In praise of the internal combustion engine

I recently took a flight to Houston with my best friend to visit his girlfriend, who’s been living there for nearly a year and is anticipating their moving in together. The trip was fine and dandy, but on the way there, I was treated to a free and endlessly looping preview of a show called Diesel Brothers, where a very skilled group of mechanics wrench on lifted diesel pickup trucks and test them on dynamometers, take them to a test track and more.

I was fascinated. Not by the wisdom these guys possess, not by the size of the trucks and not by the power under their hoods. Rather, I was fascinated by the fact that these guys spend hours and days and weeks and months rubbing their temples and cursing at the machines in their garage in an everlasting pursuit of … speed? profit? a solution to encroaching boredom?

I’ve owned scooters and cars and other types of motor vehicles before, and I too am guilty of having attempted to wrench on them before. Sometimes I did so out of necessity – something was broken and I didn’t have money to take it into a repair shop – while other times I wanted to push the limits of whatever vehicle I was messing around with it.

Some of those attempts were fruitful but most were not. Anytime I tried to do something against the manufacturers’ recommendations – by fitting an exhaust that shouldn’t be fitted or by removing a cover that shouldn’t be removed – I was met with anything but a smoother ride.

How dare I challenge the genius of hundreds or thousands of inventors, mechanics, engineers and thinkers that populate the factories and design labs of vehicle manufacturers by thinking I’ve got a better idea than them on how to do something?

Check out the views you’re missing out on by choosing to not mess around with small motors!

Of course, I’m no mechanic. The guys on Diesel Brothers sure know a thousand times more about motor vehicles than I do. But the frustration they undergo mimics the one I went through during these half-baked repair and modification attempts.

So in the end, we’re both on the same boat. When their trucks’ transmission fails or suspension cracks, they’re rubbing their foreheads and exasperating heavily just the same way I did.

I’ve since stopped messing around with those things and figured I’m better off leaving it to the professionals. After all, what’s the point of modifying a motorcycle or car or truck to stand taller, drive faster or make more noise? What a waste of time.

One thing’s for sure – the modern internal combustion engine is a common factor between all those possibilities. There’s something uncannily exciting, it seems, about a relentlessly cycling piece of aluminum filled with gasoline and power steering fluid and air that can quite literally be the foundation for an hour-long TV series about a group of young guys talking shop about the damn thing.

Forget women, forget sex, forget alcohol, forget video games and forget sports. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can rile a man up so much as to work on and later enjoy – or be frustrated by – the raw power that an internal combustion engine can develop. It’s quite interesting, and quite senseless.

Aghast at the time wasted on these things.

Yes, that’s right, senseless. On a show like Diesel Brothers, the feats being accomplished are not spectacular. The trucks are lifted as high as the level of pollution their engines emit, and I find it to be all for naught. The pursuit of speed? Of profit? A solution to encroaching boredom?

They do occasionally turn a profit off of the trucks, and that may be lauded as the brothers’ most redeeming accomplishment. To “work” on “improving” beat-up trucks by elevating them to unnecessary heights and making money off of it is really quite genius, but the senselessness of the whole affair – removing money as a valuable commodity – remains.

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