No bum steer: The importance of steering feel

This might seem a bold thing to say, but here goes: there’s not a single attribute more important to the enjoyment of a car than the feel for the road derived through its steering. When I teach younger writers about the business of road testing, it’s the subject most likely to be raised, perhaps alongside determining the difference between primary and secondary ride. As motorsport became popular in the early part of the 20th Century, national racing colour were adopted and Great Britain took on green. As Ireland was part of the United Kingdom at that time, green was chosen for the Napier cars out of respect for the Irish location. Its famous blue and orange livery quickly became synonymous with endurance motorsport success, especially at Le Mans where the colours adorned first Ford GT40 and then Porsche winners of the 24 Hour event. In the 1960s, Gulf’s own dark blue and orange was considered too dull by the management to stand out on the track, so when the firm bought Wilshire it adopted its hues and the rest is history. With increased television coverage, this became a brighter, more orange hue, but at the 2007 Monaco Grand Prix Ferrari made a return to the deeper original shade and has stuck with it ever since. The only deviations from this have been on the rare occasions the F1 cars havesported black nosecones:  firstly to mark the terrorist attacks of September 2001, and the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. If the Lotus Cortina became famous for its white and green design, the Alan Mann Racing team made just as big a mark on later Ford models. It certainly grabbed attention and also clearly stated Audi’s intention to put the Quattro front and centre in its bid to promote all-wheel drive as the future. Over time, the colour scheme was adapted to suit sponsors, with later rally cars sporting a broad yellow stripe down the flanks. Demand for Mustangs in Highland Green rocketed after the movie hit the big screen, though the GT390 Fastback used in the film remained a rare model. It doesn’t get more German than a BMW race car run by Schnitzer team and sponsored by homegrown brewer Gosser Bier. Together, this trio put up an almighty fight in the 1976 European Touring Car Championship and were certainly the most visible thanks to the bright green and striped colour scheme of the 485bhp CSL. Although the BMW Schnitzer team eventually had to give best to Porsche in the championship, it was the CSLs of Dieter Quester and Ronnie Peterson that stood out in fans’ memories. There’s a long line of cars that have sported the Martini red and blue livery, but few are evocative as the Lancia Delta that took on the world’s rally stages. With first the Lancia 037 and then the hugely successful Delta in all its forms, it made household names of the likes of Didier Auriol, Juha Kankkunen and Marku Allen. Even so, the distinguishing colour scheme was actually the work of a German designer, Walter Landor (1913-1995), who had been commissioned by Alitalia to create its corporate identity. It shows how far ahead company boss Colin Chapman was when it came to branding and understanding the impact a great livery could have on thesport and public. It was painted in the arresting colours of clothing manufacturer Renown, with the green and orange segments meant to look like fabric swatches stitched together. As luck would have it, this unusually painted Mazda went on to win Le Mans in 1991 and the colour scheme gained worldwide attention. So, alongside its win as the only Japanese car to do so at that point and the only Le Mans winner with a rotary engine, it also spawned an MX-5 limited edition finished in the same bold green and orange pattern. There are plenty of colour schemes that we could pick for the pugnacious MG Metro 6R4, but the one that sticks in the mind most is the blue and white Computervision motif. It said a lot that Austin Rover struck a deal with a sponsor from the pioneering world of computer aided design as the 6R4 was a car built from high tech materials. After loaning his Mini to a friend, it came back damaged and the paint shop offered torespray the roof a different colour to the red body. The double British Rally Champion struck up his relationship with Andrews Heat for Hire in 1974 and it lasted throughout the remainder of Brookes’ impressive career. His title win in the 1985 British Rally Championship sealed the yellow, red and blue livery in the affections of enthusiasts. For a company that made its money in the food and dairy business, Italy's Parmalat had a huge influence on Formula 1 with its blue and white colours. The design that emerged in 1980 quickly gained plenty of television coverage as Nelson Piquet used the Gordon Murray-designed BT49 to great effect. With BMW engines arriving in 1982, the colours were adapted on the Brabham’s nose cone to replicate the kidney grille of BMW’s road cars. Success was snatched from the jaws of disaster at the very last moment for Richard Petty (born 1937) and his NASCAR racing team. With no main sponsor as they headed to the first race of the 1972 season, he took a last shot with American oil and fuel additive supplier STP. For STP, the deal was equally beneficial as Petty went straight out and won the first race of the year in his Plymouth Roadrunner. As a mark of just deep-seated the relationship became, STP changed the liveries of other race cars it sponsored to mirror Petty’s due the success this pairing enjoyed. The rumour is Porsche endurance racing sponsor Martini was so horrified by the 1971 917/20’s looks, they refused to allow it to wear their own iconic colours. Taking the idea from a butcher’s chart of different cuts of meat on a pig, Lapine bisected the 917 with broken lines and named each section of bodywork. There’s a younger cohort of writers and drivers who attach less importance to steering’s feel and more to its accuracy, linearity and weight, and I’m not saying they’re wrong just because I take another view. Traditional steering feel has played a far smaller role in their automotive education and, as a result, it quite understandably matters less. Yet all the combined knowledge, talent and technology that exists in the world today hasn’t stopped steering systems becoming ever more mute. When it was realised that EPAS systems were cheaper and less troublesome than traditional hydraulically assisted steering, they must have looked pretty tempting, but what caused their near-wholesale adoption was that they allowed manufacturers to achieve slightlylower official fuel consumption figures and therefore lesser CO2 emissions. When the first Porsche 911 with EPAS came out (the 991 in 2012), I persuaded an engineer to tell me exactly what the saving would be in the real world, which I then calculated amounted to two free tanks of fuel over a decade on the road. So, if your car still has little or no perceived steering feel, the sad truth is likely to be that its manufacturer either couldn’t be bothered to engineer it in or actively didn’t want it there.