Full disclosure: While my business-class compatriots were living it up in Geneva, I was sitting at home in Ohio, waiting anxiously for the Fed-Ex-mishap-delayed arrival of something called a “Modern Eagle NOS Brazilian” and letting my three-year-old son watch The Lost World in HD. I’d forgotten that there was a part where the T. Rex bites a hapless civilian in half. “There’s meat inside people, if you’re a hungry dinosaur and you can’t find a ‘ceratops to eat,” the boy opined upon seeing the scene. Oh, well. Nature, red in tooth and claw, and all that.
It’s reasonable, therefore, that I might be personally bitter about the latest auto show and my failure to snag a seat on a charter flight to same. No surprise there. What is surprising is this: the people who went weren’t excited about the product either. Sure, they took Facebook pictures of their triple-seven sleeping pods and eighty-euro mystery dinners, but when it came to the actual rolling stock, the lack of enthusiasm among the professional enthusiasts could be viewed from space. Assuming, of course, you have an Internet connection in space and are willing to use it to read auto blogs. The closest thing to a universally acclaimed car at the show was a diesel version of a sporty hatchback. That’s like getting worked up over Diet Dr. Pepper.
The responsibility for this dismal state of affairs can be clearly laid at the feet of three companies. Porsche, Ferrari, and Lamborghini were given a chance to render automotive equivalents of Miss Alex Morgan in steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber. Instead, they chose to give us Honey Boo-Boo’s mother, Snooki, and Janet Reno in a Predator mask, respectively.
Start with the reprehensible new 991-generation 911 GT3. The press is experiencing a collective aneurysm regarding the mandatory PDK, and well they should. The excuse given by the truck-builders at Stuttgart that PDK is faster around a racetrack doesn’t wash. Nobody buys a GT3 to go quickly around a racetrack, unless they are suffering from dementia. The list of cars that will handily embarrass a GT3 around a racetrack includes:
- Pretty much every $15,000 dedicated race car ever, including those ones with the V-twin snowmobile engines
- Fox Mustangs with big wings on them
- The Nissan GT-R
- A little thing that Americans like to call the CORVETTE Z06
- and many more!
GT3s are purchased for two reasons. One, they’re fun to drive, so the mandatory PDK in the new one kind of stabs that in the proverbial ball sack. Two, they have traditionally had the old, hyper-durable, GT1-based engine. The new GT3 makes do with an uprated version of the new-gen boxer which makes great numbers in the current 991 but has yet to prove itself as a lasting proposition. This is good news for anybody who owns a 997 GT3: you probably just joined me and my 993 in the Land Where Depreciation No Longer Applies In Any Meaningful Sense. Congratulations. I’ll see you at the next PCA open house. Remember, when you see a Z06 behind you, be sure to wave him by with disdain. We’re told that the new motor makes up for its dirt-cheap construction and totally plebian roots by having all sorts of titanium and whatnot in it. As an experienced Porsche owner, I read that as a warning rendered in sixty-foot tall neon-lit letters, and the text of the warning is
HOLY SHIT THIS IS GONNA COST MONEY WHEN IT SUFFERS FROM SOME WEIRD ENGINE FAILURE THAT SOMEHOW NEVER AFFECTED ANY GENERATION OF THE GEO METRO
The banners flapping proudly in front of Porsche’s corporate headquarters will be cut down and cunningly fashioned into clothing for puppets acting in plays that will re-enact the shame and humiliation involved in telling your Viper-owning neighbor why your titanium-coated titanium rods didn’t make it to the ten-thousand-mile mark. Let’s not even discuss the electronic rear-steer, which is something even the Japanese couldn’t make work reliably and is therefore an almost certain bet to be disconnected and/or removed by the Porschephiles unlucky enough to be unable to afford a 997 GT3 instead of this contraption fifteen years from now.
The reviews for the new car will be spectacular, but we all understand that is because Porsche’s PR department won’t permit anything else and don’t you want to fly business class to Europe? Oh yes you do.
At least the GT3 is priced within greedy-fingered reach of the working Goldman Sachs intern, something that can’t be said about the ridiculous “LaFerrari”. Someone forgot to tell the Maranellians that hypercars are supposed to be more desirable than supercars. The LaFerrari looks like a 458 with a thyroid disorder. It’s far from beautiful but it isn’t beautiful from far. Instead, it’s merely aggressive to a fault.
I have a theory as to why the new LaFerrari and its competitors look the way they do, and it is this: Even if you don’t completely buy into the romantic old notion of Seventies supercar buyers as wealthy, educated playboys and/or aristocrats, it’s certainly true that the men who bought the Miuras and Daytonas appreciated beauty. They wanted something gorgeous, and they wanted to be seen driving something gorgeous. There’s something about a Miura or even a original LP400 Countach that just brings out the car fan in people who normally despite things like Corvettes, Mustangs, or Porsches. They are statements of beauty. They’re expensive and impractical and difficult but all of those flaws are in the service of the goal, the same way we all understand that an Edward Green captoe cannot be used to kick-start a Honda CB550 too many times without splitting the leather. If you didn’t understand that, I’m telling you now, from miserable experience, okay?
Most people will forgive excess in the service of something beautiful, whether that something is a home, a dress, a watch, or an automobile. We may be jealous, we may carp about the environment or some garbage like that, but we will forgive. The problem is that the one-percenters of the globe no longer want that forgiveness. They don’t even want admiration. Rather, they want to impose the crass fact of their historically unsurpassed collective wealth and power directly upon our retinas. They demand aggression in the 44-ounce size, God damn it, and they want you to be as shocked and offended as possible. The LaFerrari isn’t beautiful on purpose. Ferrari knows how to build gorgeous cars. This is meant to be in your face. It’s a primal scream of wealth meant to be heard over the overwhelming Arabian din of AMGs and Panameras and Gallardos common as Corollas and every other gauche toy it’s possible to acquire with the limitless proceeds granted our betters by corrupt governments and tilted markets and insider information and thick, poisonous fluid left half a mile beneath your grandfather’s tent by the predations and expiration of Tyrannosaurus Rex himself. Beauty doesn’t enter the equation; the buyers wouldn’t recognize it anyway. If you want a vision of the future, imagine a four-story-tall press stamping aluminum into an inhumanly unattractive fascia — forever.
We are left in the position of the hapless radio listener who was once permitted a tiny slice of audio dynamic variation in his pop music, a quiet section of “Stairway” or the changes of “A Day In The Life” and now is given the inhuman 105dB compression of IMMA BE IMMA BE IMMA BE IMMA BE. The LaFerrari has to be louder than everything else around it or it has no reason to exist. We all knew the Enzo was ugly as sin compared to the F40 (let’s just pretend the F50 didn’t happen, okay?) but we forgave it because there was something lovely about the technical merit of that car, the simplicity and the performance. No longer. The LaFerrari. Menacing a Moscow valet near you.
But here comes the hotsteppin’ irony! The LaFerrari isn’t hideous enough! There’s a “misshapen gap” — and Ferrari is on the wrong side! Because the Lamborghini Veneno exists! The Veneno, which is named after the general concept of venereal disease, attempts to replicate in metal what it feels like to have the burning sensation of penile infection. (Sadly, your humble author can only guess at that particular sensation; my lack of business-class trips to Europe forces me to consort with relatively decent American ladies.) It’s all sharp edges and gaping rectums and Batmobile-inspired stupidity. It isn’t even really shaped like a proper car, not even in the general sense. With just 750 horsepower, it will be easy prey for hopped-up GT-Rs and nitrous-fed 1980 Thunderbirds, but that hardly matters because the sole purpose of this vehicle is to announce the owner’s ability to absolutely and completely waste three point nine million dollars.
The silhouette of the Veneno will be displayed in PowerPoint presentations throughout Estonia as each new generation of high-priced prostitute is rigorously drilled on how to distinguish this ridiculous but potentially profitable contraption from stealth fighters, unwanted Roy Lichtenstein sculptures, and head-on collisions between a vinyl-wrapped Murcielago and a Sportback-equipped Pulsar NX. Seventy-year-old hedge fund managers will vie via proxy bid process with tattooed Yakuza honchos for the privilege of dislocating their hip with each monstrously undignified entry and exit. Somebody will make a kit that turns late-model Chevy S-10s into Veneno lookalikes, but due to a mistake in the Solidworks file the resulting machine will be considerably more graceful-looking and thus completely unacceptable!
Geneva gave us a Porsche optimized for a track time slower than that of a used Viper, a LaFerrari more properly titled the LaMentable, and a syphilis fever dream of a Lamborghini. But none of that was really given to us. It was given to the Masters of the Universe, the Eloi who converse in an increasingly tortured and meaningless dialect of exaggerated symbols and amplified display. We, the humans occupying the unwanted portions of the planet, received a diesel hatchback. So we can burn a fuel more amenable to CO2-centric regulations and still have red stripes on the grille. Except the GTD doesn’t seem to have any red stripes. Enjoy your diesel hatchback, you proles. No red stripe for you. Too much exuberance is bad for the environment and the polar bears and all the other stuff that depends on you cutting your consumption of plastic party cups but is, I swear, completely unaffected by the giant Eye of Sauron in China cranking out iPods in the suicide-inducing millions. Make sure you watch TV so you know how to vote next time, too. Try not to make a fuss or occupy any parks while you’re at it.
Luckily, the antidote for all this stupidity is probably reasonably close to your home. Go over to your local Chevrolet dealer and see if they’ll cut you a deal on a close-out six-speed manual “narrowbody” C6 Corvette. For forty thousand bucks or so, you should be able to pick up one without the frills which, frankly, don’t cut it in that car anyway. In your dedicated and properly-trained hands, it should be able to stay in view of any of the above-mentioned fopperies. If the engine died for no reason, which ain’t gonna happen by the way, you could get a new one at a junkyard. It’s not gorgeous, but it has a visual dignity all its own and some of the detailing is quite nice.
If the Vette isn’t your cup of tea, you could try a Mustang GT, which is even cheaper and is charming in its own way. Or a Challenger SRT-8. Or a Nissan 370Z. Or a Genesis Coupe. Or, yes, a Scion FR-S. There’s a lot of good metal out there for people who aren’t obsessed with humiliating their neighbor in a driveway faceoff or winning Cars and Coffee on a technicality. It’s never been cheaper, faster, or more reliable that it is right now. That’s the real story behind the Geneva show, and it’s one you can verify for yourself this weekend, right at home.