When did Americans start thinking the car-guy grass was greener on the other side of an ocean? Was it Tokyo Drift that did it, or was it David E. Davis’ thinly-veiled advertising copy for the BMW 2002 in the pages of the as-yet-un-revered Car and Driver? Perhaps it was the majestic Mercedes W108 that turned the trick, or James Dean’s Porsche, or the image of the overpaid, oversexed American aviator carelessly flinging an MG down a British B-road in the Lend-Lease era.
Regardless of when it happened, we all know that it did happen. Nearly every young automotive enthusiast wishes he could drive the ‘Ring, storm the Stelvio Pass, or deliver some tofu in a sticker-speckled hachi-roku. We’ve all imagined ourselves as steely-eyed arbiters of lane discipline on the Autobahn or standing-mile madmen nonchalantly betting a hundred grand on our chances down an Armco-lined two-lane on the dismal outskirts of Moscow.
Don’t be fooled. The United States of America has been, and continues to be, the greatest place in the world for a regular guy (or girl) to fall in four-wheeled love. Here’s why.
Let’s start with freedom. Yes, the enforcement of speed limits has become a for-profit business in many parts of America, and the EPA/DOT Axis Of Evil conspires to prevent us from owning Mitsuokas and R34 Skylines, but Americans are still generally free to purchase and own pretty much anything they can afford, and the taxation level on automobiles is, by international standards, virtually nonexistent. Hell, in South Carolina, the entire tax and tariff burden on a new car from anywhere, whether it’s Hiroshima or Dresden, is a total of three hundred bucks. Where else in the world can you buy a new $25,000 (or $2.5M) car and pay $300 in tax? Engine displacement taxes? CO2-based company-car income-taxation schemes? 200% import duties? We ain’t got any of that stuff here, son. Now go buy yourself something nice.
That brings us to cost. Americans are free to negotiate on prices at dealers, which is not the case everywhere, and in general they pay less for cars than anyone else, both in actual currency and in earnings-adjusted measurements. The young executive drives a 318i in Europe; in the United States, he drives a 335i, or an M3. Plus, America invented the Duratec Mustang, with which your humble author has had tricky personal experiences but which is generally understood to be the cheapest/fastest car in history.
When it’s time to fill that Duratec Mustang up, you’ll enjoy some of the lowest fuel prices outside of the Arab states, and you’ll be able to buy a 56-ounce Red Bull while you’re at it. Looking for parking? Unless you’re in New York or San Francisco, chances are you’re in luck!
Europeans, and to a lesser extent Asians, believe that automobiles are a privilege for the wealthy, but in America it is your God-given right to go buy a raggedy-assed old Crown Vic cop car, supercharge it, register it somewhere without an emissions check, put straight pipes on it, and smoke the tires up and down your local main street. You’re allowed to own a one-ton pickup truck, if you want one. You can tow things if you want. It’s very democratic, and it’s very republican as well.
When it’s time to go fast, America has you covered as well. Obviously we lead the world in drag strips and oval tracks, but did you know that there are more high-quality road courses in the United States than there are in the rest of the world combined? You do now. There are so many world-famous, epic road courses in this country that any attempt to come with a “Big Five” always causes pitlane fisticuffs among aging orthodontists. Do I need to name names?
- Laguna Seca
- Sears Point
- Road America
- Road Atlanta
- Watkins Glen
- Mosport — dammit, that’s in Canada!
Most critically, unlike the great European or Japanese road courses (like Spa, for example) it’s trivially easy and cheap to either get your own car on these tracks or race someone else’s car. We have not one, but two national race series for $500 cars.
The paddock at any American race, even the higher-end Grand-Am events, is mostly made up of normal American middle-class people pursuing their passions. We don’t consider motor racing to be a sport for the aristocrats here. It’s a sport for doctors, plumbers, and construction workers. It’s a sport where the guys who fix your Chevy Cruze have multiple SCCA National Championships. It’s a sport where a guy can start autocrossing in his late teens and become a Grand-Am champion. It’s a sport where another guy can buy a VW Golf spec race car, drive it home because it’s the only car he owns, and twenty years later turn into this guy. It’s a sport where a washed-up bicycle racer with a broken neck and legs that were reassembled in a jigsaw pattern and who still pisses blood every day of the week can wind up racing all over the country and beating Bob Lutz in his own car.
Other countries may have auto-caviar for the super-rich: a ‘bahn blast in a Bugatti, a spank seat in an Aston for a 24hour ‘Ring race, private laps around Fuji in a Ferrari Corse Clienti formula car. Americans, on the other hand, have an equal and fair chance to work hard and live out their automotive dreams at any level. From the guy racing a Tempo around a short track to Scott Pruett’s multiple Daytona Prototype championships, from the teenager working a fast-food job to drive an old Mustang to Bill Gates struggling to get his 959 through the DOT, we are all experiencing our part of this very automotive country. Happy Fourth, everyone.