I failed my first test in a long time last week. In school, I’ll admit, I haven’t been the best student, but I generally managed to pass my classes. This week, however, I failed a pretty basic test. Despite all my preparations, my new car failed an inspection and it was completely on me. You see, the car inspections in my state are pretty basic. Other than an emissions test and a quick visual exam, the inspectors don’t really look for anything else. Except, as I would learn the hard way, the muffler.
The rules didn’t mention any noise limit on my exhaust, so naturally, I rolled up to the inspection center with a loud straight-piped exhaust. I should have given the rulebook another read, though, because the rules definitely mentioned that the car must have a muffler — any muffler — on. I was right about the noise limits, but made a critical error with my exhaust. I scrambled to find a stock muffler, but I eventually got it inspected again and this time, it passed, thankfully.
I bought my car at the beginning of February, but because of all of these inspection shenanigans, I haven’t actually driven it until the last week of February. And because I couldn’t actually drive the car, I would go down to the garage every day, sit in it, fire up the engine and fiddle with all the controls while I let the engine warm-up. I could already imagine bombing down some twisty back roads in it, but as soon as I got it back with the stock muffler on, some of that magic was instantly gone. Compared to the straight-piped monster, the stock muffler made it sound like an economy hatchback. Granted, I’m sure I would have found the straight pipe exhaust to be an annoyance on the highway, but the stock muffler takes away so much from the driving experience for me. The car handles like it is on rails and it also offers an open-top experience — which I can’t experience in freezing temperatures – but without a throaty growl from its engine, the experience feels like a soda without the bubbles.
Just imagine, if this is the case with an older convertible, with very little sound deadening between the passenger compartment and the outside world, what chance does a modern sports car have? It’s hard enough to hear the engine through emissions control systems, but modern sound-proofing makes it damn-near impossible for engine noise to make it into the cabin. After seeing how much of a role the sound played in my driving enjoyment, I can see why some manufacturers choose to pipe-in fake exhaust sound through the speakers. I still don’t like the idea, but I can see how it could help lift an otherwise mediocre driving experience.
A few years ago, I bought a Fiat 500 Abarth, without even driving it, really. I heard it start on a cold morning and I was hooked. The Abarth comes to life with its rowdy exhaust note, with just a hint of turbo whistle, and it makes every drive an occasion. There were many things wrong with that car, but one blip of the throttle and all of those flaws melted away. Now, I will definitely get a sportier exhaust on this car, it won’t be as loud as a straight-piped exhaust, but the engine’s presence will definitely be felt in the passenger compartment. And until then, I will drive with the top down, even in freezing temperatures, just to hear the faint notes of the engine hitting its 8000 rpm redline.