Thank Frankel it's Friday – Why I hate modern exhausts

02nd August 2018
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

While modern cars improve in many ways, so too are there several in which most or all of the progress has been in the wrong direction. Manual gearboxes in supercars are now almost unheard of, electric steering systems may have almost entirely replaced their hydraulic forebears but have never come close to replacing their feel. Turbochargers have wrecked throttle response, restricted rev ranges and muffled engine sounds while weight, the enemy of everything that makes a car good to drive, has spiralled ever upwards at least until very recently.


And then there’s the exhaust pipe. Yes, really. Outside my house right now there sits a Ford Mustang, a BMW 7-series, my wife’s new Golf and my daughter’s eight-year-old Toyota Aygo. And of them all, only the Ford has proper pipes: four fat, stubby exhausts proudly jutting out of the back of the car. The Aygo can be forgiven for having something that looks like a straw somewhere underneath but the 7-series has these elegantly sculpted apertures at the back which aren’t exhausts at all, merely cosmetic accommodation for the pair of completely standard exhausts they hide. But the Golf is worse: it appears to have extravagantly styled apertures too, but it doesn’t. They’re filled in blanks with precisely no purpose other than to fool you into thinking they’re exhausts. The actual exhaust is completely nondescript and buried under the car.

Should this matter? Almost certainly not, but for me, someone who grew up in the era of great exhausts, it does. Just a little. And if that makes me rather weird then I hope that by confessing to this little infatuation on a site such as this, I might at least find a sympathetic ear among those who understand such peccadillos and maybe one or two who might actually suffer in a similar way.


Rule one of good exhaust design shows what a contrary subject it is: big is better and more is most certainly merrier. When, in 1975 Ferrari introduced the 308 GTB the 10-year-old me was completely captivated by its shape in the brochure until I looked around the back and saw, to my fairly comprehensive horror, the four proud pipes that had adorned all but one Ferrari in my memory (of which more in a minute) had been replaced by a single, miserable outlet. That and the fact the wonderful twin pop-up headlights of the Boxer, Daytona and 308 GT4 had been replaced by mean single lamp units would probably have been enough to put me off the car entirely until I spotted the quad pipe option on the extras sheet. Yes indeed, I was a very strange child.

That’s not to say a single pipe can’t work, but it needs to have a gimmick. I quite liked, for instance, the way the exhaust of 1970s Porsche 911s stuck out of the rear of the car at a slightly jaunty angle, and must confess to being fairly awed by the sheer size of what’s probably best described as a funnel fitted to the back of certain Lamborghini Murcielagos, but generally this is one of those rare occasions where quantity does indeed trump quality.

Indeed a pair of pipes is usually the bare minimum required for true credibility in this field, and even then it helps if they bring something else to the party like the side exit numbers fitted to the original Dodge Viper or, better still, the top exit pipes of the Porsche 918 Spider and forthcoming McLaren 600LT.


I have an internal debate concerning whether three or four pipes are superior. Four exhausts are the classic especially when in pairs under either side of the rear body, but three are just so interesting, especially when fitted to cars whose cylinder count it not divisible by three. Like the Ferrari F40 or, indeed, the new Honda Civic Type R. Now I know their third pipes aren’t conventional exhausts – the Ferrari’s is an extension of the wastegate while the Honda’s is a resonator – but damn they look cool, but not so cool as the triangulated rear pipes of the Lexus LFA.

But the best exhausts there have been? Well if you enter the racing world you’ll never beat the spaghetti pipes of the late 1960s Ferrari 312 F1 car, constructed that way when it was realised that more power could be gained by tuning the exhaust lengths so that all its pulses were evened out, but that’s cheating. In the road car arena it is another Ferrari that reigns supreme, the early 4.4-litre Boxer. For not only did that have three pipes stacked together in a neat line on one side of the car, it had another three on the other side too. Six pipes! To the young boy sitting on the tarmac outside Maranello Concessionaires in Egham in about 1974 nothing could speak of greater power than this. And, in a way, nothing ever has.

I’ll get my coat.

  • Andrew Frankel

  • Exhaust

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