By on May 26, 2016

 

car exhuast. shutterstock user cla78

Dan writes:

I was hoping you might do an article on the lost art of exhaust tuning.

I feel like the norm these days in anything sporty is to just make it as loud as possible with an obnoxious rumble and perpetual popping/crackling. I really miss the exhaust sounds of 10-15 years ago that were quite distinct and matched the car; the one that comes to mind (and still sounds great) is that of the original Infiniti G35 coupe/Nissan 350Z. It was refined yet had a nice wail to it when you added enough throttle. Nowadays, I hear a Jaguar F-Type driving past and it sounds like an old beater Mustang with a straight-pipe exhaust, not a $100,000 car.

Have manufacturers gotten lazy, or has this notion of obnoxious exhausts just become the new norm?

Sajeev answers:

Somewhere out there an exhaust design engineer for a major OEM just popped a head gasket. One reason is because that VQ in the original G35 was good for, what, 260 horsepower?

That’s eight ponies less than a current Camry V6! Here’s the thing: internal combustion engines are just air pumps. And we all love how today’s air pumps make so much horsepower, right?

Suck. Squeeze. Bang. Blow.

This isn’t a double entendre (for now) because it explains how a four-cycle engine motivates your ride. And that bang part? It’s gonna rumble in vehicles outside of the premium/luxury category making Camry-V6-a-like horsepower per liter numbers, hence why I previously mentioned today’s factory mufflers as the best aftermarket alternative for older vehicles looking for a mild audio and/or performance boost for dirt cheap … or free!

That said, I like the rumble of damn near every new hi-po engine I meet: even today’s 74-hp Mitsubishi Mirage sounds waaaaay cooler than yesteryear’s 55-hp Geo Metro.

And while the Mirage is no Mustang, no Jaguar, etc., it proves automakers are allowing mechanical sounds without resorting to the stereotypical 2-chamber muffler sound of many aftermarket alternatives. That said, sound quality and decibel level are a direct reflection of how that snail-looking thing in your skull is tuned, or your mood or level of concentration if this report has any merit.

So perhaps it’s best to agree to disagree.

[Image: Shutterstock user cla78]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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63 Comments on “Piston Slap: BANG! The Lost Art of Exhaust Tuning?...”


  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’ve been contemplating redoing the exhaust on the Land Ark for a few years now. I used to love that it was super loud. You can hear it coming for blocks away. It’s not powerful, just loud.
    Now that I’m an old man, my plan is to try to get it back to closer to stock sound. Cars from the 60s had a nice factory sound. Grumbling rather than rumbling.

    The factory exhaust on my GTO is also great. It’s loud enough when I want it to be and quiet when I’m trying to get out of my neighborhood to work at 6:15am.

    There’s a guy who lives behind me that has a Civic and his exhaust is SO loud – he got it about a month ago. I want to let him know that even as an enthusiast, I have to tell him his exhaust is obnoxious and no one appreciates it. This is definitely a very different time in my life.

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      “Cars from the 60s had a nice factory sound. Grumbling rather than rumbling.”

      It’s one of the qualities that makes vintage American iron endearing – a “polite cough” from an idling 440 or the lifter symphony from an LS5. That said, the Ford FE block, with its unique firing order, still remains my favorite.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Long live the ‘turbo’ muffler!

        The induction noise of a quadrajet opened up with the air cleaner lid flipped over was pretty awesome as well. In the summertime I used to flip the lid on my 1969 Cadillac ambulance air cleaner (stock air intake as I needed the hot air system in the wintertime).

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        How about the distinct note of an Oldsmobile Rocket V8? More distinct than a Chevy small-block! Back when each division made its own engines, I’ll bet you could tell a Buick from a Poncho, as well!

  • avatar
    JimZ

    It’s become the new norm, not a lost art. At least in some circles. Judging by what I see on Mustang forums, “as loud as possible” is the usual goal. I cringe when I see some dumb kid ask or talk about his catless X-pipe and muffler deletes.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      Around here, we call them “Police Magnets”… And yes, they are dumb. One of the goals of driving a somewhat fast car is to avoid contact with law enforcement as much as possible. A loud muffler gives the PD reason to pull one over. Lowering a car, adding aftermarket spoilers, lighted windshield nozzles, deep dish chrome rims (made in China), and fake HIDs make the PD want to pull you over even more. And the exhaust gives them just cause.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      I think the factory 5.0 Mustang is the best sounding non-exotic since 1972. Why anyone would want to mess with that is beyond me.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I do like to hear a nice, mellow throaty exhaust, but there’s no need for a street car to be loud, that’s just intrusive. Save the loud pipes for the racetrack.

  • avatar
    FOG

    Hey sir, nice concise response. Thank you.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    Certain engine designs are more melodious than others. Straight six, 60 degree V12 or V6, flat crank V8 yes; high displacement I4 or flat 4, not so much.
    Helpful: high CR, IRTB, high rpm, with a properly tuned header (a relative rarity with light-off cats that are sometimes inches from the exhaust ports, with crimped, narrow primaries).

  • avatar
    Waterview

    Fully agree with Sajeev. I can’t think of a time when exhaust notes (collectively) have sounded better. I remember a time when it was simply about being loud (not a good thing). The new stuff has clearly benefited from engineering.

  • avatar
    raph

    Many people like that pop and crackle as the engine deaccelerates and air is pulled back through the exhaust burning what combustible material is left.

    As for Mustangs they lost that great sound when Ford had to move the mufflers from under the seat to the rear of the car and just don’t seem to work as well with chambered mufflers and an H-pipe like they used to.

    IMO a good sound can still be had with an X-pipe and a perforated core muffler that isn’t chambered.

    I also find Ford’s engines just sound better in general ( a result I suppose of the firing order and cam timing ) compared to thier cross town rival. By and large the LS/LT motors just aren’t as pleasing to hear in most cases. Every once and awhile the Brand-X crowd can cobble a nice sounding system together but for the most part they sound like a cat that just got its foot smashed by a,tire right as its about to get sucked into the wheel on the way to greasing the caliper and rotor up with slimy cat guts.

    • 0 avatar
      LS1Fan

      ??!

      Chevy small blocks are some of the best sounding stock motors on the market. 99-02 F cars probably had the best factory exhaust sound you could buy on a middle class salary.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        We’ll have to agree to disagree. The 4th Gen cars weren’t to bad ( probably as a result of running single exhuast ) but I’ve never come across many LS cars that didn’t sound like somebody handed a chimp a bag of rocks ando a trashcan.

        Honestly the best sounding LS system I’ve heard for the Camaro at least involved Stainless Works full exhuast ( long rubes, x-pipe/h-pipe and retro chambered mufflers ).

        Now classic SBC though ( including early ought LT1 and LT4 ) was a good soundingredients engine.

        For the current generation the ZL1 sounds like it’s gonna be pretty good but I’ll wait until I catch one in the wild.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      The Hemi is the best sounding truck V8 though.

    • 0 avatar
      montecarl

      I think the eighty’s 5.0 Mustangs had one of the best factory exhaust sound/ tune.

      • 0 avatar
        sfvarholy

        Disagree. The GM Big-Block 454 had the best exhaust note at idle: bleedy bladdy blootie… bleedy bladdy blootie…

        Although the 5.0 certainly is noteworthy.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      Now I know what happened to my neighbor’s cat!

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Loud Cars!

    For When BO and Rotting Teeth Just Aren’t Enough!

    Got It?!

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    I hardly ever hear loud cars that can rev. Fartcan Civics sound like tractor trailers hauling a full load up a mountain pass.

    Even with bikes, the general rule is “the louder it runs, the slower it revs.”
    A stock MV sounds like a dentist’s drill revving-up, whereas a straight-pipe Harley is like a jackhammer.

    Are loud-cars slow because they’ve ruined any sort of exhaust tuning, or do their driver keep them at 2-3000 RPM for other reasons?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “loud” and “fast” have nothing inherent to do with each other.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      I think it’s pain avoidance. I was just around a resonators only audi rs product and it was disturbingly sexy sounding but loud. It clearly lost nothing performance wise.

      There’s a difference though between spending miltek money and choosing the loudest option and buying cheap generic exhaust components and slapping them on an economy car with a small simple engine.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    If you go back to the Malaise Era, car exhaust systems sounded about as exciting as the cars themselves. Imagine the excitement when the Fox body Mustangs brought back exhaust gas burble. It was as if the clock was going back to the good old days. Add in the resonant effect of the muffler placement in the car and you could argue that exhaust nirvana was restored. Fast forward to today, and now loud is the name of the game. In classic American fashion, if two aspirin are good, surely six must be better.

    Preference seems to be based on what you grew up with. I, for one, love the sound of a pushrod V8. Unlike raph above, I think the LS/LT engines sound superb depending on the system installed. My friend’s LS Camaro sounds too quiet; my LT1 running with the adjustable exhaust sounds superb. I don’t like the sound of fart can 4 cylinders at all. I have noticed a pattern of certain makes being molested into noise machines. Funny the things you notice when stuck in traffic for hours at a time. If you hear an obnoxiously loud car and then smell it, a Civic with carbon staining on the exhaust and bumper is surely nearby. Not that I’m complaining; I’d rather put up with the occasionally noisy car than banning the modification of exhaust systems, just do the right thing and leave the cats in please. Bragging rights aside, a modern cat has virtually no hp loss.

  • avatar
    JimInRadfordVA

    I can tell a Fox-body or SN95 Mustang from a mile away. They all sound the same. Some F150’s are close.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Sure there’s still exhaust tuning – they’re called “fart cans”.

    I have to say however, that my 3.6L in the Impala is pretty quiet, but when I decide to stomp on it, the traditional Chevy exhaust note is still there. Music to my old ears!

    All Fords sound like blowing bubbles underwater.

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      Yes! This! The underwater sound of chambered exhaust absolutely drives me crazy. I hear this most often from the bolt-on pony car crowd, but it pops up everywhere.

      I hate it with the passion of Sofia Vergara negotiating prices on high heel shoes in her native tongue at an open-air Columbian market. I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. It hath consumed me.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Most of the new cars sound good except Mercedes. They sound like crap compared to what they used to sound like. They are just flat with no harmonics or ear pleasing tones. They are almost like a 1980’s video game that lacks the auditory depth.

    The FE in a Cobra with side pipes, not street exhaust, is still one of the best as well as the Ferrari 365 GTB/GTS. The GTS is also one of the best looking cars from the old days.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      I *like* the sound of a Mercedes AMG big block supercharged motor at WOT. It’s not GAU-8 level god of thunder noise, but it’s definitely got a seat at the table. Every time I hear one I smile a little because a consumer has been given a toy that makes that much ruckus.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      The Mercedes-Benz V6 is one of the worst-sounding V6s ever.

      But most people seem to like the sound of the AMG V8s.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I disagree about inline 4s necessarily sounding unpleasant. I recently drove a totally stock 1.6L Miata (1991) and it sounded very nice. I recall reading how Mazda engineers spent a lot of time trying to get the exhaust note right on that car. It had a nice and relatively deep note but not too loud. Old Saab 900 Turbos were another favorite of mine that sounded amazing, too.

    On another (and more current) extreme, if you haven’t driven a Fiat 500 Abarth, you should. The exhaust tuning on that thing is worth the price of admission on its own. It’s definitely louder than we’re normally used to on factory-original cars but at cruising speeds doesn’t produce any annoying resonance. I wonder if the new 124 Spider with the same 1.4 Turbo will sound as nice. If so, that will definitely differentiate it from the Miata a bit more.

    I recently bought a 1996 Nissan 300ZX, non-turbo. It came to me with an aftermarket exhaust that has a great sound around town (mellow and deep) but it has a horrible resonance at certain RPMs that gives me a headache. As a result, I drive it a gear lower than I normally would to get the revs up and out of the resonance zone. The aftermarket stuff generally just gets loud without the level of finesse that factory engineers put into it. A friend has a similar Z32 Nissan with original exhaust and it sounds much more refined in comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      I agree about the Abarth. I roll down my window every time I see one coming the other way.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        The exhaust of the Dart 1.4t is the thing that tipped me past ‘meh’ and had me take it home. That engine makes a pretty sound– with a little massaging(Europe has done all the work already– it’s like buying upgrades at the thrift store) it really comes alive.

        It’s an enjoyable little boat anchor.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Had it not been for hauling 50+ lbs rescue dogs (or multiples of) and recently adopting my 10-year old niece, I was very close to buying the Abarth on nearly the sound of the exhaust alone. I think the dealer that went on my first test drive of the wee beastie got tired of me rolling down the window at every underpass (and I found many of them to drive through!).

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        threeer, this is by no means a good idea, but even the Fiat 500L sounds a bit like an Abarth on Xanax (and would undoubtedly get very close uncorked). It’d be close to a useable size, but then you’d be stuck with an FCA product that clearly has a thyroid problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      The 1.6 non-turbo in the previous-gen Mini makes a terrific growl above 4000 rpm.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      The NC Miata on the other hand doesn’t sound very good. I find that it’s even harder to find a good sounding exhaust for it.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      I normally am not a fan of 4 cylinders, but I love the sound my Abarth makes. I keep waiting for it to get old or seem gimmicky but it’s still as addictive and intoxicating as ever. I don’t know if I could ever go back to a quiet, normal sounding car again.

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      Steve, I see and hear the new 124 Spider every day.

      To misquote the Mens Wearhouse guy, you’re gonna like the way [it sounds.] I guarantee it.

  • avatar
    rodface

    Tailpipe sounds start at ~8:16 in the posted video.

  • avatar
    jrhmobile

    Even if you have a very powerful car, you don’t need to run a loud exhaust.

    And depending on what you want to do with that powerful car, you may not want to.

    Here’s my handy-dandy three step technique to quiet down even the largest exhaust:

    1) Wrap the exhaust manifolds/headers, and the exhaust down to the point where they exit the engine compartment entirely. Your engine compartment is an echo chamber, and any exhaust rumble in there reflects across four walls before it escapes to the outside world. Using a heat-rated exhaust wrap not only keeps underhood temperatures down, it keeps high temperatures inside the exhaust pipe for better performance, quieter exhaust and longer life of the pipes.

    2) Exhaust crossover pipes for V-engines as early in the exhaust as you can fit them. Either a straight-across crossover pipe for duals, or ideally, a merge pipe to a larger cross-section single exhaust. The faster you get exhaust pulses to meet in your exhaust pipe(s), the hotter the exhaust will be and the smoother the exhaust note will be.

    3) Move the mufflers as far downstream as you can. There’s a reason that even small cars today put the muffler closer to the end of the exhaust system. If you can work out the packaging, muffler(s) near the end of the exhaust make for a mellower, quieter sound.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      .
      _THIS_ .
      .
      At least for older engines ,it’s a simple recipe I’d mostly worked out on my own before a Goerlich (?SP?) exhaust Engineer told me the same thing with details .
      .
      It really does work , fart cans should be punched shut with Industrial Tools .
      .
      -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Define powerful though?

      Its not that uncommon for cars these days to lay down 700+ horsepower to the rear wheels and when your talking supercharged cars putting that down its closer to 900 horsepower at the crank when you factor in drive train losses and parasitic losses from the supercharger at full wail

      • 0 avatar
        jrhmobile

        450-600 hp naturally aspirated, big blocks and small blocks, occasionally with 150-200-250 hp nitrous plate systems. Fast, heavy-ish street racers with license plates. Not trailered to rural two-lanes with floodlights and camera crews.

        So fairly powerful …

  • avatar
    andyinatl

    I for one agree with Dan. Sports cars, especially today’s muscle cars, just sound ridiculous. There’s nothing that distinguishes them from plain ol’ V8 pickups. There are some exceptions of course, like the Shelby Mustang i was driving behind yesterday emitted nice distinct growl. But majority of Camaro V8s, Mustang GTs, SRTs sound like bunch of marbles rolling around in a tin can. It’s as bad as the lame exhausts every shmo slaps on their pickup truck in North Georgia mountains; you see the heap of metal barely moving, but making a ton of ruckus.

  • avatar
    John R

    Yeah! https://goo.gl/H4JLrJ

  • avatar
    Redshift

    I was out of this conversation in the first line. I really don’t like the exhaust sound of the VQ engines. Nothing to do with volume, I just can’t stand the tone of the hollow moan it makes. This is coming from a person with 4 rotary engine cars in their garage/driveway right now.

    I do agree that there is way too much focus on loud these days and not enough on the note/tone.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I saw my first flat-crank GT350 in the wild last weekend, driving uphill on an arterial near my house. It wasn’t being driven aggressively, but it was still so loud that my appreciation for the (wonderful) flat-crank sound was tempered by a bit of “Couldn’t they have just turned it down a little bit?”

    It does seem like a lot of factory performance cars these days have dispensed with any attempt to be polite to the neighbors. You can hear this by comparing the 2009 and 2014 variants of the W212 E63 AMG. The 2009 is just right, and the 2014 (as wonderful as the M156 sounds) is just too loud. The C7 Z06 is also really, really loud.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Favorite exhaust? I had a MY86 Monte Carlo SS with a 355, Vortec heads, ZZ4 cam, long tube headers, and no cats. No H or X pipe either – the previous owner (and myself) was too cheap to add it.

    Great sound but mellow – until all four barrels were opened. Then it sounded like the gates of hell had been cracked open. Never heard anything like it – I have no idea what the mufflers were, heck they could have been stock.

    I do like my wife’s MY03 Mini Cooper S exhaust – especially for a 4cyl – nice burble and crackle when you let off of the gas.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    No stock exhausts on any of my vehicles. My 2004 F150 has a single inlet dual outlet Dynomax muffler so I could get the dual exhaust look with my 4.6 V8. It is quiet enough that you can only tell that it isn’t stock at idle and at high RPMs.

    I recently had a Magnaflow muffler put on my 2010 Highlander 3.5 V6, I was annoyed that at idle the Highlander was quieter than a RAV4. There’s a rumble at idle now and inside the vehicle while driving it isn’t obnoxious (barely louder than stock) but the note sounds like those 60s Bond movies where he would be driving a British sports car up a mountain pass chasing or being chased. I’ll admit that it is a little bit of a mental disconnect for being inside a three row CUV.

    My 1967 Mustang has no name “turbo” mufflers and true dual exhaust for the 289 V8. It is loud it is Harley-esque (if you strapped 4 V-twins together) but it is an old muscle car and I honestly leave the old AM radio off so that I can listen to the exhaust.

    So many new vehicles are trying so hard to hide the exhaust tips should we be surprised that exhaust notes mean nothing? It is as if they fear we will be offended by the fact that they are still burning gasoline.

  • avatar
    MidLifeCelica

    I would love to have an exhaust system that does for 4-cycle engines what this exhaust does for 2-stroke engines -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vAw1CC4A3g. Too bad that it only works when you run the engine filthy rich normally, but at certain speeds the pipe sets up a standing wave resonance that crams the normally wasted fuel/air mix back in through the exhaust port just before the piston closes it off. Massive power gains then happen, pushing the engine to 40,000+ rpm (0:56 to 1:00).

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      my nitro R/C boats use that style tuned pipe. a properly tuned exhaust (and 60% nitro) gets you almost 5 horsepower out of 7.5 cc.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      2 stroke expansion chambers can be thought of as similar in effect to a turbo or supercharger but working from the opposite end. Regular 2 stroke mufflers normally had some of the expansion chamber effect. I remember someone with a 500 suzuki titan who cut off the tips of his mufflers to “hop it up”.

      There is no 4 stroke equivalent of which I am aware. turbo/blower and low restriction exhaust is about the best you can do.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    BTW : I was taught it’s ” Suck. Squeeze. Bang. _WOOSH_ .
    .
    Two cycle engines of course go ” BANG WOOSH BANG WOOSH…..
    .
    Several of my vehicles have no or gutted mufflers and they’re not horribly loud ~ I’d know if they were , SWMBO and the Sargent at the Shop would tell me straightaway if they were .
    .
    Mazda did indeed spend much time , money and effort getting the original Miata exhaust to sound ” Just Right ” . =8-) .
    .
    -Nate

  • avatar
    Driver7

    I think the Triumph TR-6 had a great sound.
    You’ll hear a similar British sports car growl at the beginning of the Roxy Music song, “Love Is the Drug” (I’ve heard that an MG-B was used for that recording).

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    Aftermarket exhausts used to have a deep, resonant rumble. Now they just sound like the car is in a barrel.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Currently, I have nothing but V8 power in my drivers. My wife’s V6 Infiniti M is the only exception in the driveway. I have never heard a V8 that wouldn’t make a pleasant noise. The only exception to my ear was a 308 Ferrari, which sounded strangled to me. Then the owner installed an ANSA kit, and it was rumble rumble. By the same token, nothing sounds like poor maintenance more than said engine with an exhaust leak. Eight cylinders, straight or Vee, need some resonance control, however slight, to sound dignified, at least for street use. Racing is a whole different matter. Those 19k RPM V8’s Formula 1 used were music to my ears with no restriction whatsoever. The new engines sound like work trucks. No music there.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    The Ford Modular V8 seems to sound amazing with a good factory/aftermarket exhaust system, no matter the vehicle.

    My old T-Bird with its “Bullitt” (that’s what the previous owner called it) true dual exhaust and mom’s boyfriend’s 5.4 F250 with true duals just sound great.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    It is kind of funny that it’s typically the weakest engines and slowest vehicles that make the most noise: lawnmowers, snowblowers, old compact imports, low-revving motorcycles, beater trucks. The fast and powerful vehicles are usually almost silent.

  • avatar
    Moparmann

    One trend I’ve noticed over the past few years is to add dual exhausts with the mufflers of choice being “Flowmasters”. I realize that there may be various models, but for some reason, you don’t even have to see the car, but you can tell that it is a GM V-8! They ALL sound the same. I even heard/saw a Dodge Ram pickup truck that had been converted to the same flowmaster sound, which IMO the Ram’s always had a great sounding factory exhaust. Several years back, I had my Silverado converted to true duals (two cats/two mufflers), in the next stall over, some young Hispanics were having the mufflers removed from their pickup!

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