What did the Cizeta-Moroder V16T and the Mazda MX-3 have in common? Wait—do you even remember the Cizeta-Moroder V16T or the Mazda MX-3? I’d forgive you if you didn’t. Neither one of them made much of an impact on the automotive landscape. So here’s a brief recap. The Cizeta-Moroder V16T was a small-batch Italian supercar built by a bunch of ex-Lamborghini engineers. The Mazda MX-3 was a competitor to the Honda CRX, Geo Storm, and Nissan NX2000. Does that help at all? And if it does, if it brings some vague memories swimming back up … what did those two cars have in common?
The answer, of course, is this: unnecessary complexity. The Cizeta-Moroder V16T, shown above, had a transversely mounted “V16” that was actually two V8s driving a center-mounted transfer gear. The Mazda MX-3 contained a tiny 1.8-liter quad-cam V6 with a unique computer-controlled variable resonance intake. In neither case did this deliberately Byzantine approach to engine technology result in quantifiable benefits. The 1990 Lamborghini Diablo made similar power with a version of the aging Countach’s V12; the Nissan NX2000 was faster than the MX-3 thanks to an SR20 engine borrowed from the Sentra SE-R.
I could have added Ducati’s 916 and Honda’s RC51 to my question; the V-twin engines in those bikes were thoroughly and lovingly engineered, but they still couldn’t match the power on tap from the inline-fours available in various Suzukis, Kawasakis, and Yamahas at the time. Yet all four of these vehicles were the subject of intense interest at the time of their release and they still maintain strong, if small, followings today. Which leads me to another question: Why?
WHY’D YOU HAVE TO GO AND MAKE THINGS SO COMPLICATED?
I’ve long thought that car enthusiasts could be split into “Timex people” and “Tourbillon people.” A Timex, as you know, is the watch that takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Cheap, durable, accurate. The perfected expression of the Timex philosophy is probably the Casio F-91W, a twelve-dollar watch that was given to al-Qaeda operatives upon their graduation from training. Although millions of the F-91W have been made, the watch became so closely associated with terrorism that the mere ownership of one was apparently enough to sweep a couple of suspicious-looking fellows into Guantanamo Bay. I once dated a young lady who worked for the FBI and I sent an F-91W to her house anonymously as a joke. Stuff like that is why I’m going to die alone. But that’s a discussion for another time. Time—get it?
A tourbillon, on the other hand, is an extraordinarily complex mechanical device used in very high-end watches. It will cost you at least $100,000 to get a tourbillon-equipped watch from the major Swiss brands. In fact, it’s so hard to make a tourbillon that there was some agitation in the watch press a few years back about the “$5000 Chinese tourbillons” that were supposedly going to take the prestige-timepiece industry by storm. Think about that. The Chinese can make a whole watch for under a dollar—look in a Happy Meal for proof—but it would still cost them five grand to make a tourbillon.
The tourbillon is the alpha example of what watch fans call “complications.” A complication is something that adds functionality to a traditional mechanical watch. My old IWC Spitfire UTC had a “complication” that let you see two different timezones at once. It was an additional layer of clockwork laid over top of the basic movement that literally complicated the watch.
In regular life, complications are bad. There’s even a song about it: Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated? But in watches, complications are desirable. They cost extra. People want them. They are considered to be a sign of true enthusiasm in the owner. Chances are that you’ll never use them; setting the extra time zone in my IWC was such a hassle that I never did it, even when I was actually in a different time zone and could have used the information. It’s enough to have the capability, to know that your watch is more complicated, more interesting, than the one on the wrist next to yours.
Dive into any aspect of the automotive hobby and you’ll find both Timex people and tourbillon people. Spec Miata is the ultimate group of roadracing Timexers. They just want to compete in the simplest machine possible. The NASA Championships of 2008 had about fifty Spec Miatas. It also had one guy who had built a Morgan Aero 8 into a Super Unlimited road racer. That is a tourbillon person. It didn’t bother him one bit that he was racing heads-up against a bunch of Corvettes and ASA stock cars, all of which went just as fast for between one-quarter and one-half as much money. He wanted to race a Morgan.
Many of history’s most memorable and/or unusual specialty and sports cars have been deliberate attempts to satisfy the tourbillon people. The Mosler TwinStar. The first-gen Corvette ZR1. The Cadillac XLR-V. Even the E30 M3 could be considered a “complication;” it was no faster on the street than the cheaper 325i.
The appeal of the Mazda MX-3 wasn’t raw speed. It was the knowledge that you had this wonderfully complex little V6 humming away under your hood while everybody around you was stuck with a droning inline-four. The same is true for the Ducatis; why not have a characterful twin? It’s why I consider my VFR800 to be an “upgrade” over my old YZF600R even though it isn’t even a tiny bit faster. The V-four VFR has a unique sound and behavior.
This natural love of complication comes off like snobbishness to the Timex people out there. They just want results. If the numbers say that a Corvette Z06 and a Ferrari 458 Speciale are equal, why would you buy the Ferrari? You can’t explain tourbillon thinking to a Timex fanatic.
Nor can you explain it to car companies that are hell-bent on maintaining a profit margin in the face of blistering competition and ever-fiercer government regulation. And that, my friend, is why the bland, charmless, lumpy low-pressure turbo four-banger has become the de rigeur motivating power of everything from the Honda Civic to the BMW 5-Series. The thriving engine-design ecosystem of 20 years ago is collapsing into monoculture faster than a farmer’s field with the Monsanto seeds blowing in on the wind. Inline sixes, high-revving naturally-aspirated fours, straight-fives, even the once-omnipresent V6. They’re all fading away. It’s the triumph of the Timex people.
We should rage against the dying of this light, if we can. There are still a few cars left that offer unique engines, manual transmissions, station-wagon bodies, that sort of thing. That’s why I have a two-door, V6, manual transmission Accord; all three of those distinguishing features won’t be around much longer.
The wealthy will always have tourbillon choices like the Cizeta and its modern equivalents from Pagani et al. Those of us without trust funds, on the other hand, will have to get our complications where we can find them. And it’s getting tougher. Maybe we should bring Avril Lavigne back from obscurity so she can sing, on our angst-ridden behalf: Why’d you have to go and make things so simple?
Born in Brooklyn but banished to Ohio, Jack Baruth has won races on four different kinds of bicycles and in seven different kinds of cars
Source: The Joy of Complex