No New Car Sounds This Good

Screenshot from Harry’s Garage
Screenshot from Harry’s Garage

Just listen not even to just the engine note of this little 1960s Alfa Romeo. Listen to the entire satisfying process of getting into the car and turning it on.

I have been in and out of just about every major carmaker’s performance and luxury car on the market in recent years. None of them have the directness or communication even in how the metal-on-metal door latches and seat creaks and vrrrrhmmmm start as this little 1750-engine’d Alfa Spider burps into life.

Skip ahead to 7:30 in this Harry’s Garage video if the link above doesn’t jump there for you.


Of course, part of the wonder of the sound is that this Alfa Romeo actually turned on, rather than just whirred for a while in the garage. But hey, it’s the little joys that power us.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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I’ve developed a theory that multi-valve engines have kinda destroyed cool engine sound. I’ve noticed it because there are enough examples of cars before and after they went from 2 to 4 valve configurations but retained largely the same engine otherwise (Volvo’s redblock, BMW’s straight sixes) that you can hear it for yourself.

Personally one of my favorite engine sounds of all time is my E34 BMW with the M30 “big six” with the rear muffler removed and straightpiped. It’s just sexually gritty.

Take a Volvo 8 valve 2.3 liter 4 cylinder turbo: You straightpipe one of those things and as you go up through the revs it goes from forboding tractor to brutish roar. Do the same to the same displacement 16v, and it sounds like somebody cut the balls off it and introduced a weed whacker in there.

Those extra, tiny valves strip the bass out, and almost seem to amplify the nasal sounds most exhaust systems try to get rid of.

The Italians and Subaru seem to have found ways around extra valves ruining their exhaust sounds, but not many others.