THE AUTOMOBILE HAS LONG REPRESENTED FREEDOM AND INDIVIDUALITY.
At the dawn of four wheels and an engine, the automobile was a thing to utilize and enjoy, but there have always been mobile works of art. As time progressed and they became more available due to technological innovations such as Ford’s assembly-line style of production, vehicles began to take on the identity of their owners with different colors and trim options available. An endless debate exists on what the “golden era” of the automobile was/is, and we’re not here to argue one way or the other. Its completely subjective of a matter.
What I do want to point out, though, is that at one time, getting into the car meant something special. Whether you had spent the day wrenching and cleaning (using IGL products from M&B, of course) or it was just a lovely morning to go for a drive — thats the thing. Just going for a drive was a thing. You didn’t need a reason, a destination, or even a radio. The act of driving back then was enough to keep yourself not just busy, but thoroughly engaged and entertained. It didn’t even need to be a sports car — your grandfather was likely rowing gears in his old Chevy farm truck. You probably have invaluable memories of that truck, don’t you? When you all would do work on the farm? How about when your grandmother would drive you to the store in her old Buick? These vehicles were radiant with character because they were thoroughly enjoyed. Every dent and ding telling a story, holding a memory.
At one point, things were so simple in the automotive world that all a car bore were the essentials — gauges for fuel, voltage, coolant temperature and oil pressure, a knob to shift the gears, and headlight switches. These cars had the large steering wheels that took some effort to maneuver; you worked for your pleasure. The sounds of the engine engulfed you, bouncing from willow and maple trees as you passed down scenic roads, you know, before they put all of those apartment buildings in their place. Driving was a pleasure.
As time moved on, more and more luxury features were put in to make the ever-growing popularity of the 9-5 commute more pleasant and… endurable. Radios, more intricate climate control systems, ABS, power steering & brakes, electronic fuel injection, the list goes on. One thing that 80’s and 90’s BMW and Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts always jokingly complain about is the lack of cupholders present in most cars of the times, but the consensus as to why is simple: the Germans were focused on the task of driving, not the distraction of managing their koffee. While some of these luxuries do indeed make the driving experience better, their introduction and evolution were quietly indicative of the stealthily forthcoming dissolution of the most important aspect of the automobile: the driver.
The driver of yesteryear was one who took care of his vehicle. He kept it clean, loved to wax it on Saturday mornings. He loved to take it for cruises just to hear the cylinders roar as he shifted. When a part failed or a light went out, it was promptly replaced to keep it in ship shape. When it came time for routine maintenance, he was on top of it.
Yesteryear, people took care of the things they spent their hard earned dollars on. These things are part of what made a car special in those days, and these things are what help some cars of the past remain special today. If you watch those old time television shows, you’ll almost immediately see a stark contrast in the way people moved back then and today. The every day values of drivers back then were different. Their tonality and speaking patterns were different. There were few distractions or social buffers — no filters to hide behind, no internet persona to upkeep. Men stood up straight. They were well groomed. Disciplined, concise, intentional with everything they did. They kept their word and a firm handshake was paramount. They were flat out cool.
Tactile feedback was everything. When you’re truly engaged with the [pleasurable] task of driving, you’re having a conversation with the car, dancing even.
When you put your foot down, you felt the throttle cable pull those Weber Carburetors open, you heard the air woosh through the intake, and immediately you heard the exhaust note serenading you with every combustion cycle. You shift gears and get to experience it all over again. Foot down on the brake. There is no delay, no processing of any signal, just raw feel before you reach that apex. Coming out of the corner, planted in the seat as the car braces you, you’re still more than confident guiding the vehicle forward because you know it, you’re connected with it. You floor it and just hear it sing. Very seldom does anyone even look to get that raw feeling from a car, and I have an idea why. First, lets identify who drivers are today.
This begins by asking who is the average person today? The average person in 2018 is busy. Convenience is the name of the game anymore, anything to make life easier. Facial recognition, Alexa/Google Home (yeesh), automatic coffee machines, automatic payments, having a virtual assistant in our pocket at all times?! Everything in life is available at the push of a button — er, a pressing of the screen. Do you wish to find information? Google it. Why go to the library and (gasp) read a book? Need a date? We can can find a date by swiping in any area, remote or local. Why would we waste our ever-precious time going out and approaching someone of interest? No time taken out of a consumer’s day to just go drive when we can just Facetime the person we want to see, or digitally attend our meeting with things like GoToMeeting.
The common theme here is a term you’re probably familiar with: “Instant gratification”. There is no working for anything, no sentimental value in much of anything, everything is disposable or one-time-use, even our relationships with others. Yes, I went there. As we filter ourselves and build these online characters, we reduce the human element in our day-to-day life and interaction. We can “delete” people, text message threads. We’re replacing people with machines little by little, and that is having a larger effect than we may be aware of. ATMs are a classic example, but machines are replacing people in droves as they pop up in factories, fast food restaurants, as secretaries, assistants. The line between humanity and artificial intelligence grows blurrier by the day. As Aziz Ansari & sociologist Eric Klinenberg put it below, we’ve even gotten to the point of disposing of other human beings as we reduce them to mere utlities.
Now, this isn’t to say that cars aren’t utilities nor that they should be treated as valuable as human life, but walk with me here. How you do one thing is how you do everything. If this has become the way of the world, or, in other words, if this has become the way of the marketplace, then marketers and producers ought change their focus to what will remain profitable, no? If the world is moving in a direction of instant gratification, a direction where even people are immediately replaceable, products need to fit those needs if that company will continue to exist. This means different production standards and a focus on — you guessed it — automation, autonomy, convenience. The root being automatic, coming from “automatos”, a mid 18th century Greek term meaning ‘acting of itself’.
For example, the automatic transmission. It has become increasingly popular with the exponential increase in knowledge and technology that engineers have access to, consider the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) or other variants such as Volkswagen’s DSG. These gearboxes shift in mere milliseconds, far faster than a human can even blink, let alone shift. In the age where time slips at the local track matter most, advancements as such have helped shift our focus as a car culture to quarter mile times and power figures. Launch control has come a long way from adept hand-eye coordination and quick reaction times at the drag strip. Anymore, the car will do that for you. The modern car does a lot for its occupants by removing the human element and replacing it with computers and sensors.
Cars today are rich with features and creature comforts as we stuff more and more sensors, modules, more lights and gadgets because these things — as fleeting and unsustainable as they may be — are what sell. Blind spot detection, backup cameras(is it so difficult to look behind you?), self-parking, pedestrian warning, automatic braking (there’s that word again), seats that hug you, artificial engine noises, all the way up to a completely autonomous commute.
Automakers sell safety and convenience in a world where fear-mongering is rampant. Safety for our physical being - sensors and automatic braking are undoubtedly safer for the roads in a world where the average person’s ability to focus lessens by the day. However, it goes a step further than that because according to Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, one of the most basic human instincts is to take measure to make themselves feel safer, and it is here that gimmicks and useless features sell. Two steps above that rest our quest for self-actualization, which includes status recognition, self esteem; enter features like push-to-start, self-closing doors and auto-lifting hatches.
You may notice that each of the features listed above, little by little, allow drivers/occupants a little bit more free-time while in the vehicle, a bit more of an opportunity to make driving less of a “hassle”, but this comes at the expense of driver engagement when on the road. They’re nice features, no doubt. As a luxury car enthusiast myself, it would be simply hypocritical of me to say that luxuries were bad, but how much is too much? Car companies are stripping away the input-output, waltzing experience of driving, but that just seems to be the direction of the world. Markets don’t want manual anything, transmissions included. Now, anyone would argue that it takes a fair bit of skill to be a “good” driver — the ability to predict behaviours and patterns in traffic, perform quick maneuvers in the presence of forthcoming danger(loss of traction in snow/ice, oncoming vehicle, wildlife, etc.) Note that the ad to the left encourages driver agility and quick thinking. When was the last time you saw an ad that so boldly placed you as the agent of your safety with the car as a catalyst? Anymore, the driver may as well sit in the passenger’s seat, and with the rousing success of ride-sharing, thats what we’ve finally come to. How can young drivers build the aforementioned skills when everything is handed to them? Where is the pleasure, the satisfaction of driving when it isn’t worked for?
Cars anymore are disposable, as are many of our life experiences in recent times. We take for granted the value of all that we experience and possess, using people and things until they run dry, replace and repeat. Marriage rates are down, divorce rates are over 50%, because why settle? With the convenient dating apps, our options are endless, ‘there will always be a better model’. Why invest in this when a shinier one will be released soon? We lease cars like we lease phones — Why purchase a new phone at full price, when for a small investment, we can have the newest one when it comes out? Cracked screen? Why fix that when ‘I’m due for an upgrade anyway’.
Any valuable relationship that we as a species encounter requires effort. It requires a large investment of time and energy. It requires engagement. When we work for something, its those very investments that create bonds, sentiment and allow us to perceive them as valuable. When we’ve invested, we’re much more apt to fight for it, the well-being thereof being a great deal of importance to you. You will go out of your way to see that it is protected. When we invest, we protect. Such is true with our loved ones, our friends, our homes, and our vehicles. Its why so many are investing in ceramic coating to protect their vehicles, old and new. Its why so many are stepping away from “social” media, stepping away from this artificial “connectedness” to invest real time and energy with their loved ones. Real facial recognition. Real body language. Real intimacy. Get feedback and build enduring bonds. In the same way, we should all step away from these technologically overloaded vehicles and go for a real drive. Put the clutch pedal in and shift gears in a real manual transmission just before redline, and really experience the unique song the car sings when you turn your Bluetooth off.
Invest in your life and live intently.
Derrick D. Bundy
M&B Fine Automotive Detailing & Coatings
Do you have fond memories in your car? Share below!
Credit for images on this post goes to Amy Shore Photography https://amyshorephotography.com/, Tesla Motors https://www.tesla.com/ and BMW AG https://www.bmw.com/en/index.html