In the summer of 1989, I was ten going on eleven. The fastest car I had yet ridden in was probably my dad’s 535i, clocked by the CHiP at well over the tonne, a ticket which the patriarch of the family talked himself out of with a “Not bad, right?”
It was hard to say if I really cared about cars yet: obviously they were important to my dad, and I’d already learned to drive our Series III Land Rover at walking pace on the banks of the Fraser River, but there were new Pirate sets coming from Lego, and G.I. Joe had just released a barely-disguised SR-71 Blackbird for the Cobra forces. Sean Connery had joined Harrison Ford in a quest for the Holy Grail. A friend had just gotten the new, side-scrolling Zelda Game.
The world was full of simple distractions for a young man: Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, E.T. and Ewoks, Yop bottles filled with vinegar and baking soda, Thundercats and Space Quest III.
Then, one day, in the basement of a Ladysmith home, I climbed behind the wheel of a 16-bit Porsche 959 and the whole world changed. I was exposed to the founding tenet of automotive enthusiasm.
What? The supercar? Don’t be daft, I’m talking about arguing.
These days, the realism of the racing simulator is beyond reproach. Should I wish to take up the heft of my brother’s Xbox controller, I can accurately experience everything (apart from g-forces) from a ’66 Lotus Cortina to a Pagani Zonda.
Forget chunky polygons and 8-bit pixelation, now you can get electronically close to actually owning a rare/exotic/performance car without any of the drawbacks: no depreciation, no maintenance, no risk.
Back in the day, I had previously dabbled in some top-down Spy-Hunter, but certainly nothing that felt like actual driving. Suddenly, there I was, in the cockpit of one of two supercars. Either the Porsche 959 or the Ferrari F40.
I always took the 959. Darcy always took the F40.
It’s hard to imagine a purer rivalry than the battle between the Über-Porsche and the Primo Ferrari; a bit like watching Zeus and Poseidon step into the octagon while Hades (the Countach) looks on.
The pair of twin-turbo rockets were as different as chalk and cheese: one a high-tech, AWD, all-weather point-to-point blitzkrieg that only needed a set of off-road tires to go roaring across the desert; the other a ferociously stripped-out racecar, as fast, uncompromising and dangerous as a Peregrine falcon in full stoop.
The F40, twenty-five years old this year, is obviously my favourite now. Anyone can climb behind the wheel of a 959, but to drive the F40 in anger requires balls so large you probably have your extra-roomy underpants tailor-made, and a wallet so gargantuan you’d need to hire someone to carry it around for you. In a wheelbarrow.
Even now, the things these Olympians are capable of command respect. The family cars of today are twice as fast as they were in 1987, but the cream of modern supercar royalty is perhaps only a half-step quicker.
More important though, to my mind, is the fact that the answer to the question, “What’s the best car in the world?” had just two answers, and you could make a case for either of them. This resulted in a lot of arguing over which was best and ten-year-old me preferred the 959’s superior (in-game, anyway) grip and off-the-line acceleration to the Ferrari’s top speed and mid-range advantage.
Sure, there was stuff like the RUF Yellowbird and the original ZR-1, and the Turbo Esprit and then later the Diablo would show up and further muddy the waters. But for me, it seemed like there were only two choices, two sides of the same how-fast-can-we-go coin.
I’m not sure we’ll see a rivalry like it again. There’s a whole pantheon of demi-gods vying for the laurels these days. I suppose you could make the argument that the Veyron is still king of the hill, but something about that car leaves me a bit cold.
Still, there are plenty of excellent arguments to be had at any level you choose. Which will be better, the Mini Cooper S or the Veloster Turbo? Pick your pony-car, Mustang or Camaro (or pantomime palomino like the Challenger)? Alphagetti fight: C63 or M3 or Stasis-equipped S4?
The Porsche 911 / Nissan GT-R battle seems a bit forced; a bit more of a PR move (because it is) and less organic than Corvette/911 comparisons. But it too is something that people will happily argue about for hours.
It’s quite amusing to watch how this works on Facebook, which chronicles these “discussions” quite well. Somebody posts a picture of, say, a new 991 that they’ve spotted, someone else chimes in that they’d rather have two older air-cooled models for the money, and then thirty comments in and we’ve got a vote for a Citroën SM, a Cayman R and a Cosworth-prepped Subaru (that’d be me).
Q: when did the first automotive race take place? A: after the second car was built. Were this old chestnut true, there’d probably be a group of guys arguing over which was better, the new technology of this second car, or the purer feel of the original.
You need only look at the lively discussion that erupts in the comments on Murilee’s Time Machine Dilemma posts to see what good fun this can be. And you need only log on to any brand-specific automotive forum to see how things can go horribly wrong in that good ol’ SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET sort of way.
So, over to you then. What’s your lottery-ticket/desert-island whip? Any time-period, any car. As the Kaiser Chiefs would say, I predict a riot.