The Lump

In the middle of a piece of automotive copy the Lump is often found: the engine performance figures. I really don’t care for it much and it’s time it retired.

1978 Dastun 200SX. Image from
1978 Dastun 200SX. Image from

Typically the worst case is when a model is revised to be even more “ultimate”. As your eyes wander across the lines you stumble across it like a hiker in a mire: “The unit develops 178 bhp, up 23 bhp from before, at 6500 rpm, 450 lower than the outgoing model, and produces 194 lb fb of torque, 23 lb ft extra”. I find this incredibly unpalatable.

It’s a line requiring a good edit and some interpretation to make it meaningful. The best automotive writing lets you in on the meaning of the changes rather than assuming you are an engine developer used to scanning lines of raw numbers. The work involved in writing clearly is to


say things in a new way and to be brief (where possible) and clear. Space limitations can work against long-form prose but then you need to ask yourself, does the item need to force two engines’ characteristics into one line? So, to be polite to the reader something like this could be used:  The revised engine allows you to access the increased torque earlier in the rev range. With 23 lb more torque, the car accelerates faster than the outgoing model, or allows less effort for the same engine speed. That’s what I think the lump is there to tell us. Then put the numbers in a box, safely out of the way.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

2 thoughts on “The Lump”

  1. I half agree. Numbers just shouted out without context mean nothing. And, as I said in a comment to a nearby post, motoring journalists are professionals and it’s time they stopped trying to pretend that they are my funny best mate who just happens to know a bit more about cars than I do. I want a bit of gravitas, and I want details.

    When I read Autocar as a kid, there was what seemed at the time a dense two pages of figures and graphs.

    Of course, like possibly 95% of the readers, all I ever looked at was maximum speed and 0-60 times. But it was good to know they had taken the trouble to sort all this out with their stopwatches and calibrated 5th wheel speedometers. The World’s Best Car Magazine often limits performance analysis to “0-62 feels slower than the claimed 7.3 seconds” and I bet they’ve never taken the trouble to get out an anemometer and measure the headwind.

    Thank you for the Nissan Silvia picture Richard. Like much Japanese styling of the time, it screams out some of its influences – Avanti? Barracuda? – but it has a certain odd SX appeal.

  2. The performance diagrams are the right tool for the job.
    Details of the 200SX could be draped on a better proportioned car and work well. These brief-life vehicles have an abiding fascination for me now. I ignored them in the 80s under instruction from the motoring press.

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