Some of us like to make our presence felt – or our impending arrival, perhaps – and there’s no better way to achieve this aurally than by means of a fruity-sounding exhaust note heralding your imminent proximity. Attention-seeking of the basest (bassest) variety, some might say.
Petrolhead and veteran boy racer to the core, I have never stinted on having my cars equipped with exhausts that emit the most mellifluous note possible, not to say raucous, from a teenage Anglia 105E that had a state-of-the-art Peco silencer (and pipe exiting from under the passenger door), via sundry Alfa Romeos to Porsches, the first of which was a 3.2 Carrera whose serpentine system I watched being created and fitted in the workshops of Hayward & Scott. Two-wheelers were not above molestation, either. Back in the Modrophenia era, no Vespa or Lambretta was safe from having its silencer baffles reamed out with a poker, the better to taunt the cops on Brighton seafront with two-stroke blare, and, as a born-again biker, several Triumphs sported systems that helped emphasise crushing victories in the traffic-light grands prix. On vehicular road trips of any duration, the soundscape was open for exploiting. Never did going through tunnels and ravines seem so appealing, windows essentially down or soft-top off, the better to swoon nirvana-like to the echo of the on-board mechanical concerto as it echoed off the confines of the enclosing walls. I never tire of this. Tinnitus? A small price to pay and, besides, the damage was done long ago playing in bands cranked up to 11.
There’s no better way of achieving the desired cacophony than installing a Cargraphic exhaust on your car. Fortuitously, Cargraphic systems are constructed – by hand, of course – by masters of the black art of noise, Phoenix Exhausts, who are based at Cullompton, near Tiverton, north Devon, and, by coincidence, handily placed for me to overnight with nearby relatives Peter and Elizabeth Offord: Peter has stepped in as a driver when we’ve done multi-car shoots on Dartmoor in the past.
We’ve known Thomas Schnarr at Cargraphic for getting on for two decades now, in the course of which we’ve visited him a few times at his Landau premises in western Germany. Sampled several of his 911 project cars as well, out on the backroads of the glorious Pfalz vineyards, pausing to purchase a case or two of Dornfelder and Riesling along the way. Cargraphic has availed me of silencers on two previous Porsches: my 996 ‘Pig Energy’ (P16 NRG) and 986 S, and it’s totally fascinating to watch while the ensemble is assembled. Elements of the stainless-steel pods and pipes are cut, shaped and fashioned on massive machine tools, programmed to appropriate dimensions and operated manually, to accurately create the bends and subtle curves in the metal, the parts then diligently welded together to make the silencers, catalytic converters, manifolds and connecting tubes – plus the silencers’ internal chambers and insulation. It’s only by observing the process that you comprehend the complexities of an exhaust system. The result, in every case, is a sculptural work of art. Once it’s installed, you may not see the result from the outside of your car – only the monogrammed tailpipes being visible – but it’s great just to know what lurks beneath your engine. And, of course, you can certainly hear it. ‘Course, it would be louder still without the cats, but they’re such a hassle refitting for the MoT.
So, with dates lined up, I headed cross-country from Norfolk to Devon in my 987 S. The car was initially booked in with Andy Moss at SCS Porsche, based just outside Honiton. Again, he’s someone we know well from past features, and he put me in touch with his customer when I was looking for my last 986 S. The point on this occasion was that removing the existing headers would be his responsibility, rather than Phoenix who just manufacture (and fit) their systems – preferring not to have to waste time getting the old clobber off. There was every chance that the retaining studs would be corroded and could snap during removal, and Andy’s expertise would enable him to cope with that. It was an issue familiar from when my 986 received new three-branch manifolds seven years ago. But in drilling out the snapped studs, the (very experienced) mechanic drilled too far in one case, and went through into the block’s oil jacket. No names, no pack drill, regarding the perpetrator, but the mistake was later discovered and ingeniously cured by Patrick O’Brien at William Hewitt Porsche, employing an adapted stud as a seal. So, even removing the original manifolds is a potentially perilous operation. Predictably, Andy at SCS Porsche found that five of the old studs on the 987’s original headers had seized and snapped, requiring him to resort to the drill. It took him half a day, but, under the circumstances, it was half a day well spent.
In the meantime, Phoenix very kindly lent me proprietor Jon Young’s 987 Cayman S, a car whose original spec was similar to my 987 Boxster (Sport Chrono, etc) but which has had numerous goodies lavished upon it, including front splitter kit, GT4 fixed rear wing, Momo wheel, harnesses and sports bucket seats, Bilsteins, and of course the full Cargraphic system, natch. Jon and I whizzed the new headers and cats over to SCS Porsche at Honiton, which Andy fitted easily enough, and, with original silencers temporarily back on, I returned to Phoenix to have the new connector pipes and Cargraphic silencers fitted. Another afternoon’s spannering with the car up on the hoist, and it was good to go. Best day’s work that’s been carried out on the car during my tenure. Not counting the HIDS light bulbs and Goodyear Eagles.
So, how about the enhanced sound emission? Does it bellow? Does it rasp? Does it roar, and does it boom? For the most part, it’s actually quite discrete, booming a bit at low revs, but turning on a six-pot snarl when the revs rise, sounding pretty assertive at 3,000rpm, and downright pugilistic at 4,000. I can do better. For readers with their magazine plugged into the hi-fi, here’s what the fruity racket sounds like: “…whuum…whuum…whuum…rrraaagh…, rrraaagh… rrraaagh… (and so on, ad infinitum). Sorry, what’s that officer?”
I am fully aware that I’m spouting off here wearing my petrolhead hat, and electronic car enthusiasts will have switched off long ago. Mate, good luck when you inadvertently step out in front of a silent stealth-menace, though Cargraphic can provide an answer of sorts in the guise of a fake ICE exhaust that fastens onto an electric vehicle and warns the unwary of its approach. They can even make a diesel Cayenne sound like a petrol one too.
But apart from creating more of a din, do aftermarket exhausts also improve performance? They are meant to, and we’ll get the reality check when the Boxster goes on Clive Atthowe Tuning’s Norwich-based rolling-road dyno in a couple of weeks; a bit more torque, probably. But, whatever your acoustic sensory perceptions, they darned well make it sound as if you’re going faster. Trackside!