Physics is easier when it’s all in straight lines

I find that I must update my list of Crimes Against Machinery that I began in my earlier post about the shameful mistreatment of a Bugatti Veyron. The BBC is reporting that comedian and actor Eddie Griffin destroyed an Enzo Ferrari. Other news outlets have also picked up the story.

This is, again, likely something the seriousness of which will not be immediately apparent to some of you. I will do my very best to explain why. Once more, I resort to images to speak several thousand words on my behalf. This was a process that turned something beautiful:

Nose-on Enzo Ferrari

 Enzo Ferrari on the road

Enzo Ferrari front three-quarters shot

Into something tragic:

I do NOT want to talk about it

Once again, this incident, and the way it has been handled, leaves me to wonder.

The Enzo Ferrari is named in honor of the founder of Ferrari motors. This makes the name a bit confusing, as the “Ferrari” part is a portion of the name, not just an indication of the manufacturer. This is a very high performance automobile, which means that unlike the Veyron, it is not the fastest production car ever built, merely a “supercar” capable of more speed than any person will ever be able to actually make use of except on a private track.

While the absolute performance numbers are not quite as absurdly astronomical as the Veyron’s, this car is much more of a collector’s item. There were only ever 400 Enzos built, and they are no longer in production. Even beyond its still very impressive abilities, though, the car is a symbol. Ferrari is a company with a long, proud tradition and a very potent brand image. Enzo Ferrari, the man, is an enduring icon of performance vehicle engineering, even many years after his death. This is an iconic car, from an iconic company, named after an iconicman. It also costs about one and a half million dollars, a price which, while equalled by several other supercars, is only really topped by the FXX, which is actually just an upgraded version of the Enzo itself.

If you watch the video of the crash (which is available from within the BBC’s article), it’s pretty easy to get a good idea of how it happened. He downshifts into the corner, which is a very good plan on his part, but he’s still too heavy on the throttle, so when the revs spike on the downshift, the Enzo lays 660 horsepower into the tires, and he shoves into the corner too hard. At this point, he has the front tires set over for the turn, and he’s trying to brake into the corner to control his speed. The combination of the turn, the extra little squirt, and then the braking causes all four tires to just let go. He turns into the corner a little bit further in an attempt to get the nose around, which makes his problem worse, but by that point it’s too late anyhow, no matter what he does.

It’s just physics from there on out. The car weighs almost exactly a ton and a half, with precious little in the way of frictional forces to slow it down once the tires come unstuck, and a lot of momentum going into the turn. This is pure linear physics here, and everything happens according to the very predictable laws of basic Newtonian Mechanics. The car hits the wall, there is a loud crunching sound, and an irreplaceable piece of engineering dies as the engine spools down through the remaining gears.

In contrast to the wreck of the Veyron I talked about two weeks ago, there seems to have been a lot more of a focus on the human aspect of this wreck. I’ve spent the last couple of hours thinking about why that might be. Is it because the driver was a celebrity? Was it because it happened on camera, and we could all see images of him in the immediate aftermath? Was it because the car wasn’t his, and we were all expected to have a moment of shared angst for the owner who lent it to him, and has had his dream machine crumpled against an unyielding concrete barrier?

The cynical part of me tends to believe that the focus on the people is due to the celebrity. Eddie Griffin is famous, and any story of him being in a serious accident would be news in and of itself. That it was in a car that cost a sum of money even a celebrity like Griffin would be hard pressed to afford just makes the story more juicy. Had someone we’d never heard of done the same thing, I find it likely that we’d have only seen the focus on the car.

Griffin was also enough of an entertainer to get out of the car and quip about it afterwords, mugging for the cameras. Even in this case, the car is mentioned first, followed by the price, with the fact that Griffin was unhurt tacked on at the end of the paragraph. Even that was just on the BBC. On many of the car sites I looked at later, Griffin is an afterthought.

I’m increasingly convinced that what is at work here is a basic human horror at seeing a beautiful thing destroyed. Different people have different standards for beauty. Among a certain class of hardware geeks, a super-high performance car is a beautiful thing. It takes on a sleek, pleasing shape, but even more importantly, it gets every aspect of its looks, which are pleasing in their own right, as a purely functional consideration. The huge air scoops on the front of the Enzo look pretty cool, but that’s not why they’re there. They are there because they help produce the aerodynamic profile that generates literally thousands of pounds of down-force on the car to keep it glued to the road at its eye-watering top speed.

Art geeks would be horrified if Griffin had walked into the museum and smashed the Venus de Milo to pieces. For people who see the beauty in the form of a highly engineered machine, the experience is a similar one. We are witnessing the destruction of something wonderful and irreplaceable. Someone could in theory go back and carve another statue, just as Ferrari could in theory go back and build another Enzo, but it just wouldn’t be the same in either case.

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6 Responses to Physics is easier when it’s all in straight lines

  1. Kevin says:

    This comment is completely obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. I’ve seen Eddie Griffin in a movie or two. I’ve seen interviews with the man. WHO THE HELL LETS EDDIE GRIFFIN DRIVE AN ENZO FERRARI?????

    As I said to a friend recently, you can’t blame stupid (in this case, incompetent in driving such a machine is probably more accurate) people for doing stupid things. But you can sure as hell blame the people who put them into positions where such things are possible. Somebody should go to jail over this. Really.

  2. Mark says:

    Kevin,

    The person who loaned him the car was the producer for his most recent movie. The reason the whole thing was filmed was because Griffin was driving the Enzo around so they could use the footage to promote the film. He was on a closed course, I presume they gave him some training. Obviously, they didn’t manage to teach him some of the important lessons.

    The guy let him do it because, while it’s a $1.5 million car, he figures he’s going to make at least that much money on the movie, and he wants to promote it. This doesn’t make it a good idea, but it does make it a little bit more explicable.

    If you watched the video, Griffin himself quips after the wreck “The Undercover Brother is good at karate and all kinds of things, but the brother can’t drive.”

  3. Kevin says:

    See, I had heard of these people called “stunt drivers,” and given modern technology, it doesn’t seem like it would take all that much to either digitally super-impose an image of Mr. Griffin over the stunt driver, or to have him driving at slow speeds and alter the frame to make it look like he is driving much faster.

    Either solution is dramatically less expensive than allowing the crash – forgetting the actual monetary cost of the car, as you say, it is priceless in its total value because it was one of such a very few built.

    And I expect you agree with all the above, it’s just so disappointing that I have to comment. I don’t like cars half as much as you do, and it still broke my heart to see those images.

  4. Mark says:

    Kevin,

    Yes, both of those solutions solve the problem of an irreplaceable car smashed beyond repair. However, they do lack a certain authenticity. Movies seem to do better when the actors involved can legitimately claim to have done all of their own stunts. I know that in the Italian Job, for example, they practiced driving those Minis around a lot. Then again, they also had a full-time garage repairing the spares 24 hours a day, which isn’t really an option with the Enzo, because frankly, you’ll never have a spare.

    I grant you that all of my Crimes Against Machinery entries so far (by which I mean “both”) have been about very expensive, high-performance cars. I admit that I like cars. However, I intend for the topic to be more general. It’s just that these are the two items I’ve seen in the news of late. I hope that people suddenly stop doing these kinds of things, and I am never given the chance, but I expect that I will inevitably expand the category to include a wide variety of other kinds of machines.

  5. laikal says:

    Oh, come on :P.

    I don’t think it’s about the beautiful design of the Enzo Ferrari or its art value, it is mostly about the dollar value of the vehicle. Nobody would care if the Ferrari didn’t cost a million bucks. The angle I’ve seen on this, from CNN to YouTube, is always “who let that guy drive the expensive car!” It also helps the story’s popularity that he was game enough to joke about it afterwards.

    It’s not like he crashed a Camry into the statue of David or anything :). They’ll fix the Ferrari or scrap it and someone’s insurance will pay for the monetary costs involved.

    Physics is much easier in straight lines, though.

  6. Mark says:

    Matt,

    I’m not sure that it’s really the cost. For example, a Tomahawk cruise missile costs roughly what an Enzo does, and nobody is sad when they get blown up. Now, I admit, they’re supposed to blow up, but nobody is all that sad when they get wasted, or dropped, or otherwise broken. You might argue that the Enzo is special because it’s more expensive than most cars, while the Tomahawk is about the same price as any other cruise missile, but I don’t think that’s really it.

    I think the Enzo Ferrari is special because it is in a performance class that cannot be matched by most cars. Sure, the price reflects that, but the price is a function of the things that make the Enzo special, which boil down to design and engineering. It is rare, and functional above and beyond it’s peers. This is what makes it sad to see it destroyed, not a simple matter of price.

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