I mentioned recently that futile pushing movement a driver makes in their seat as they try to coax an underpowered car to gain, or even maintain, speed. What they really need is a magic switch.

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When I was a kid, many Jaguars had a small switch, set high up on the dashboard, between the steering wheel and the driver’s door. Depending on the model, this might either be labelled ‘Overdrive’ (in my memory a transparent toggle) or an ‘Intermediate Speed Hold’ (a black toggle). As a child I didn’t differentiate, or even question what the difference was, it just seemed like a magic go-faster button that the drivers could flick at will.

Thats the overdrive switch, just visible through the steering wheel - Image :
That’s the overdrive switch, just visible through the steering wheel – Image :

Of course, in reality both switches did completely different things. The Overdrive switch operated a gear unit behind the transmission to effectively create a higher ratio for long distance cruising, something that fifth, or sixth, or even seventh gear provides these days. The Intermediate Speed Hold was a device to hold the 3 speed automatic transmission in the middle ratio for better acceleration – it served much the same function as a kick down, but was more controllable.

But it did fix the idea of a booster button in my mind. Mad Max fans will have thrilled at the supercharger switch, but my longing for one goes back to the special bodied Bentley Continental driven by James Bond in the original Ian Fleming book of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which has a dashboard mounted switch to operate the Arnott supercharger. Like much of Ian Fleming’s research, it should be taken with a pinch of salt.

I’ve found it claimed that one version of the original Toyota MR2 was fitted with a switchable supercharger, but in fact although a supercharged version was available, the switch just sets whether you are using premium or regular grade fuel. This does affect the performance, but is hardly the same thing.

More recently we have the ubiquitous Nitrous switch. Ubiquitous that is in video games and bad car chase movies. This releases Nitrous Oxide (not to be confused with nitric oxide, beloved constituent of high diesel emissions) into the car’s fuel system involving a corresponding power surge.

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Today, of course, it’s easy to set up an ECU to have a series of switchable engine maps, and a Sport mode, and maybe others such as Track, are quite common on anything suggesting a bit of performance. But that’s just software and, to me, there’s not the satisfying idea that another piece of finely meshed engineering is being brought in to play.

Maserati Gran Sport.
Maserati Gran Sport.

Tesla have their knowingly titled ‘Ludicrous Mode’ for maximum acceleration but, as well as missing out on the sound of a tortured V12, actuation is from a bland touch-screen, not a self-important, dedicated control with a spring in it. I’m sorry Elon, sometimes you can’t beat old-school mechanical engineering.

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No, what I want is a big button, or possibly a chunky toggle switch, or even a lever that I can engage with a satisfying click, or even a clunk, then hear a whine of belts, pulleys and gears as they labour to lift the car’s nose skywards. Of course there’s one significant power booster I’ve used on several occasions in my motoring career. On most the cars I’ve driven it was operated by a lever situated between the front seats and pushing it to the down position released a substantial tranche of previously hidden power.

7 thoughts on “BOOOOOST!”

  1. In fifties America with automatics ruling it was called “passing gear” and was activated by flooring the “gas pedal” whereby the transmission would drop down a ratio thus providing the speed for overtaking.
    I had completely forgotten of this method of achieving extra “omph” before reading your article.

    1. Later automatic Jaguars replaced the Speed Hold with just an intermediate position on the gear selector. Although more logical, I never found this as satisfying as the toggle switch, but selecting D1, as it was marked, was certainly better than the sometimes recalcitrant Kickdown actuation on the throttle.

  2. While no expert on modern power trains, am I in order to suggest the use of electric motors to boost the speed of hybrid cars? Normally these work at low speeds. Occasionally they can be deployed for more rush. The Honda Insight Mk2?
    The overdrive systems were a lovely workaround for cars geared for low speeds. I found the mechanism somewhat hard to fathom – its emotional appeal is not unlike the boost switch. One is entering a different state. My father’s troublesome Triumph had this along with a dipsomaniac L6 motor. It’s the overdrive that stands out and, in retrospect, added to the Triumph’s distinction.

  3. You are indeed correct that electric motors provide extra acceleration in hybrids while full electrics not hindered by the combustion engine inadequacies requiring gearboxes, provide the same uninterrupted performance.

  4. Fiat added a “Sport” button to the 500’s dash. Sadly, not only it does no miracles, it probably is just for the sake of a placebo effect. It could be useful for the Abarth version…

    1. This leads us to the DNA button on Ferraris. My vague understanding is that it allows the suspension, throttle and steering to switch to the most hardboiled setting. Do the seats clench your torso? Actually there’s an idea, since many cars now have power seats.
      My hand-held vacuum cleaner had a boost button. The non-boost setting didn’t have much power so I only used boost.

  5. Let’s not forget David Hasselhoff’s, Knight Industries Two Thousand ‘Turbo Boost’feature, engaged by a lovely red dedicated button!!! Those wonderful 80s….

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