Friday, April 07, 2006

Roadster Wars

Not soon after Pontiac re-found its racing and performance heritage, did Mazda redesign its performance sultan the MX-5. This lovely chance of fate (or awesome timing in the corporate word) caused a rift in the roadster galaxy... and none too soon!

Before the Pontiac Solstice was introduced, the choice for small fast cheep roadsters was limited to well, only one; the Mazda Maita. When the Maita was introduced in 1990, GM laughed at it... after all GM's Chevrolet division was the father of the Corvette, they had fun with the cheep car thing, but when it came to performance there was nothing like the 'Vette. But the Maita did extremely well in its first year and never looked back. There were limited editions, and MX-5 performance racer editions; but the car was, for the most part, just a fun little Japanese made 'British' roadster. Fast forward some 15 years, and GM finally see's a market for a Mazda beater.

Enter the Solstice! One of the first things Bob Lutz did when he was hired by GM was to try and save Oldsmobile from death row, he was a little late but not determined to start building cars like that of GM's glory days. When the Solstice was first drawn in the design studio, Lutz knew that this little roadster would be built. There was one small little problem though; GM's red tape was all over the place and the tangle would be a lot to get through. Some how Bob Lutz's dream car came true and in the very late summer of 2005 the Solstice rolled out of the factory and into show rooms across the country.

Now, not even a full year later, Pontiac is ready to prove the small little parts bin car against the well proven MX-5. Will this thing be able to shut down the king of the hill? That is only going to be proved at the finish line, but for now it's nice to know that GM still has some red blood pumping in its veins. The races will be decided on tow factors, besides that of the usual. Driving style, and power devilry...

The MX-5 and Solstice answer the same problem in two very different ways. As a design student, and a car guy I can appreciate this a lot. A simple example would be how do I win this drag race? The problem there would be how to get go as fast as I can as soon as I can to get 1/4 mile down the track? There are many many many many many many ways of doing this... One way would be to simple use a big ass engine with as much displacement to move you down the track. Another way is to use a small engine (whish is also lighter than a big engine) and use the theory of torque multiplication. Yet another way is to... well you get the idea.

In the case of the MX5 vs. the Solstice; the MX-5 uses a high revving engine with torque multiplication coming in at the higher end of the power curve, the problem with this is the driver needs to keep the engine within the higher limits of the power curve to keep the car moving fast. The Solstice on the other hand, uses a lower revving engine with torque coming in at the lower end of the power curve, the problem with this, is the driver needs to shift constantly and just before the power curve starts to drop.

The MX-5 and Solstice also have different driving styles. the MX-5 allows the driver to slide around the corners and really experience over steer, and with a quick flip of the throttle, or a quick downshift will compensate and the driver will experience under steer... both of the are really bad in racing, and nobody wants that to happen. In the Solstice, however because of the wider tires (P245/45R18 in the Solstice vs. P205/45 R17 in the MX-5) the driver will be able to maneuver the car around the corner without too much trouble, however if he want to induce a little over steer because of the flatter power curve, he will not be able to and may exit the corner too slow.

revs vs. torque, slip vs. grip... this will make for some really fun racing that’s for sure.


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