The Noisemakers

“You will thrill to the deepthroated power growl from its twin tailpipes. . . .”

“Its full-bodied exhaust note betokens the Hashing acceleration that is yours at a touch of the throttle. . . .”

True. All too true. Especially at 3 A.M. outside your open window in the summertime. What, wake you up? Sorry old man, but you must realize that the enthusiasts feel that the blare of a sports car’s exhaust is just as much fun as the rest of its performance, provided, of course, that the blare is loud enough. Bl-l-l-l-awp! Br-r-r-r-ap! Blip! Blipblip! Bl-aw-aw-aw-aw-aw. . . .

The well-appointed automobile of a half century ago came equipped with a muffler cutout, a pedaloperated device which opened the exhaust system somewhere between the manifold and the muffler and allowed the full noise output to be heard uninhibited. The unmuffled exhaust was believed to increase the power as well as please the owner. On Stutz cars, for example, the cutout was located at the elbow where the pipe joined the manifold, so that it directed the blast of the exhaust straight at the ground, which dusted things up powerfully on a dirt road; indeed, the Stutz cutout would raise a goodly cloud of dust even when the car was not in motion.

The use of cutouts was frowned on in built-up areas. Many cities prohibited their use. By 1920 most manufacturers were no longer supplying them as standard equipment. A state law in New York prohibited the existence of a cutout on motorcycles, quite without regard to whether or not the cutout was used. But even motor scooters scream out more noise today than a seventyfour-inch Harley or Indian used to make, while the high-powered imports from England, Germany, and Japan sound impressively like a jet passenger liner on its takeoff.

Conspicuous among today’s noisemakers are the small, neat, more or less fraudulent sports cars, which offset their lack of performance by an extra output of decibels. These cars are relatively inexpensive and consequently numerous, and their owners seem to be revenging themselves for having bought a lemon by trying to sound like a chain saw. Anyone who has shared one of their jolting rides, with cheap American cars outjumping them at all the stops, can understand the depth of their owners’ chagrin.

Immunity from police remonstrance, in the matter of excessive noise, now depends on what the car looks like and how many passengers it carries. The driver of a Buick or a Chrysler sedan, for example, whose leaky muffler is causing a bit of a clatter, is ticketed in short order. But, sufficient to drown out the noise of a dozen like this temporary and perhaps unintentional miscreant, the sports car’s uproar seems to fall gratefully on the ears of the law.

What the noncombatant would like to know, as the enthusiasts go whomping about the quiet night streets, is who determines the quotient of exhaust noise? Why has A the right to be much louder than B? Sleepers in metropolitan areas have long since built into their dreams the whines and groans of the buses beneath their windows. Their other choice is not to live on a bus line. But the exhaust blipper sticks to no route: if he misses you in town, he is just as likely to rip past your little retreat in the country and wake you up, usually at 3 A.M.