Home » Miniaturization Sure Is Nice: Cold Start

Miniaturization Sure Is Nice: Cold Start

Cs Instrumentrover

I happened to come across this 1984 brochure picture of a Rover SD being tested and was struck by how most of the instrumentation had to be kept in that Range Rover that’s following the car, connected by that orange coiled umbilical cable and what looks like some kind of guide/tensioning wire. Imagine driving either of these rigs! You’d have to stay so close and the Range Rover would need to mirror the lead car’s actions pretty carefully despite being very different dynamically – this had to be really difficult. I wonder how often they had to stop because the cables got disconnected.

Plus, this is 1984, when a significant amount of miniaturization had already been going on; this was the first big home computer boom era, after all, and that Rover could have been filled with many, many 48K Sinclair Spectrums (it is British, after all) that could have handled at least some of the computation duties, right? I have no idea just what was being recorded or tested or tabulated here, but I’m very curious about what and how.


Look at all the equipment in this 1978 Rabbit from a NHTSA crash test! It’s absolutely filled with humming boxes and shelves and wires, and then look at those snakes of cables winding their way out of the car to even more equipment! Chances are your phone has more computing power than this whole car and whatever it’s connected to, and all those cables could be replaced with invisible radio waves from a Bluetooth or wifi transceiver.

Anyway, worth remembering, and being happy about the ensmallification of things.

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39 Responses

  1. My cat entered my previous post with a keyboard walk and sit and no ability to edit posts yet.
    I’ll try again:

    We are heading to the world of one integrated chip stack to run it all, after the individual chip scare for manufacturers who tended to adhere to old tech.
    As a consumer I find this scary.
    I prefer my desktop computer to my cellphone even though my phone in someways is smarter. Maybe I’m just old.

    1. I love that computing tech has come leaps and bounds since I first got enamoured with it in the mid 80s, with our neighbours’ Amiga 2000, and later our first home computer in 1990 – a Macintosh LC that kept working for over a quarter of a century. I think there’s no debate about the significant improvements to everyday life that computers brought. I still love learning about computers, and I really enjoy being able to do most repairs to my machines (still rocking a 2009 MacBook Pro that I have repaired and upgraded extensively over the years, even if it’s no longer my main computer).

      That being said, I sure as hell will hang on to computer-less cars for as long as it’s possible. I daily drive a 1991 Renault 4 and the simple electronics in my 1998 VW Polo are problematic enough that I dread the fact that we’re currently looking at Volvo V50s because my wife really needs something more modern (gave up trying to nudge her towards 945s because it wouldn’t make much sense for her to daily drive a fucking tiny apartment). But I am readying myself for the moment we have to deal with a computer on wheels that was specifically designed to be hard to repair, and it feels awful.

      1. I have been considering getting a JDM Commercial station wagon, like a Nissan AD Van or a Toyota Probox or something. Built to be abused and then fixed, a minimum of extras to break – all it requires is that she drive an RHD car…
        My poor wife dailies a RHD Toyota Caldina in NY, and she’s so used to it by now that she doesn’t like to drive our LHD car.

        1. The Probox is quite possibly my favourite modern car (especially the pre-facelift). Just a shame that cars like that will seemingly never hit US/EU markets again.

          I’ve been secretly keeping tabs on a RHD Renault 18 break that’s popped up for sale near me; did you have to convince your wife to drive a RHD car? If so, how? I need arguments before I show the ad to my wife (the guy just slashed €1000 off the asking price, currently sitting at €3000, will probably sell for less than €2000).

      2. “ But I am readying myself for the moment we have to deal with a computer on wheels that was specifically designed to be hard to repair, and it feels awful.”

        Hi! Automotive OEM design engineer here. We never specifically design things to be hard to repair. Never.

        We design thing to be easy to build, cheap to buy and last at least as long as the design life, which is generally ten years of being stored outdoors while idiots abuse it.

        Anything you think has been badly designed has just been competently design to a set of criteria that aren’t the same as yours. It’s not like we get to pick our own criteria either, that’s all down to corporate values. I’ve had stand up rows with people while defending ease of service, but if it makes it more expensive to buy or more expensive to build then someone has to find the money, and the people who own the cars 20 years later aren’t paying.

        I exclusively buy old knackered cars, my BMW is parked just outside in a puddle of it’s own oil with non-functional electric mirrors and a B-pillar trim that falls off every third time I shut the door. The hard to repair bits are a result of it being designed to be great to drive and cheap enough for the original owner to buy, and that’s a compromise I’m happy with. Which isn’t to say I haven’t thrown parts of it over the fence in my yard while screaming.

        In summary: not specifically designed to be hard to repair, we’re not evil.

        1. Well, I wasn’t clear in what I meant: I was thinking about home repairs, which design has actively made harder over the years. I agree that there’s other factors at play, but there’s lots of things that just seem designed to justify more expensive servicing that absolutely cannot be done at home. I’m thinking about how replacing a bulb in my Renault 4 involves popping the hood, reaching behind the headlight, removing the connector, swapping bulbs and doing the reverse process, while my 98 Polo – which could’ve had a headlight design that allowed for a quick swap because it’s very much accessible with the hood open – has to have the whole bumper, grille and headlight AND indicator removed to access the light bulb (whichever lightbulb failed; the headlight and indicator are separate units, but won’t come out by themselves and have to be put back together before being installed. This feels very deliberate, it’s hard to believe a design that would allow for a quick removal of the headlight would make such a difference in the manufacturing process. Really hard to not think of it as a double whammy of cost-cutting and extra revenue from post warranty maintenance/repairs.

          I know the comparison between a 91 Renault 4 and a 98 Polo may seem disingenuous, but my point is precisely to underline how much has changed with entry-level cars in just three decades in terms of what they were designed for.

        2. Oh, and just to be clear, I don’t think engineers and designers are evil – for the most part; I think their bosses are, and the guidelines they set for design and engineering result in what we have today. I’m sure you guys are doing your best working within the constraints you have, and you’re also impacted negatively in your personal lives by decisions pushed by suits onto engineers/designers.

        3. ‘In summary: not specifically designed to be hard to repair, we’re not evil.’

          Tell that to my Mazda5 which has a persistent low idle shake problem. It only does it in drive, with the brake applied and its definitely electrical as pulling the brake light fuse raises the idle to the proper range. Of course driving without brake lights is not an acceptable solution, nor IMO is requiring drivers to shift to neutral at each stop.

          In the old days the solution would be trivial, just turn the idle screw a bit. Now there is no such screw, the idle is buried in the car’s programming, inaccessible by anyone who doesn’t have highly specialized equipment. Spending $$$ for a custom tune is not an acceptable solution just to fix something like this and that may trigger a smog inspection failure.

          Also tell that to my gen6 Honda Accord which had to go into the shop because it’s ball joint was literally half a mm too wide to fit a standard joint separator. The only tool that would work was 07МАС-SL00200 which at the time cost $450 and was near unobtanium for the DIYer. No money was saved, no better performance obtained, just more $$$ for the shops.

          1. Yeah, we designed in both of those issues deliberately to piss you off. It’s how we decide who gets the biggest bonus.

            Or the fix to your Mazda5 increased electrical load isn’t the missing idle adjustment screw (the lack of which saved manufacturing cost because no one has to set it, or pay for the part) but is instead finding the cause of the increased electrical load (corroded connector somewhere, or a knackered wire, I dunno). Unless this is a new car, in which case get them to fix it for free.

            If the Accord ball joint was easier to assemble, had a lower tooling cost or lower piece cost then it made the car cheaper to make. A saving of one cent on something you make millions off will pay for a lot of special service tools. If your DIY tools are a bit big then feel free to grind a bit off. Just be grateful it’s not a French car made from niche metric everything.

            We never deliberately design-in increased repair cost because not a penny of the service cost ever gets back to the design team, or the manufacturer. There is no motivation to make servicing worse, and there is a field service department pushing all the time to make it easier (and the dealers hate buying special tool as much as you do). But it won’t get easier to service if it makes it a worse product, or more expensive to build.

            20 years ago I was responsible for a fastener on an engine that required a crows-foot to undo. I’ve never never seen any reference on a forum of anyone having to undo it, but I still feel dreadful about having to push that bodge through, because the alternative was to cut engine performance by 30bhp or add 900k to the cost of the project and 3k on to the cost of every car.

            If you ever undo a screw in a plastic part I’ve designed you’ll find that the screw is held in place after it’s disconnected, because I hate dropping screws into an engine bay, and no one notices a 0.5mm screw retention membrane in a moulding. We do what we can.

  2. I love the crash testing pictures with all the crap in the back of the car, it probably mimics better how a lot of people roll around than an empty test car would!

  3. I’d love to hear the discussions about how the testing equipment weight was going to throw off the tests for suspension and such. If those discussions happened.

    I also wonder if any car made it out the door with something severely messed up due to the testing equipment

    1. Cars are typically tested at curb weight or a specific test weight that the particular test calls for. It is usually meant to include driver, a specific amount of fuel and some cargo and possibly additional passengers. If the test car doesn’t weigh enough additional weights will be added. Most tests require weight to be added. So all that test equipment probably accounted for some or most of the additional weight required.

  4. Fuhrman16- I have the same problem, the members posts don’t show, even if I am signed in and my profile verifies that I’m a paying member of this establishment.

  5. So unrelated to to the Rover pic:
    How does the members only post supposed to work? They show up and I can read the opening paragraph, but see nothing beyond that despite being a member. Is it something off on my end or whatever?

  6. In the late seventies, a popular new game emerged in the UK. It was called bungie driving. Two cars would connect with a bungie cord and race around a track, or down an airstrip. At some point, one driver would slam on the brakes sending the other car to the limits of the bungie cord to see how far it would go and then snap back. It was kind of the opposite of American automotive tomfoolery like chicken or demolition derbies.

    1. English got it from Latin, which got it from Greek, so either abacuses or abici is correct.

      ‘English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them down, then rifles through their pockets looking for loose vocabulary.’

        1. I paraphrased. Didn’t want to pretend it was mine. Have seen various iterations attributed to a variety of people.

          Well, try paulingraham.com. James Nicoll given as origin, then tshirt, then Pratchett.
          That one is even better, with ‘The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is about as pure as a cribhouse whore.’

  7. I once tried to convince my brother and his failed alternator to drive alongside my car, connected by jumper cables. Discretion got the better part of valor, fortunately.

  8. British drivers in the 20th century often paired their vehicles in this way, connecting their electrical systems so if a component failed in one, HOPEFULLY it would work in the other. This was known as a Lucas link.

    1. I’ll never understand how a country that put together the first effective air defense radar network under emergency conditions could then spend decades failing to wire their cars correctly.

      1. Good point, but you can dramatically reduce the chance of infection by using an optical connection rather than an electrical one. For maximum safety, the transmitter and receiver should still be separated by a transparent medium; a LucasFilm.

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