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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

N-thusiast X-tinction Part 2

Look down at your center console (now at me, now back to your console...damn Old Spice commercials).  I bet there's at least 3 things that you notice right away.  There's the shifter, a cup holder probably, and the hand brake.  This last item goes by many names.  There's hand brake, parking brake, and emergency brake, or e-brake for short.  I've decided that e-brake will from now on mean "enthusiast brake."  Let me explain after the jump.
My Mazdaspeed 3

This is a picture of the three most important hand controls in a car.  The steering steers.  The shifter transmits power from the motor to the wheels.  For normal people, the e-brake prevents the car from aimlessly wandering into some negative circumstance.  However, the e-brake is an enthusiast's Leatherman multi-tool.

Now, I don't condone anything that I'm about to tell you.  I'm just saying that certain people do, in fact, use the e-brake for these reasons.  These might include e-brake drifts, j-turns, and front-wheel drive burnouts.

As enthusiasts, we are proud that we can make a car dance around corners and control its every movement.  The e-brake simply aids in the festivities.  Soon, these stop sticks will be replaced by something like this:
Audi parking brake
This parking brake is from an Audi A6, I believe (correct me if it's an A8).  Notice the "P" does not denote e-brake.  This is a parking brake.  This was not made for hoonage or rally techniques, contrary to Audi heritage.

As I stated in part 1, the art of driving is becoming less and less intimate.  Knowing the proper clutch and shift action for a car no longer matters.  Shifting is becoming automated with dual clutch, flappy paddle tomfoolery.  Add in the new EPA CAFE standards for increased fuel mileage and we have a perfect storm situation that can wash away all traces of analog car controls.
Mercedes E-Class
I know it's like beating a dead horse in this column but bear with me on transmissions for a bit.  

Automated manual transmissions use clutches instead of torque converters like in a normal automatic transmission.  Lexus and Mercedes use wet clutches in their automatics but that's a story for another time.  These automated manuals are getting to be more efficient than automatics because those liquid filled torque converters sap a lot of power just to get moving.  These transmissions can be moved around a lot more than a manual transmission due to solenoids controlling the driver/transmission interface instead of a mechanical linkage.  This means that the center console can be made smaller which in the case of the McLaren MP4-12C narrows the car to decrease weight and increase fuel efficiency.
Where does this leave the e-brake?  We might as well call it Bon Jovi 'cause it's living on a prayer now.  Cable linkages are becoming good buddies with the Dodo bird and e-brakes are turning into p-brakes, which sounds more like a panic stop during a road trip.  In which case, I don't want to be using that on a daily basis.

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