No doubt there are as many narratives of motoring – that is, of driving one’s favourite motor vehicle – as there are drivers. Considering what I believe is the undeniable mingling that transpires upon the roadways – that is, the jockeying for position, the attempts to impress with speed or appearance, the exhibitions of rage, the clamour for priority, the insistence upon speed limits and the preservation of dutiful lines – I can only assume that the experience is for each of us as singular as any other communal activity.
From the time I first followed with interest the latest models from GM, Ford and Chrysler, certain characteristics of automobile driving have prevailed. The most common and most often mentioned is the “old fogey” driver; viz., the old model 8-cylinder Buick or Ford truck driven by a farmer or “church lady”, always well under the speed limit and oblivious to those in line behind them.
Another equally popular stereotype is that commonly associated with men who are alleged to have sexual psychoses. I am speaking of the Corvette driver. It is however a model as frequently popular with young men seeking to impress someone – or everybody!
Just to illustrate the uniformity of discredit afforded automobile drivers and their product manufacturers, recall the image associated with the Rolls Royce. This cartel with celebrity or fortune was for hoi polloi translated into the more accessible Cadillac or Lincoln. The Americans did however raise the standard of superfluity during the era of “fins” at the back of the Cadillacs or the living rooms at the back of the Lincoln Continental.
In an odd switch of gravity, just as there was some advantage to having the biggest, there was also the allure of having the smallest. For people of my advanced age the classic example was the Morris Mini-Minor. It competed for distinction at the time with the MGB and Triumph Herald convertibles. Lately similar models of the Mini-Minor have morphed into a more reasonable size while preserving the enthusiastic overall “racing” scheme.
Within the outer limits of motor vehicles were those which satisfied the underlying materialism and artistic bent while remaining within affordable limits. Vehicles such as Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and lately the BMW 3-series. It wasn’t until quite recently that the vehicles from Germany, France and Italy began infiltrating the North American market. Cars like Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar appealed to the self-styled cosmopolitan personality; but for me they always remained an unnecessary gambit with repair (though I fully suspect that criticism has long vanished).
The cars from China, Japan and Korea have I believe enjoyed great economic success. I’m guessing. I shall always be a “domestic car” buyer (which means Chicago or Oakville but nowhere else even if the foreign owners build them here). Years ago Bracken Bagsley (who used to drive a Lincoln Continental) told me that after having driven a Lexus she would never go back. That hurt at the time. One of ours had clearly gone over to the far side. It has however proven to have been a premonition of what was to follow. Most professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.) whom I know drive imported cars like Mercedes and BMW (not so much Jaguar perhaps as an overhang of the bad reputation of the formerly British-manufactured car).
There are those who rejoice to drive a preposterous vehicle of one description or another – for example, a former hearse, a Hummer, a Jeep, a Citroën 2CV (“Duex Chevaux“), a second-hand Rolls Royce or anything with only three wheels. These contraptions are as much about postering as they are about driving. In my experience these antique wonders frequently leave a trail of putrid combustion and noise. The utility of some of them except for local driving is questionable but I acknowledge the entertainment value is the compelling feature.
Naturally I consider my own proclivities to be the most well-advised for my purposes. I am not for example even close to the racing variety. Nor have I once been possessed by the need for a truck. Generally speaking I prefer not to have anything with a trailer hitch attached but it has become an oddity in the popular surge of SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicle) which have in turn overtaken the erstwhile “land yacht” market loved by septuagenarians. In the same breath the manufacturers have stopped making sedans.
The biggest jump has yet to come – that is, the imperative of electric cars. Alongside that evolution is the autonomous vehicle. I confess I have regarded that outlook with a degree of remorse. The idea of not being able to drive my car into the country with the windows open and my mind refreshed instills a painful signal within me. It is by any assessment an eventuality which I shall never see to fruition. In the meantime it spirits me to relish and refresh the opportunities now at hand.
As a consequence of the pandemic constraints there is some debate about whether the domestic car manufacturers will be back up to speed within the next year. The knowledge that the 1,400 computer chips in each car have yet to come from China is not encouraging. There has been talk about manufacturers reclaiming chips from used vehicles – a development which I personally find unacceptable.
No matter what one drives or when one drives it, two things for certain remain: they’re just cars that will eventually rust; and, the people who drive them on the roads are as mad as elsewhere.