I was cruelly reminded of my age today. We’re 3 weeks into the fall semester, and as usual, campus is swarming with gorgeous young things who keep making me forget that most men my age have children older than that. The unusually hot weather has had a wonderful effect on their choice of attire. Cleavage is in this year. It’s enough to make a grown man cry. I’ll be lucky not to get arrested. And, considering that at least one of my regular readers has a daughter on campus, maybe I should stop now. But anyway, back to that age thing. It’s easy for a man in these surroundings to forget how old he is, only to be cruelly reminded. But surprisingly, today’s reminder actually had nothing to do with the swarms of teenage beauties that usually overwhelm my senses.
I was sitting at a stoplight on my way home, and I heard a throaty rumble from the next lane. I looked over and spotted an Olds Cutlass 442. It took me back to 6th grade, when a classmate’s brother had one. I remember him patiently explaining what “4-4-2” stood for: 4-on-the-floor, 4-barrel-carb, and 2 something. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what the 2 represented. (Thanks to WikiPedia, now I know it’s dual exhausts.)
It wasn’t my memory lapse on the 2 that made me feel old. Everybody forgets stuff occasionally. As I was appreciatively looking over the 442 (I figured that, unlike the human beauties, it wouldn’t mind me leering), I noticed the license plate: “KY Historic Motor Vehicle.” The hot cars of my youth now qualify for antique plates.
As someone who considers myself somewhat of a tree-hugger, I probably shouldn’t be so nostalgic about the demise of the gas guzzlers of yore. But it’s somewhat depressing to think there’s a generation that doesn’t even know what “big block” means. I remember a couple of years ago when I was buying some parts for my truck. When I told the young punk behind the counter it was a 1989 F250, he brightly inquired “5-liter engine?”. I said “No, 7.5 liter”. From the look on his face, I could tell he thought I didn’t know what I was talking about, because they didn’t make engines that big. (It probably would have totally confused him if I had said “460 cubic inches”. I don’t know whether the American manufacturers switched to metric displacements to sound European, or just to hide the fact that they were downsizing. Damnit, when that engine was built, no motorhead in ths country even knew what a liter was. And the 5-liter that the twerp thought was huge was just a good old 305.) But instead of being rude and challenging me, he just turned to his computer to let it humiliate me. He clicked on Ford; 1989; F250, and actually looked shocked when the engine choices popped up and there it was: 7.5 L. (I can’t remember whether or not it also indicated 460 c.i.)
As a tree-hugger AND a geek, rather than lamenting the demise of the big-block engines, I should probably be awed by the technology advances that have allowed engines to shrink while still producing the same power. And, if they managed to do with less fuel, I might really be impressed. But fuel efficiency ratings aren’t increasing; the new weenie engines are burning as much fuel as their brawny predecessors.
A while ago, I read about the design of a 1000-horsepower engine, and it was explained with some simple facts that had never occurred to me. Although I don’t remember the numbers, the concept was pretty basic. A gallon of gasoline contains a specific amount of potential energy. An internal combustion engine has an average fuel efficiency rating that requires it to burn X gallons of gasoline per hour to achieve a certain horsepower. It takes Y cubic feet of air to burn X gallons of gasoline, so you need to move that much fuel-air mixture through the engine in an hour. From there, it’s a simple calculation of displacement and RPM. To get more power out of a smaller displacement, you either need to burn the fuel more efficiently, or burn more of it. The design trend seems to be towards burning more, usually by spinning the engine faster to get more fuel-air through it in a given time. The Japanese are doing some neat stuff with variable valve timing and lift to spin those little engines faster and faster without the valves meeting the pistons. It really is neat, but they just don’t produce a sound that stirs one’s blood like the rumble of an idling big-block that redlines at an RPM level that I would consider a fast idle on my Celica.
Back to my youth, I remember when teenage males spoke in awed tones about the Ford 429 Police Interceptor. In popular legend, nobody had ever outrun a 429 Interceptor, though many had tried (and I once talked to a nostalgic retired cop who reminisced about his 429 and the Vette that put up a valiant effort through 3 counties at 140 mph). If you saw one of those behind you, you might as well pull over immediately, although it wasn’t always easy to distinguish a 429 Interceptor from the standard Ford Police Pursuit package, until the pursuit really got hot. But the 429 has gone the way of the dinosaur and the Olds 442. Ford still makes a vehicle they call an Interceptor. It’s the Police Edition of the Crown Vic. But instead of the mighty 360-horse 429 Interceptor engine, it boasts a 250-horse 4.6L flex-fuel engine. A wimpy green engine in a pursuit vehicle? Converting back from the evil metric system, 4.6 liters is approximately 281 cubic inches. I don’t know anybody who has tried to outrun one of today’s Wimperceptors, but I’ve certainly never heard anybody speak with reverence about a “281 Interceptor”.
Yes, I’m definitely getting old, and if I forget that tomorrow, I’ll probably be reminded by a few more looks of pity and/or disgust from tantalizing young co-eds.