By on May 29, 2020

Original Venice Crew Shelby GT350 On Track

One night over the Memorial Day weekend, boredom forced me in search of something mindless and light. Netflix beckoned, and there, unfortunately, I came across a foreign tale of two friends rekindling the old days — and a nearly forgotten lust for life — via a road trip in an old French car. It starred Jean Reno of Ronin fame, so, what the hell.

Sadly, anyone’s mechanic’s brother can sell a script to Netflix these days, and the resulting flick was awash in clichés, overused tropes, and painfully obvious sociopolitical commentary. Still, it did prompt a moment’s reflection.

When was the last time you felt truly alive behind the wheel?

Listen, most of us are at least half dead inside. Life takes a toll. Sure, some of us have rich fathers, dizzyingly lucrative careers, exciting gigs, or well-connected friends that keep the supply of unique life experiences pumping like a fire hydrant. If you’ve ever had to race a McLaren across Dubai in a borrowed Murcielago to reach a shadowy Belgian diamond merchant in time to secure a profitable deal and prevent a kidnapping, good for you.

For most others, the thrills are fewer and far between.

Sometimes it’s the car itself that takes you from humdrum existence to changed man in 4 seconds flat. You’ve secured time behind the wheel in a sought-after supercar on a closed course, said a prayer, and opened it up. Maybe the car itself was normal but the situation saw you push it to 10/10ths. Perhaps the simplicity and purity of the driving experience itself — a borrowed Caterham 7 and a day off, for example — re-connected you both to the road and to life itself.

It could be that the vehicle itself played only a minor role in the experience, and that the setting — the location, the landscapes, the remoteness, the newness of it all — factored more heavily into your emotional experience. A passenger could play into this, too. You proposed to your longtime sweetheart while on a road trip to her parent’s cabin, only to be rejected… but her bombshell sister, seated next to her, said “yes”. (Spare no details.)

We’ll leave it to you to comb those memory banks, searching, perhaps in vain, for a moment where you can still remember the way the air smelled and tasted as you gripped the wheel, your senses fully awake. When was it, what were the circumstances, and what vehicle was it in?

[Image: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]


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35 Comments on “QOTD: Destination Joie de Vivre?...”

  • avatar

    Geez, Seth, you sure have a flair for the dramatic

    I’ve never had the experiences quite like you describe in any car, however any of my three motorcycles gave me those sensations and then some. I decided some time ago that the added safety of a car was worth some of the exhilaration of a motorcycle

    • 0 avatar

      Cars… No.


      I went out Tuesday. 181 km ride off highway. The old roads were rutted, eroded, frost heaves, and potholed. I saw 4 black bears and 1 cinnamon. I passed several small lakes, ponds, and swamps. I ended up an the largest “natural” lake in the region.The return trip on highway was a relaxing 160 km.

      Life behind bars is much more invigorating than life in a cage.

    • 0 avatar

      I guess I don’t need overly elaborate setups to make myself giddy. Once or twice a year I go the the test and tunes at the local drag strip- always gets the adrenaline up. Sometimes I find a good opportunity to pull out onto a back road a la Starsky and Hutch. When I manage to pull off a 6th to 3rd rev matched downshift to pass a farm truck with far more vigor than necessary always brings me delight. I guess I’ve learned to embrace the little things…

  • avatar

    During my living abroad days, it would have to be some travels through Europe including taking a rental M5 (thank you Hertz) from Frankfurt all over parts of Germany on nice, smooth, unrestricted Autobahn. The round sign with the slashes through it is the most beautiful of sights. What wasn’t beautiful was the AmEx bill that showed in black and white how much the fuel cost to feed the beast. Ouch. Almost the same was, and this was before Italy put speed cameras on (what seems) almost every meter of highway, in a rental 3-series and not realizing there was actually a speed limit on the A1 because no one was moving at a sane speed, just barreling down that tarmac at 120+ mph.
    African off-road treks in my lightly modified 4Runner also was a highlight. Following narrow rutted tracks knowing that a puncture or accident could spell certain doom always made you feel alive! No camera crews and support vehicles on these adventures. But in almost all of those treks, the destination was always worth the nail biting stress in the journey!
    Stateside – I would have to say a rental Jaguar XK on the road heading from south to north into Sequoia NP and the road was empty. Too much fun.
    And given that most of these experiences involve rental cars, select your future used rental vehicle purchase carefully!

    • 0 avatar

      I miss the autobahn; where no one cared how fast you went and everyone stayed in the right lane(s) unless to pass. I often wish to return to Germany just to drive on the autobahn again.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      It was far from the last time I felt alive in a car, but one of my most vivid memories behind the wheel was when I lived in Southern Italy and buying my newly purchased under 5000 mile BMW 320 touring and driving it along the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento to Positano.

      • 0 avatar

        Ah, yes, one driving highlight of mine was driving from San Francisco to LA along the Pacific Coast Hwy. Unfortunately it was in a rented Altima, but very nice none the less :)

  • avatar

    The question makes me think of why i dont care about buying a sporty or high performance car.
    If you obey the speed limit, a PIG UP will be on your butt.
    Driving on the roads is a pain.

    You cannot enjoy the car on a regular basis. High % of miles driven are WORK. A pain in the butt.

    1/3 of north GA is National Forest Service Property. Me and the AWD CUV hit the trails to get some fun in. No other cars. NOT even PIG UP trucks.

    • 0 avatar

      ^^ I approve of this message^^

      The most fun I ever had in a car is riding the endless old logging trails in NW Florida. Driving a 4WD vehicle on muddy, rutty, overgrown trails is what 4WD is all about. Well, that or a foot of snow :)

  • avatar

    Both yesterday and the day before. Yesterday I need to make the 30 mile trip down NY97 to the nearest motorcycle inspection station. It was raining and I got to try out my new rainsuit. Provided I can stay dry, I *love* riding in the rain. The road was empty and the curves at Hawk’s nest were fun in both directions. I just finished cleaning the bike and all is right with the world.

    The day before, I made the 18 mile run to Home Depot. It was a gorgeous day, the windows were down and the sunroof was open. I had Back in Black cranked up on the excellent Revel stereo, PA Route 590 was empty (it has a somewhat crappy surface, but endless curves and elevation changes). Paddle-shifting to keep the turbo spooled up I was thoroughly enjoying all 400HP on tap.

    Joy is wherever you choose to find it.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I do not live in a coastal densely populated city so driving is still a joy once you are out of the heavy traffic areas. So, for me the answer is almost daily in my 05′ C6 MT. Certainly not the fastest car or the nicest…but for the cost of entry 2.5 years ago this car makes me smile every freaking time I drive it. Covid has kept me home, like so many others, a lot lately and I have missed my road time for sure. If you can get over the silly stereotypes or just not care what others think a used C6 is an incredibly affordable way to enjoy driving again.

  • avatar

    2010, when I drove stick.

  • avatar

    I don’t know about alive, but pushing the car none the less. Dekalb IL in the early 90s and as we pulled away from a toll booth a tornado started sucking corn out of the field across the 4 lane from us. There was enough wind it sucked the passenger front window out of the tracks causing my passenger to yell to slow down so the window wouldn’t break. Screw the window dude. The cop we passed didn’t even pay attention to us. The most surprising was the top end on those V6 minivans even then. One had to be going 110/115mph at least. Then again, maybe it was a turbo 2.2 model.

    Then there was the time coming down the hill from Julian CA to Anza and melted the front brake pad material to the rotors.

  • avatar

    Truly alive behind the wheel. Hmmmm… Ok. I have a story. But i wasn’t behind the wheel.

    May 2007. The time was a few minutes past midnight. My patrol had just rounded the southern corner of a 3-way intersection that was usually packed during the day time. At night, the intersection was deserted and the only noise came from three rickety M1151’s and two Bradley’s rattling north at 15 mph. The next stretch of road was notorious for containing roadside bombs encased in styrofoam that were painted to look like curbs. I slumped down a little in the turret of the second HUMVEE to provide myself with a little extra cover from the blast that would likely occur. I scanned the rooftops for unusual silhouettes.

    500 meters after the corner, two blasts simultaneously rocked my truck. One behind and one in front. The blast threw very little debris. The IED’s were likely composed of 120mm mortar rounds encased on styrofoam. No ball bearings. No nails. No shrapnel. And… they missed! 50 meters away, from a rooftop at the vehicles one o’clock, an RPM blasted. It sailed wide right, bounced off the road and exploded on the garage door of a shop to my 7 o’clock. This crew must have been the amateurs from Syria that we were briefed about. Not only did they miss with everything they had, but i also spotted them.

    As soon as the RPG detonated, i engaged the RPM gunner with the M240 from the turret of my truck. After two nine round bursts, the lead Bradley spun its turret and littered the parapet with 17 rounds of HE. The left side of the mini wall disintegrated and fell to the ground. It was not safe for us to dismount and search for bodies since there was still a threat of secondary IED’s and an extreme threat of exposure to small arms fire. We quickly left the area. An hour later, the patrol was over.

    That was the most recent time I felt alive in a vehicle. (there are other times, but few of them involve vehicles)

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Didn’t consider that angle. I drove a Husky on Route Clearance Patrols. Yes, I can without a doubt say I will never feel more alive behind the wheel (or in general) then after taking a blast and running my hands down my leg and discovering no blood or looking at my window and seeing copper fragments from the EFP that missed by a couple of inches.

      Throwing the arm out to interrogate a suspicious object would also get the heartrate up.

      I knew it was real when we did our RIP and the driver training me gave me 2 tourniquettes and instructed me to go ahead and have them on my leg so I can quickly tighten them down should the need arise.

      Totally sucked, but yes, a level of alive I imagine I am unlikely to ever feel again behind the wheel or anywhere else. You sir answered the question correctly lol.

      I guess that is my ultimate slow car fast adventure too since “fast” for RCP was 10 k.p.h. or so.

      • 0 avatar

        EFP’s were the only thing that really frightened me. Our armor could not stop and did not stop them. Bullets… meh, I could always return fire tenfold and remain safe behind a wall of lead. IED’s were almost always undersized and never inflicted casualties. EFP’s still send a chill down my spine.

      • 0 avatar

        We once had a commander who told us to go around route clearance for a dumb reason. The lead Bradley suddenly began having comm issues and proceeded down the route behind the RCP.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          It was a standing order in my Brigade that any commander passing route clearance would be relieved. I often drove the point husky so I wish people would drive around me…I’d love for someone to clear for me once in a while lol, but they would typically just gripe on the radio.

          But yeah a slug of molten copper fired at your face is a terrifying thing. Frankly I’m living proof that it is better sometimes to be lucky than good.

          Our trucks had anti EFP armor. It was roughly 50 percent effective we were told, but it saved my kiester every time it needed to. Yeah conventional IEFs just broke my truck. Didn’t really sweat them.

          Now you in a flat bottomed HMMWV or a Bradley…that’s a hard pass. I never wanted near a non v hulled truck.

  • avatar

    Cresting the top of a mountain in SW Virginia on a MC, many years ago before traffic was EVERYWHERE. I had the road to myself so I shut down the engine and coasted the whole way down. Slowly so that I could soak up the silence and the gentle lean into and out of every single curve. They have described riding a MC as the closest thing to flying on the ground. They’re right.

  • avatar

    I track my C7 every now and then… its an experience everyone who considers themselves a “car guy” should do at least once. Even 8/10ths on track makes anything you’ve done on the street seem like 3/10ths. Track driving spoils you quickly, after you’ve taken corners pushing over 1G and blasted down the Ullman Straight on Sebring at close to 140 driving on the street is a let down. Track driving completely resets your perception on a vehicles performance envelope. Its the kind of escape you need every few months to remind yourself of what a car can do. It even feels like the car wants to thank you for letting it loose so it can stretch its legs. Nothing beats being able to open it without worry of traffic or cops. You also get a reality check when a 911 GT3 RS comes screaming by making your 460HP car seem slow.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I would agree 100 percent with you, except for the 8/10ths vs 3/10ths bit. You could do things in an NA Miata on the street that felt like pulling the Mulsanne Straight…all while being passed by a family in a Ford Escape.

  • avatar

    The several decades that I explored the back roads of the states west of the Rockies. Many of those roads were dirt. We would usually go in the late fall and encounter few others.
    I recall having breakfast at Natural Bridges in Utah when it was 17 F. There was ice in the canyons,many feet thick, but only the sound of the wind.
    This was van life before there was #VanLife.
    When the internet and GPS became widely available, the secret places were no longer secret.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    This is why there is the whole “slow car fast” thing. My commute takes me up a windy road to my house. My lowly Fiesta ST never fails to make me feel like Ken Block on that part of the drive. Even if there is a cement mixer crawling up the hill I can hang back and take each curve, then repeat. I could buy more car for sure, and shopped some serious metal but reading everyone griping about traffic and not being able to use the power, I am inclined to think I chose wisely.

    If you can’t get to the track often enough, get a slow car (I mean I don’t think it’s slow as I’ve owned several NA Miatas and grew up in the era that 5.0 Fox Bodies were considered fast but the few times I’ve had it on a track the C5 and newer Vette drivers have reminded me that it is not in fact that fast) and just drive the wheels off of it. There are very few things more satisfying than feeling like you are flogging a car and not even having cops give you a second look as you go by doing it.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I’ve always felt I could enjoy most any car provided it has a third pedal and the alignment is good…even the most homely commuter appliances.

  • avatar

    Years ago, my daily commute was about 40 mi. one-way. No traffic, I could make it door-to-door in under 40 min. But during rush hour commute time would normally lengthen to well over an hour. The worst part was a five + mile stretch aptly nicknamed the Escondido Crawl. I found a “short-cut” around the Crawl that was 15 miles long but would actually save me ~10 min of driving time. The road was two-lane, suitably hilly and curvy and most times in the morning reasonably deserted. Everyone knows the old saying “It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow”. Well, my life has been pretty full of slow cars. I was driving a 2003 Toyota Matrix. It had the standard 130 Hp engine but it had a 5-speed manual and came equipped with Firestone Firehawk-Z tires. It wasn’t fast but it definitely could handle. Pushing that car through the twists and turns (probably 7/10ths of its limits) felt challenging and took away a bit of the dreariness of the daily grind.

  • avatar

    This morning coming into work actually. I bought an 06 convertible Corvette last weekend and haven’t had a chance to drive it much at all. Friday traffic is always lighter on my commute and the weather was nice so I drove her in.
    I was smiling most of the time! The power and sound of that V8 is intoxicating. Especially after driving my wife’s Subaru for most of my commuting days.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Driving thru the deserts and valleys of New Mexico in a stick shift Toyota. 1990s.

    New Mexico’s motto is “Land of Enchantment”. Truly is, in a rugged way.

  • avatar

    I get a small thrill from taking the doors and top off my Jeep in good weather.

    Actually taking it off-road is even better; nothing quite beats the thrill of almost getting stuck then extricating yourself through skill or luck or some combination thereof. There’s also great satisfaction in getting yourself unstuck using a shovel, floor mats, and/or rocks or logs. It’s a nice reward to the letdown of getting stuck. I don’t consider myself truly stuck if I can get out using my own power without a winch. If I use a winch or another vehicle, that counts as stuck.

    I keep a tally for every jeep I’ve owned of my “stuck karma,” or the number of times I’ve been stuck and pulled out vs. the number of people I’ve rescued. I never sell a jeep with negative stuck karma.

  • avatar

    • Best drive I ever had was last summer on UT-30 headed west from the Great Salt Lake toward Nevada at dusk/early evening. Good car, good music, stars coming out, moon coming up – magic.

    • Last time I felt alive in a vehicle as in “I don’t want to die” was getting a cracked rib during a timed lap. Hey, I just remembered – timed laps aren’t my thing! :-)

    • Best COVID driving moment was my late night ‘test drive’ in the truck which stretched out to 140 miles just because I was enjoying it.

    • Peak GM driving moment: 20 years ago, knew I was leaving the company – was driving a Chevrolet dually on the Truck Loop at Milford Proving Ground. Bob Seger’s Like a Rock (the song, not the ad) came on the radio and I got a little wistful thinking about ‘what could have been.’

  • avatar

    With COVID and a health-related leave from work, I hadn’t driven in weeks. Finally I got in the Lexus and hit the freeway just for the hell of it. Nothing like an empty road, a torquey V8 and a smooth ride.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven my share of fun cars but my biggest thrill behind the wheel was something that happened from time to time in my bus driving days. Heavy traffic, busy city route, tons of people, and yet by keeping things moving, always being a step ahead of everyone else, and enjoying just a bit of luck, I somehow managed to run right on time without taking any big safety risks. Made me feel like Superman when it happened.

  • avatar

    1965. Driving west through southern Utah on I 15 towards Vegas in the ’59 Vette convertible top down. Temp. 112 and damned if “Hot time, summer in the City” isn’t on the radio. Great to be 20. Beautiful drive.

  • avatar

    Love the stories .

    I too am a drive slow cars fast kinda guy and I love it because I can always dial it up anytime, any where .

    Then there’s my stupidity of riding a Motocycle anywhere I want, often through the Ghetto or Barrio, my standard riding kit is a police Motocycle jacket and black & white 3/4 helmet .

    If you don’t like what you’re driving you should get rid of it pronto because there’s an ass for every seat .


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