Saturday, April 6, 2013

A pleasant drive spoiled

I'm a film fan. I watch so many films that I am almost naturally endowed with a sharp eye for scenes, settings, sound - name your obscure cinematic trope, I can bend your ear about it over a fancy coffee. So I should be the right guy to whip up a snazzy video documentary on a classic American sports car.

Well, it turns out I am as snazzy at film-making as my buddy J, an avid watcher of sports on TV, is at sinking baskets from the free throw line while sitting on his living-room couch. But Carey did suggest I should share the homely results, about which my mother has been the only person to say something nice. "Those trees - so pretty in the fall!"

I am following Carey's advice in the hope that someone else will pick up the torch and film their Bearcat or Hawk or Bantam on the road. The bar has not been set too high.

I posted a few comments about the process and results on YouTube and will repeat them here:

Taking a 1980s Blakely Bernardi sports car out for the last drive of the year. This model has a Ford Mustang 302 V8, Holley carbureted, with dual exhausts. Dry weight of the car is about 2,000 pounds so it performs adequately even considering its age. For the interested, Wikipedia has more details.

Using a pocket DV camera with forward-facing microphones made wind noise a bit of a problem in the open cab, so the engine sounds were mostly distorted or drowned out. In audio processing an aggressive EQ was used to curb the pops and crackles and sadly little is left to hear. To fill in the audio, we added a take from an earlier cigar-box amplifier jam. It was just the right length, though perhaps not quite the classic soundtrack of our dreams.

While making excuses, we should note that some part of the video processing chain changed the original video aspect ratio from 16:9 (1.77:1) to about 16:12 (1.33:1) and introduced the black bars to right and left. A day or two of naive debugging failed to fix it. As a result, the car (and everything else, but most annoyingly the car) look about 30% narrower left-to-right than they should - more Tonka than Testarossa. The still photos at the beginning of the video have the correct proportions, though, and give some sense of how low the car actually is. I can clean loose ash off a cigar using the ground beside the driver's door - without opening the door.

Cars like these are a real throwback, and in more ways than one. I've had a couple of experienced motor folk comment just on the odor of the car. A rich bouquet of complex hydrocarbons exits from under the hood when it's running, including an occasional whiff of gasoline, a little heated engine oil, faint traces of carburetor cleaner, hot hoses, engine detergent, and other unusual taints we rarely come across these days. It seems an odd thing to notice, but it's very nostalgic to those who grew up with a car tinkerer in the family - it's the smell of an active garage.

Other old-school remnants are not so pleasant. It lacks a radio, much less an MP3 docking station. Its finish is old and seems to require three time the polishing of a recent car just to look somewhat weathered. It makes many noises: creaks, rattles, squeaks, rumbles, whines. Most are thankfully drowned by the engine and exhaust, but all of them are either annoying or actively frightening to a modern car owner.

But these annoyances vanish when actually driving it. It fears few (certainly no Boxster) in a straight run, it hugs the winding road, it makes a glorious noise - you don't need these experiences every day of your life, but it is a great comfort to know they are there when you're ready for them. Don't take our word for it. Get out and hug a classic car, or at least the driver, and take a spin yourself.

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