Friday, May 7, 2010

V8 Lullabies

At the end of Thomas Harris’ book, The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling falls asleep leaning against a washing machine. Harris writes that the washing machine comforted Clarice because its sound was the closest thing to what we hear in the womb.

In my own experience as a father, I’ve learned that repetitive songs and sounds at bedtime have a soothing affect and help lull children to sleep. Those sounds carry with us into adulthood, and years later, have the same effect. To this day, the sound of a slow idling V8 engine is a lullaby for me.

In my youth, my dad had a 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass. It carried me home from the hospital after I was born. Years later it was my car in high school. It was a dilapidated old beast by the time I was sixteen, rusty, musty, and worn. It wasn't a 442 or Hurst like the one in the picture, just a common coupe with the 350 Rocket motor. But I didn't care. The beating of that V8 heart was magic to me and I'd drive around for hours, just listening to it.

As I write this, gas prices are creeping skyward towards three dollars a gallon. Car companies, including Ford and BMW, are building automobiles like the Mustang and M Series with smaller V6 engines. Most of these engines are fantastic. Advances in internal combustion are creating small displacement four and six cylinder engines which produce even greater horsepower than some of the recent V8s.

But something is lost in the translation, like watching a great foreign film with subtitles. You get the gist of it, but you miss some of the nuances.

V8s have been part of the automotive landscape since Ford rolled out their Flathead in 1932. Like Coke, rock 'n roll and apple pile, they are a staple of American culture. I doubt they'll ever go completely away, but the days of V8 powered sedans and SUVs may be coming to an end.

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