Left foot braking

Posted on September 14th, 2007 in Handling,Opinion,Safety,Suspension,Tyres by Julian Edgar

brake.jpgWhen you were taught to drive I’d wager 10:1 that no-one ever said anything about left-foot braking. The left foot was for the clutch, or in an auto car, for bracing yourself when cornering. (The driving instructor never said anything about that either? Oh well.)

I first started left-foot braking about 15 years ago. After reading a story on RWD handling that described left-foot braking, I decided to have a go. The first thing that I found was that after years of accelerator operation, my right foot had developed a super sensitivity – but my left foot was used to only operating the clutch. Left foot braking therefore resulted in a crick in the neck, until I learnt some sensitivity with that foot as well!

The worth was proved when I found myself pedalling a loan car, one that handled like it was shod with 75 series rubber pumped up to 20 psi.  The auto car had chronic understeer, but – much to my surprise – I found that it could be largely cancelled-out with a dab or two of left foot braking.

What makes a car a pleasure

Posted on August 27th, 2007 in Handling,Opinion,Suspension by Julian Edgar

evo-lancer.jpgThe email was short and simple: Julian – From all your driving experience can you describe which (one) characteristic makes driving a pleasure?

I assume that the writer means which one characteristic of the car – and that’s a bloody good question.  

Where modified cars should be going…

Posted on August 24th, 2007 in Driving Emotion,Economy,Handling,Opinion,Power,Technologies,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

The other day a reader wrote in, saying how he was disappointed with AutoSpeed. Amongst other things, he said that there were plenty more powerful modified cars around than those we are featuring – all we had to do was attend some dyno days and go to the drags.

That we are no longer particularly interested in featuring typical straight-line drag cars, and typical horsepower dyno hero cars, hadn’t occurred to him.

I told him in my reply that AutoSpeed was (and is) changing in editorial direction; if he liked the Australian magazine Street Machine (he’d said in a previous email he did) I thought it very unlikely that he would like AutoSpeed, both now and in the future. Therefore, it would seem best that he stop reading AutoSpeed, rather than just go on being frustrated with us.

[Incidentally, this idea that if you don’t like us, don’t read us, seems to offend people. But to me it makes perfect sense: what’s the alternative – I encourage those readers to persevere, even though I know they won’t like what is coming up? To me that seems completely hypocritical.]

Anyway, I was reflecting on the reader’s comments, especially in the implication that more power is good – and even more power is therefore better. As I’ve stated previously, I think that many modified cars in Australia are heading in completely the wrong direction – they’re huge, hugely heavy, and hugely powerful. But rather than put this so negatively, let’s look at the issue more proactively. What makes for a good modified car? (And so, one that we’d be delighted to feature?)

Three wheels and a helluva lot of fun

Posted on July 31st, 2007 in Aerodynamics,Economy,Handling,Opinion,Power,Suspension by Julian Edgar

As I write I’m getting over a cold. I am well enough to be mobile but not well enough to work. Well, that’s what I tell myself anyway.  

As many of you will know, I am becoming more and more interested in lightweight vehicles. One of my cars is a Honda Insight – amongst the lightest of all production cars on the road – and I find the downsides of its design usually quite minor. (If I need to carry more than two people, I take Frank the Falcon.)  

Now the Honda might be light, but it still has four wheels when surely three would be enough. Using a tadpole configuration (two front wheels and one rear) would also allow the car to be nicely streamlined, something that would be helped by a front mount engine and front wheel drive. That way, the classic teardrop shape for low aero drag would be much easier to implement.  

The starting point for such a car would be a FWD half-cut, say a Mira or Suzuki 660cc 3 cylinder turbo. Use the complete driveline, subframe, steering and front suspension and brakes, add on a tube frame chassis and then run the single rear wheel and suspension from a motorbike.  

Rear wheel drive can be dangerous

Posted on May 19th, 2007 in Handling,Opinion,Suspension by Julian Edgar

108569_7mg.jpgI think this (apparently uniquely Australian) idea that big family cars need to be rear wheel drive is simply rubbish. You hear it all the time – rear wheel drive is best for towing, rear wheel drive is best for handling, rear wheel drive is somehow hugely superior over front wheel drive. Well, apparently it is for the macho Australian male, anyway.

From the day I first bought a car I have never been a believer in the philosophy; in the time since I’ve owned rear wheel drive, four wheel drive and front wheel drive cars – and I have remained unconvinced. In fact, if anything, I think I am leaning heavily in the direction that rear wheel drive, without traction control (or better still, stability control) is potentially bloody dangerous.

Today is a perfect example. I’d bought a big workbench on eBay – and this morning I had to go pick it up. The thing is enormous – much too big to fit on my normal 6 x 4 trailer. So I organised the hire of a car carrying trailer. When the alarm went off at 5.45 am (pick-up was set for 8 am) I awoke, listened for a moment, and then my heart sank.

It was raining.

I needed to go down the narrow, tortuous road from the mountain on which I live, pick up the huge trailer, then drive straight back up the mountain, descending the other side on an even tighter, narrower road. All in Frank the EF Falcon, a car which even without a trailer hooked on the back, power oversteers around these wet and slippery corners even when you’re trying to drive gently. Perhaps it’s the tyres – and the rears are certainly down in tread although still quite legal – or perhaps it’s the sheer torque and throttle response of the 5-speed manual Falc. But either way, it’s a car that in the wet needs to be treated with an incredibly judicious right foot. Even when you’re not towing a huge trailer with a 300kg workbench strapped to it.

Going the wrong way in the ride/handling compromise

Posted on March 10th, 2007 in Handling,Opinion,Suspension by Julian Edgar

Click for larger image There are a few ways of regarding the comments I am about to write. One perspective is that they’re the ramblings of an old, out of touch man who prefers comfort to handling. Another is that I am stuck in the past, ignoring the advances that are self-evident – well, to all but apparently me.

But I think that most car manufacturers are on the wrong track with their current ride/handling compromise.

Having a car that handles competently is important. No one wants to see people spear off the road when they make a minor error; no one wants to see new cars being sold that squeal and wail and wallow their way around corners. But the opposite extreme – cars that are built to handle road conditions and driving behaviour that nearly all will simply never see – is almost as silly. Why? Well, every time you’re in a car, you’re being subjected to its ride – whether that’s good, bad or awful. And while it may be possible to produce cars that both handle and ride well, in the vast majority of production cars, better handling means a worse ride.

Race and road car suspensions

Posted on July 30th, 2006 in Handling,Opinion,Suspension by Julian Edgar

I don’t claim to be well versed in race car driving, although I’ve driven a production race car for a few laps of a circuit and I’ve driven road cars on skidpans and race tracks and at manufacturers’ proving grounds.

Conversely, I have driven probably about half a million kilometres on roads. Like you probably also have, I’ve driven on smooth freeways, on rutted dirt, on gravel and patched bitumen, and roads with corners and roads with straights. Roads with hills; roads that are flat. Roads with lots of traffic; roads with none. Roads that are easy; roads that throw corners and dips at you with startling, frightening suddenness.

And I know that the most common attribute of roads is their inconsistency. Not only do roads suddenly change as you progress along them, but the same road can have an utterly different character if the weather or traffic change.

The times that I have been on racetracks have shown me one thing: their variability is simply vastly less than roads. Yes, there can be changes in weather and traffic, but you don’t usually need to be wary of cars coming the other way, cars that might cross the centreline, for example. You don’t need to wonder where the next corner goes and – after one lap – you don’t need to worry if the surface has deteriorated overnight, or an errant truck has sprinkled gravel or diesel across your path.

And roads have bumps, lots of bumps. You need only watch racing cars on street circuits to see how smooth the tracks they drive on usually are. Even the groomed-for-racing street circuit looks bumpy when being traversed by racing cars; a road car barely notices.