Ask The Best And Brightest: Who Do You Blame For Boring Cars?
By the time you read this, I won’t be at my computer any more. I’ll be nestled in the firm leather seats of a sportscar, blasting along the banks of the mighty Columbia in search of an empty road that winds up the walls of the yawning Columbia Gorge. I’ll be enthroned in the dark, yet airy cockpit of something so rare, kids in the backseat of every car I pass will get whiplash trying to catch a glimpse of the silver streak slashing its way towards the emptiness of Central Oregon. My telephone will be off, but I will be in deep communication with four wheels, four points of short-travel suspension, and the melodic rasp of six cylinders. I’ll keep the corner of one eye on the few important gauges that line my cockpit cocoon, watching as the needle on the engine oil temperature dial climbs to the point where my car’s engine shakes off the seasonal chill and sings the sadness of the world away. But, more importantly, I will be feeling that engine shake off the cobwebs of underuse, feeling its confidence build, feeling my consciousness fuse with the collection of metal and plastic that shelters me, womb-like, from the mundanity of everyday life.
By the time you read this, my car and I will be jinba ittai, or “person and horse as one.” We will be united, joined in our mutual lack of purpose. We will be headed nowhere in particular, and loving every minute of it. This is why I spent my savings on this odd-looking, impractical piece of engineering: my car is an escape vehicle from the abstract analysis and information overload that is my day-to-day existence. It connects me to one of the most important aspects of the automobile: its ability to connect with individual human beings. The ability to form, over the course of one glance or one corner, the kind of deeply intimate relationship we so struggle to form with our fellow men.
But as I’m downshifting into a corner, as I’m applying the gas and feeling the car beneath me wrestle with the invisible forces of gravity and inertia, something will be bothering me. Something will be breaking the spell cast by this marvelous machine and a challenging piece of road. I will be thinking about all the people leaving their places of work, hopping into their cars and joining the joyless grind on the interstate that will eventually carry them home. I will be thinking about the fact that there are so many more of these people, in their individual metal pods stuck to the conveyor belt of life’s daily commute, that the industry I cover must ignore my spiritual communion. The hermit in his used M Coupe does nothing to keep the lights on in the sprawling factories that, in turn, keep us supplied with the numb, emotionless appliances that are the lifeblood of the industry and modern American life. My disdain for the highly-engineered tedium of new D-Segment sedans never hired a single full-time worker, or reliably gave millions of people freedom from the tyranny of immobility.
Do consumers prefer boring cars? Has the industry forced them to choose the anodyne over the unreliable? Or are boring cars the inevitable result of modern development patterns and industrial logic? I don’t know. Right now, I don’t even care.Right now, I’m pushing just a little bit harder into the next corner, catching my breath as the beauty of nature falls away before me into a Cathedral carved by centuries of erosion. Catching my breath as molecules of rubber gasify, and my car and I thrill at the new high that our relationship has reached. You, on the other hand, might just have time to help solve this essential dilemma before you hop into your car and drive home.
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The only cars I really find boring these days are sedans, be it Hyundai, VW, Kia, Toyota, the new Sebring, Honda, or Lincoln you could switch badges and almost everyone would be fooled. But even the most boring cars are fun if you drive them right, then again after driving my moms Ford 500 I couldn't even turn tight enough to really throw it.
I have to say that the notion that reliablity makes cars boring is absurd. I grew up on mid 60'-70's domestics, and I maintained most of them myself. I don't miss for a moment changing those old reduction gear starters on my dad's Plymouth, or carrying a fusable link around in the trunk just in case. By the time you reached 90-100 thousand miles it was time for an overhaul. Nor do I miss changing fuses, cleaning terminals, and testing relays on the Fiat I used to own. Hemi's were cool back in the day, but a wedge motor didn't need the valves adjusted every week. What makes a car memorable and interesting is its character, and sometimes the greatest characters are the ones that keep going no matter what you do to them. Styling that is inhibited by government regulations, and beaurocratic lock-step aiming for the lowest common denominator is more to blame for boring cars than anything else.