Follow the "Editors' Columns" link on the sportcompactcarweb.com site and you'll find a baby-faced picture of me crouching next to an Integra Type R. The Type R just happened to be the coolest car in the parking lot that day in October 1997, the month I wrote my first "Technobabble." That was the month I unwittingly started work on my master's degree in Geek.
The original idea was simple. There were too many interesting details about the cars we were featuring to fit into the inanely shallow feature story format that is the staple of the enthusiast magazine business. "Technobabble" would give those details a place where I could explore them further and let geeks like me revel in the infinite minutiae that turns dinosaur slime into tire smoke.
That first story was supposed to be simple. During the testing and photo session of his supercharged del Sol, Oscar Jackson had been running his mouth virtually nonstop. Being connected to Oscar's brain, a lot of good information came out of that mouth. I decided to take some details about optimizing valve timing for supercharging that he'd been rambling on about, and turn them into a story.
Problem was, when I actually sat down to write it, I realized I didn't understand it as well as I had thought. The hours of phone calls that followed taught me a lot.That pattern repeated itself every subsequent month. Each time, I'd generate another seemingly simple story idea and end up beating my head against something I didn't understand as well as I thought.
My eight-year master's thesis in geekitude is spread across 94 issues of this venerable tome, and it's finally time I wrap it up with a pretty little abstract and put a bow on top.
Abstract* Supercharged engines need less valve overlap. The same is usually true of turbocharged engines too, but for different reasons.
* Dynojets are pretty consistent, but not if their operators are either devious or dipshits, or both.
* Most cars will go 63 mph in second gear.
* Yttrium is a real element and there's a factory in Germany mixing it into spark plug electrodes.
* All-wheel drive takes many forms and not all of them will make your car handle better.
* Hydrocharging is a cool idea, but you're no more likely to find a hydrocharger under your hood now than you were in April 1999 when I first wrote about it.
* Accelerating a pound of wheel weight is like accelerating about 1.5 pounds on your chassis. Accelerating a pound of tire weight is like accelerating 2 pounds on your chassis. Accelerating a pound of flywheel weight is like accelerating as much as 30 pounds on your chassis, depending on what gear you're in.
* Don't let the above convince you heavy wheels are OK, though. Heavy wheels are hard to keep on the ground on bumps, and keeping your tires on the ground is really important for handling.
* The imaginary point where the steering axis intersects the ground is mine. Hands off. The distance from this Dave Point to the center of the contact patch is called the scrub radius, and whoever designed your car probably did a pretty good job deciding how big the scrub radius should be. When you put on your fat tires, keeping the offset of your new wheels close to the offset of the stock ones will minimize changes in scrub radius. This, in turn, will minimize torque steer on front drivers, and brake steer on anything.
* A momentum limit would be much cooler than a speed limit.
* Variable compression engines would be cool too, but they only exist in the same parallel universe that houses all the hydrochargers.
* Anti-roll bar stiffness increases with the fourth power of the bar diameter (double the diameter, and the stiffness goes up 1600 percent) and decreases with the square of the arm length (make the arm half as long and the bar will be 400 percent stiffer).
* Power at the wheels is all that really matters. But since you'll still want to calculate crank horsepower, try 17 percent power loss for a rear-drive car and 12 percent for a front-driver, assuming you use a Dynojet to measure wheel power. All-wheel drive is anyone's guess. There are too many different kinds of all-wheel drive dynos and too many kinds of all-wheel drive systems to make up arbitrary numbers like I did with two-wheel drive.
* The Tornado doesn't work.
* Your suspension will only work right if it doesn't bottom out in corners. Don't lower it so much.
* One monkeypower is equal to 0.332 hp.
* You can do anything if you find the right hardware store.
* A bigger master cylinder will make your brake pedal firmer.
* A smaller piston in your caliper will do the same thing.
* If you're trying to calculate the clamping force of an opposed-piston brake caliper, multiply brake fluid pressure times the area of all the pistons. If you're trying to do the same with a sliding caliper, multiply fluid pressure times TWICE the area of all the pistons. This works because the back of the cylinder slides and applies force to the brake pads just like the piston does.
* Bigger brakes won't necessarily make your car stop any shorter. Good brake balance, good tires, a good suspension, minimal camber, and, of course, ABS, will.
* Getting good tires is the second most effective thing you can do to improve handling.
* Learning to drive is the first.
* Air springs are way too progressive.
* Tuning shocks is voodoo.
* In eight and a half years at this magazine, I've only met three people I would trust to tune my car. They are Shiv Pathak at Vishnu Performance Systems, Clark Steppler at Jim Wolf Technology and Eric Hsu at XS Engineering.
* Bigger isn't better.
* You don't even get a plaque when there's a critical point in steering geometry named after you.
* Shiny paint is for sissies.
* Making power at redline doesn't make your car faster, making more power at whatever rpm you're at now does.
* To figure out the best shift point, just find the point where the power in one gear equals the power in the next gear. Since that almost never happens, just take it to redline.
* Electronic throttles are a pain in the ass.
* Putting a heat shield on your bumper to prevent a fire makes you a riceboy. Putting a heat shield on your bumper to prevent a second fire makes you a badass.
Right next to "What's your favorite car?" on the list of impossible questions I am asked every week, is this one: "What book can I read/class can I take/school can I attend to learn all the stuff you know about cars?"
I actually answer some of the inane e-mails I get asking about engine swapping in Jamaican Galants, the mathematics of dyno testing, or turbine-powered Muranos, but when I get the sincere pleas for life-changing advice on career choices, education and the pursuit of knowledge, I'm inevitably stumped. Based on my experience, the best I can come up with is this: Don't read a book, write one.
I'll try that next; maybe this will be my Ph.D.