By on May 20, 2012

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.

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31 Comments on “The Duel...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    First played test drive on a Commadore 64…

    Man I hated those cops trying to slow me down, actually I still do hate that.

    • 0 avatar

      I had this for the PC, along with the Muscle Car pack and California Scenery. Man I had a great time spending hours driving the F40 and the 959, or going ludcrious and putting crazy matches together, say 63 Vette against 959, sure if the computer was driving the slower car! Then it was more of a challenge than now. I can sit down and do a whole race in less than 30 minutes.

      I had this one and TD 1, and TD 3. I played TD4 but decided it was too unrealistic, and picked up a copy of Need for Speed and that felt right again. Then NFS just got silly.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        I still have and use a copy of Grand Turismo 3 for PlayStation 2. Physics are ok but the licence tests are silly… just let me drive MAN!

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve got GT 1-4, pretty much the only reason I bought a PS2 was for GT4. Now I’m just not into the grind of getting the licenses on game, and would rather get them in real life.

      I’ve got a wide assortment of cars on each one.

  • avatar

    My Whip of choice? oof that’s a tough one. No-holds-barred? My classy car would be a Dusenberg, performance would be a 959, family truckster would be a 4 door ’68 Thunderbird.

  • avatar

    Man, I wasted countless hours in my formative youth playing this game. Probably played a role in how I found driving so enjoyable today. Too bad the franchise took a steep dive since then.

  • avatar

    played this daily on our Apple IIGS. had a joystick with it, and you could use dials on the side to lock the control input, so i’d pin the accelerator and just steer. i guess i knew about ‘never lift’ early, hah

    i think i chose the 959 more. but in real life, now? F40, no question

    • 0 avatar

      IIRC, at least on the IIGS, if you picked Manual transmission, you shifted with the buttons on the joystick, but if you opened the throttle too far in 1st gear you could watch the engine explode in the rearview mirror.

  • avatar

    At the arcade, Outrun was light years ahead of anything before it, with the big advancement being elevation changes. It’s a simple thing, but a huge step forward in simulation of real driving.

    Then Test Drive came along for the home market and really set the bar high. Like everything from that era, the Amiga screenshots got your hopes up, but even on a C-64 the game delivered a sense of physics and realism. Plus Test Drive II had the expansion packs… muscle cars, California scenery…

    The next step at the arcade was Hard Drivin’… which had THREE pedals, a key, and a true gated shifter, plus proportional force feedback in the steering wheel. You couldn’t even play the game if you didn’t know that a manual transmission car requires the clutch to be in when you turn the key. It sounds cheesy, but Hard Drivin’ actually taught me how to drive a stick. At 17, I found an intercooled Volvo 245 Turbo in the classifieds, got a ride 70 miles from home, paid for it and drove it home never having actually driven a manual transmission car before… no problems at all.

    I think that ’83 245Ti will always be my go-to desert island car… the combination of quirky, safe, quick, stick, turbo, euro, wagon… never quite materialized again.

    (and there was a great little attempt at a rivalry at the time, too : )

    • 0 avatar
      H Man

      Hard Drivin’/Race Drivin’ are my all-time favorite racing games, and they were long before I could drive a real car. I preferred a stick then, and still do now. My personal best on Race Drivin’s long course was over four and a half hours when I was 15. Fantastic games, way ahead of their times, albeit buggy.

  • avatar

    I remember playing Test Drive 1 and 2, they were fine games but 4 and 5 and 6 had wonky physics. NFS was good until my starting cars were a Neon and a Civic, then EA quit even trying when they started adding Online Passes, a whole other issue.

  • avatar

    TD 1 and 2 came from a company that eventually became EA Canada, they kept making Need for Speed afterwards as Accolade held the rights to Test Drive.

    Speaking of driving games, I highly recommend getting the beta of rfactor 2.

    I find the Gran Turismo/NFS and Forza games too arcadey, the only one that feels realistic at all is NFS Shift but it shoots itself in the foot in every other way.

    I remember NFS 3 being an excellent take on the Test Drive formula, it was so fun I could care less how unrealistic it was. For whatever reason none of the other tickled my fancy, and Gran Turismo quickly turns into a grind.

    Nothing stands up to Street Rod though… nothing.

    • 0 avatar

      That company was Distinctive Software of Burnaby, BC (a suburb of Vancouver). I know a couple of people who worked there. Accolade saved their butts by having them make Test Drive, as they were ready to go under. Test Drive was a huge success. They were later purchased by EA, and are now known as EA Canada.

      TD 2 was my favorite game to play on my Commodore 64. I don’t remember which car was my favorite, but I remember being disappointed by the Muscle Car pack because the cars couldn’t go as fast as the newer cars.

      My friends at that age were not very interested in cars or computers, so I did not get to partake in any arguments. They were always more interested in playing tag or riding bikes.

  • avatar

    My choice for cost no object dream ride: Ferrari Testarossa or 512tr. It’s not the fastest supercar ever, it’s too big, and the side strakes are garish, to say the least. I don’t care. I’ve wanted one ever since the third season of Miami Vice.

    I still find myself doing searches for them on eBay and Autotrader. The prices on used ones have dropped into new Corvette territory.

    It’s ridiculous to think about it. The maintanence and insurance costs would be insane, not to mention the fact that I couldn’t afford a new Corvette if I wanted to. Still, the dream is alive.

  • avatar

    I guess I’m in the minority, but I liked Test Drive 4. Sure it’s unrealistic (I’m pretty sure a ’69 ZL1 Camaro can’t exceed 200 MPH) and the physics were unrealistic at best, but there must be something said about sending a ’70 LS6 Chevelle flying off a steep San Fransisco hill with the CHP in hot pursuit. Damn it was fun, plus because of that game I learned about what was an LS6, a COPO ZL1 and so on.

    I also enjoyed the first Need for Speed, that was spot on, it even had the accurate noises from the shifter of each vehicle! Coicidently, my favorite car in that one was the “slowest”, the twin turbo Supra. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 3 and High Stakes were great also, loved using the 9C1 Caprice cop car in High Stakes. Then they got silly until they released the modern Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, then again I generally perfer the games where you can be the cop, love destroying other players with the P71 Crown Vic… especially when they’re dumb enough to play “chicken” with me!

    • 0 avatar

      “I also enjoyed the first Need for Speed, that was spot on, it even had the accurate noises from the shifter of each vehicle! Coicidently, my favorite car in that one was the “slowest”, the twin turbo Supra.”

      I had that one for PC, and yeah, it was a peach of a game. Loved it. The slow cars were the most fun. The Supra and the RX-7 were awesome. I never did like the 911 Turbo because it was surely as tail-happy as the real thing.

      Got that game in a three-fer pack with the original Road Rash (including the mega-awesome soundtrack that game had on PC) and Test Drive: Off Road. TDOR was the only somewhat disappointing one of the lot. The other two I played for hours on end, and both still have quite a bit of replay value. Too bad I don’t have a functional old PC kicking around that can boot them (and my never-ending collection of Maxis “Sim” titles and “You Don’t Know Jack” games).

  • avatar

    I never played this franchise, but wanted to! Our family didn’t get a computer until 1992, and we got a game called Stunts by Broderbund. My buddies and I wasted countless weekends making and editing our own tracks, but the game was quickly tossed aside when we found out about Sid Meier’s Civilization.

    That 486 DX2 was quite the Hot Rod Computer back in the day! Everyone else was using 286s or 386s, so we got the creme de la creme! It lasted my buddies and I through high school. We never hooked it to the Internet.

    • 0 avatar

      Stunts is still a great game, my favorite car was the Quattro.

      and yeah, that 486 on the internet is no treat, I tried back in the days of 56k dialup and it took 5 minutes to check email, same computer on FIOS and a network card still takes 5 minutes to load a page. But mine is the default computer if all the rest in the house fails, it’ll get the job done, if you are in need of a fix.

  • avatar

    One of the absolutely best pieces of box art ever made. Except for the script font, it looks completely modern.

  • avatar

    Cheers Brendan on the article topic, I don’t recall this game as it may of been a few years before my time, but I do recall a Test Drive 3 addiction.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I played this game a lot. Got the European scenery and all the cars. Was never able to get the Californiastan one running.

    I remember that at some point all the records were around the 600K mark and the cars were mostly the F40 and the 959 at that point.

    My favorite ones? The F40, which for me is still THE Supercar, the ZR1 (with “only” 375HP) and sometimes the RUF, you can’t really argue with 211 MPH in the Autobahn. Of the muscle car pack, it has to be the Camaro. The Stingray looked pretty neat.

    It was also the first color computer we had (386DX IIRC). S-VGA graphics rocked back then.

    Test drive I was a bit annoying to play with the keyboard. And in monochrome and a XT *sigh*.

    Also played Street Rod a lot. The most nerve breaking race was beating The King the first time.

    I think I downloaded it again in around 2010 along with a 2600 emulator and a crapload of games for it.

    Awesome topic!

  • avatar

    Lottery ticket ride? McLaren F1, Ferrari 458 & Bugatti Veyron Supersport. If I have to choose, it wasn’t a big enough fantasy. I waver on the Enzo vs. 458 thing. Any one of them would kill me quickly, but that’s kind of what they’re for, no?

  • avatar

    Porsche Unleashed/Porsche 2000 Need For Speed 5 pretty much set the standard for the period

    GFX had matured and so had the variety of wheels… made for a convincing drive experience

  • avatar

    Love GT1-5.

    My whip would be the E30 M3. built right.

  • avatar

    Maclaren F1 if I’m on a desert island and actually have to have it work. 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe if I just want something to adore and talk to ala Wilson.

  • avatar

    TDII was my first racing game. I always chose the F40 – driving the 959 made the game freeze ;)

  • avatar

    I love the old three scree arcade game Ferrari F355 Challenge —

    I’d probably go with a F430 these days, were I suddenly nouveau riche.

  • avatar

    So Buster Gonad drives a Ferrari F40. That’s interesting to know.

  • avatar

    The first realistic driving game I was hooked on was Need for Speed on PC. I remember trying to even PLACE with the Supra, but it was just a turd in that game, given present company.

    Dream car? F355. It’s just too pretty.

  • avatar

    I would have to hit the big lotto because I would have a hard time trying to shoose between a Porsche 962, a Ferrari F40, a Lancia Stratos and a GT40 MKII so I would just buy them all.

    Games wise for running hard on the street the Test Drive and TDII games got me started and we had all the car and scenery packs. Then it was the original Need for Speed. It all went downhill from there but I have to admit playing Need for Speed – Most Wanted with my daughter is fun since the “physics” are pretty forgiving when we race.

    For the games where you race on the track I had a couple F1 games back in they day when you didn’t get to pit for fuel. Then the original Need for Speed had some pretty good track racing for it’s day. Sports Car GT is a classic with good physics and a lot of community support. I think we had around 600 cars and 128 tracks for that one for our LAN parties. The NfS Shift series is still too much of an arcade game both in the physics and stupid effects. I have never had the gauges blur at speed. Grand Prix Legends, Rally Trophy and GT Legends are all pretty good vintage racers with decent physics. GTR and it’s decendents aer pretty good. rFactor and Live for Speed are also pretty decent. One needs to win the lotto just to buy all the good racing games as well. The TOCA and Dirt series from Codemasters have a good compromise between arcade and realism as well.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    “These days, the realism of the racing simulator is beyond reproach. ”

    Absolute nonsense.

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