it’s size and weight it would be overshadowed by most smaller cars with less than half that power. The only place you could use this power successfully is on a dragstrip, but then who is going to pay $115,000 for what is essentially a tarted up Commodore with a big engine and then proceed to thrash it?
    I do agree though, that apart from the lack of a speed limit, the best thing about the NT was the fact that you could settle down to a steady, comfortable speed and be able to concentrate on the road ahead without having to continually check your speedo to make sure you weren’t speeding.

  10. George Hawkins said,

    on December 13th, 2007 at 2:19 am

    More power has become a useless exercise. How about more articles on econo-racing? Finding the best combination of speed and fuel economy (and safety) would be a more interesting challenge, even on the track.

  11. Julian Edgar said,

    on December 13th, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Re ‘econo racing’ – I completely agree.

    A first step would be to impose small fuel tank size in all non-sprint races, so that fuel efficiency becomes as important as performance.

    More pits stops, more strategy, more excitement, more engineering…

  12. Chris said,

    on December 13th, 2007 at 9:16 am

    Tony Smythe: 100kW per tonne, are you for real? I have a 20 year old Citroen that weighs a tonne and has about 80kW. It’s fast enough to overtake lines of traffic, to accelerate past the speed limit uphill with four people aboard, to easily send me to prison if I hold it wide open past a speed camera. 100kW per tonne was the realm of serious performance machinery not so long ago.

    I have another car with 45kW per tonne, in which I’ve done many thousands of open-road kilometres, including passing a fair few cars that meet your horsepower criteria. I’m not dead yet. Even that car will reach go-directly-to-jail speed.

  13. Richard said,

    on December 13th, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    There are places where you can still enjoy driving. Alpine regions of NSW/Vic for instance.
    Unfortunately they are hundreds of kms from major cities.
    Actually, scrap that thought. Their isolation is excellent as it deters any bogans from going there an ruining it for everyone else.

  14. Tony Smyth said,

    on December 14th, 2007 at 6:48 am

    Chris, I am serious about 100kw per tonne. 80kw might be fine where you have 1 or 2 km in an overtaking lane or on a motorway to get the pass done but once you get onto single lane (each way) roads you need at least 100kw per tonne to get the pass done quickly and safely. I also ride motorcylcles (actually I ride more than I drive for numerous reasons) and the power to weight ratio of those machines makes overtaking a dream.

    Jump into a (run of the mill) commodore or falcon and you have to floor the thing to get it to kick back to third or second to give you the required acceleration to get past a slow moving truck. Small and medium cars are quite a lot worse – you take your life in your hands trying to overtake slow vehicles in anything other than a decent overtaking lane or a spot where you can see for kilometres (by which point you already have at least 3 or 4 other vehicles behind you also wanting to get past).

    Of course I could be influenced by the ease at which I can get out, past a slow vehicle and back safely in my lane from the km’s I have done on the bike.

    One final thing Chris: when quoting someone’s name, take the time to read how it is spelt

    I personally don’t see the need for much more than 250kw in a car but I don’t see the point in denegrating the choices of the public to own powerful cars that they can enjoy.

    Restricting the public is such a negative choice of action. Why not do something positive like increasing the ability of the road using public?

  15. Chris said,

    on December 14th, 2007 at 8:43 am

    Tony: Sorry about the name. Post in haste, repent at leisure.

    I don’t think I denigrated anyone’s choice, either. I do suspect you’re used to the paper kW that local manufacturers seem to employ, because I can assure you my 80kW car is not at all slow (partly because it has a torque curve that feels almost totally flat). 80kW is about 100hp in the old money. The old Falcon/Holden/Valiant sixes weren’t poking out much more than that, in big heavy bodies to boot, and no-one seriously called them slow.

    I learnt to drive in New Zealand, where a 2km straight section on a single-lane road is a luxury, let alone a proper passing lane. That makes me say that safe, effective passing is 90% technique and 10% power. Except on hills. Which Australia is not blessed with in abundance. Quite often I’ll be the only person in a line of traffic to take a passing opportunity, in my “slow” cars, with heaps of room to spare when I’m finished. I can’t remember the last time I had one car waiting behind me, let alone 3 or 4. I have had trouble getting back into lines of traffic, all happily tailgating while they wait for some magical passing lane signposted by a chorus of angels and flashing neon lights, down which they can use their 250kW go 109 km/h until they get past the car in front that’s going 108. Please excuse me if I sound cynical, but that’s my honest experience of the way people drive in Australia…

  16. Rick Miles said,

    on December 14th, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Quick reality check:- A speed limit is a number! Just a number… Sure, some qualified (hopefully) people sat down and decided that this particular number is the maximum safe speed for this particular piece of road, but it is still just a number. Thanks to the advances in technology over the last 20 years, we now can determine speed to well within 1km/h. The law makers have used this to their advantage and now we have been brainwashed into thinking that the difference between being a responsible driver (99km/h) and a darn near criminal (101km/h) is just a few ‘kays’ either way. It is completely unjust to force an intelligent human being to comply with such a number! This number never changes, it never discriminates. This number does not know the CURRENT road conditions. This number does not know if you are driving the latest in sports car technology, or a 30 year old truck hauling 40000kgs on re-treads with drum brakes. This number does not know your age, your driving experience or your level of alertness.

    We have been brain-washed into believing that we cannot safely make our own decisions. We are led to believe that the number is on our side and that if we put our lives into the hands of the number then we will be safe and can consider ourselves responsible motorists. Contrary to what the government keeps ramming down our throats, disobeying the number is NOT why we have so many deaths on our roads! Until the governments stop stuffing around with speed detection and start teaching people how to drive defensively then the crash statistics will continue to rise….

    If you don’t believe that you have been brainwashed, then ask yourself this:- When you drive into a school zone, do you a) keep a keen eye out for children? or b) quickly check your watch/clock and then your speedo? If you happen to have answered a) then congratulations! You may just avoid killing a child, but you also have a good chance of being rewarded with a speeding ticket.

  17. Ben said,

    on December 15th, 2007 at 4:26 am

    The cops should focus on ticketing dangerous drivers, and not their single-minded obsession with speed. In NZ speed ticketing is largely a cynical, target-driven exercise which in turn damages the overall relationship between the police and the public. Cops need to be allowed to exercise their own discertion when deciding who to ticket and why.

  18. Howard said,

    on December 16th, 2007 at 10:20 am

    It’s my own morbid personal belief that a certain amount of carnage on our roads is required. What more justification of over policing of speed limits, and so a significant amount of annual (and expected) revenue, do you need than rattling off the number of deaths and injury from vehicle related accidents?
    After all, if the government was legitimate about saving lives, then everyone who owns a licence would be required to undertake advanced and defensive driver training regardless of their age and/or driving experience. More money would be pumped back into fixing known dangerous roads (highway intersections on corners and near hills, etc.). Speed cameras wouldn’t be sitting on main roads where there is plenty of traffic, but there hasn’t ever been an accident that even resulted in even a minor injury.
    If you ever have a cop chace you down, ask them how come they can speed, and the inevitable answer is “I’m trained to be able to.”

  19. Darin said,

    on December 16th, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    I have some agreement with Howards comments. I live near some wonderfully windy roads and regularly take the opportunity to blast up and down them. I have some personal rules though, such as stay on my side of the road (amazing how many don’t!), max of about 120km/hr, lift off as soon as I see an oncoming vehicle and don’t go 10/10ths. I have fun and always go home before I’ve had enough. Once i’ve had a go I’m happy to putter along quietly (or even slower than) the rest of the traffic. I pick my time and place. However I’m seriously looking into some track time to really let it go.

    If a number of objects are moving around it is inevitable that one is going to run into another at some point. It’s not pretty but it’s true. No, I wouldn’t like to be in an accident either but this possibility is the price we pay for our mobility and the freedom that we all so dearly love. My concern is that, as a society we seem to be wanting to either ignore death or avoid it at any cost, with the result that we finding ourselves increasingly subject to restrictive laws(ie speed limits), that, as someone wrote earlier, assume the difference between a good and bad driver is a few kms an hour. I often wonder just how much more of this garbage we are going to take. So my little defiant act is to give it a quick squirt when and where I feel it ok!…and safely and sensibly enjoy those corners while I can!

  20. Matt said,

    on December 17th, 2007 at 12:33 am

    It would be good if they offered some kind of Advanced Drivers Licence that you could qualify for after ‘x’ many years without an accident and by doing some appropriate training that entitled you to either a percentage increase in the speed limit or some fixed number say 15km/h. Then good drivers would be rewarded for their driving and not be lulled into drowsiness by driving at speeds that are not even close to being challenging. The threat of losing their Advanced licence for speeding more than that or having an accident would probably mean that the higher speed drivers would keep to it so that they can keep the privilege.

    I cast my vote in for economy racing too. It could be a Le Mans style endurance race with points for number of laps and fuel efficiency or with a tank capacity limit as suggested.

  21. Richard said,

    on December 17th, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    RE: Eco Racing. If anyone has seen the latest Top Gear you would have seen their story on buying a secondhand BMW 3 series DIESEL and entering it in a 24hr endurance race.

    The fuel was bio-diesel and the car was setup for the race in 10days.
    They rationalised that the fewer fuel stops for the diesel car would outweigh any performance disadvantage. INterestingly there were other diesel cars entered in the race. So it seems that eco-racing is already out there.

  22. Lindsay said,

    on December 18th, 2007 at 5:48 am

    Here here for econo racing.
    I’m envisaging two types. Limited tank size enduro and limited fuel quantity sprints. I was just thinking that only having xx L of fuel to complete xx laps would be interesting. Maybe a little silly, but interesting.

    Earlier someone commented on the NZ police’s seemingly silly obsession with ticketing. My opinion. We have a law about speed. If you break that law, you should get a ticket. After all, you ARE breaking the law. While the obsession with speed does seem silly (driver error is more often the cause of “accidents”), it is a lot easier to police speed and stop the horrific indcidents, than to try and police actually driving “ability”.

    My opinion (again), people need to choose one of two things when it comes to road rules/driving. Complete an utter unwavering free will. Or no brainer “dictatorship”. Unfortunately, from what I see in my daily commutes, the driver skill out there leads toward needing the latter.
    Too many people making the wrong choices on the road.

  23. Roger said,

    on December 18th, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    What you are really scared of is getting caught. Roads havn’t changed. Ever thought of driving one way to check it out and back again having fun speeding.

  24. Lindsay said,

    on December 19th, 2007 at 5:57 am

    Being scared is a good deterrent for me. Stops me from being silly all the time. I think the risk of getting caught stops 90% of normal people from continual silly behaviour.

  25. Anton said,

    on January 3rd, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    I was in the central police station in Perth a few weeks ago to view a multinova photo of my car. While I was waiting to be called in there was a board in front of the seating area, it gave the road toll statistics. This year there had been 216 deaths, the same time last year was 185, the metro average was virtually the same (80 vs. 79) but there had been a lot more deaths in country areas.

    I live and work in Perth but every 2 months I will go down to Denmark/Albany at the bottom of western Australia. At the speed limit without stops this is roughly a 4 hour trip and only really goes through 3 towns, the rest is fairly open (but seldom straight) highway, single lanes each side with overtaking lanes irregularly placed.

    With my experiences of driving country roads every few months for the past 4 years I am really not suprised with the huge country road tolls. People really have no idea how to drive safely on highways.

    A classic example that I see the majority of cars doing is tailgating a truck in an attempt to be able to overtake. They are so close to the back of the vehicle in front of them that they cannot see past the front of the truck, occasionally pulling into the oncoming lane to check for traffic then quickly ducking back in when they realise a road train is coming.
    I have always belived that it is dangerous to overtake doing the speed limit unless your overtacking a tractor, being on the wrong side of the road for as little time as safely possible is how I approach overtaking and I have never had a close call. It doesn’t matter if I am driving my modified twin turbo 300ZX or my cousins high kilometer hyundai accent (I have done these trips in both) I have still been able to safely overtake by hanging back from the truck I’m looking to pass, then accelerating at full throttle coming up to a straigh, the distance you left between yourself and the truck allows you to accelerate up to a safe overtaking speed so you can perfom the manuver and get back into the left lane.

    I have always worried about getting caught at some of the overtaking speeds knowing that jail time could follow but thankfully I have been lucky and there are still a lot of police excercising discretion, accepting it was safe for the time, place and caliber of vehicle.

    The public perception that you are safe so long as you drink enought coffee and don’t exceed the speed limit is largely to blame for the tragic road toll. If we look to Italy of a few brave states in the US you can see how the “speed kills” mentality is so wrong. These places have increased the speed limit and quality of the road to find a definate drop in the road toll and accident level. One theory is that at higher speeds you require more concentration, this ensures the driver is focused, at 100/110 it is very easy to zone out and become complacent/ doze off.

    However it seems that driver education, other solutions and innovative thinking have all been placed in the “too hard” basket on the “doesn’t bring in revinue” desk.

  26. Richard said,

    on January 13th, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Anyone had a look at the NSW RTA site? They have started some advertising regarding more advanced riding (motorbike) skills.


    Look on the right menu for all the options.

    Perhaps the RTA (and other organisations) should start this for car drivers?

  27. Richard said,

    on January 13th, 2008 at 11:27 am

    And another RTA campaign that has been sent to riders and appears on billboards