This should have been a slam-dunk, easy article to write…and it wasn’t, even though I’ve spent decades coveting, comparing, owning and occasionally racing some very special automobiles. This article, however, will not be what you’re expecting. It is, instead, a reality check. It could easily save you a large amount of money. It might even save a son’s, brother’s or husband’s life. Notice the gender bias. It’s because we have testosterone and are, in some ways, dumb.
Hit Point: There’s a HUGE Disconnect between the dream that’s waved in front of your nose in car commercials, You Tube test drives (by professionals), and gals draped across shiny hoods at car shows…versus the reality of what’s going to happen twenty minutes after you write the check for your very own “super car”. Very quickly you are going to experience an unanticipated emotion: Frustration. Why? Because after paying dearly you’re going to want to take it out and race around a track. Instead, you’ll be pulling out into traffic and creeping along, gritting your teeth at traffic lights, waiting for your moment of glory that rarely comes. More about that later.
The Snooker: In the videos and TV shows, when a professional driver takes the new Corvette, Tesla, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Jag, Viper, Porsche out on the test track, he whispers conspiratorially in your ear as if you’re a professional driver, too, that when you’re drifting through a corner doing 75, tires smoking, the Corvette gets a little bit dicey compared to the Porsche. And…when you’re up around 175, the Porsche is definitely more calm, less squirrelly. As guys with huge egos and large doses of testosterone to match, we make a mental note: “Okay, remember to watch out over 175”.
Truth is, you’re probably never going to drive your car 175 or even 120…ever. We’d just like to think that we might. Oh, but I…(you) need to be able to hammer it, should some emergency situation arrive. Yeah, okay…to a point. But do you need 500, 600, 700, 800+ horses under your hood to do it? No, you do not. Not ever…not never. It’s much more about bragging rights. S’cuse my French but it’s very much like whose dick is bigger, where in reality, it just might be: who’s a bigger dick? Sorry ’bout that, but after half a century love affair with cars, the automakers have either lost perspective…or maybe they just don’t care about your welfare.
I went into a Corvette dealer about two weeks ago and…wonder of wonders, ran into a semi-honest salesman. We started swapping stories and I asked,” The difference between your stock Corvette and loaded one that pegs the meter is about $40,000…extra. How many of your customers will be able to actually use that $40,000 worth?”
His reply was instantaneous: “ZERO”, but then he went on to say, “But you asked the wrong question, Henry. The correct question is: How many of my customers will be capable of fully using the power of the stock Corvette?” The answer to that is also ZERO…or as close to it as is mathematically possible. Look at the Corvette above. How much more do you need? BTW, It really is pretty, though in a Japaneszie sort of way. Did Nissan help with the design???
A little question from the psychiatrist’s couch: What do you want to get from this new (fill in the blank) super-duper car you’re contemplating? There’s a Zen Irony here. If the honest answer is, “I really do love driving and I want to put my car through its paces every day, the last thing you want to buy is a Lambo, Viper, or some tricked Vette, etc. because…..the main emotion you will be be experiencing is FRUSTRATION.
Seriously. These cars, now equipped with 8+ speeds, micro-second paddle shifting and 600+ horsepower are just loafing along at 65 mph. Goose it for more than a second in any gear and you’re up over a hundred and closing fast on the car in front of you. Oops. Another hidden truth? Your 8-speed racing transmission will be quietly skipping gears like crazy because you aren’t really using it. 95% of the time you’re going to be in some kind of traffic, a school bus on one side, a Prius in front of you and a red light looming before you. And it’ll always be that way. If your answer is: I just love the look of the car, there are many other cars available that do other things well, look gorgeous and won’t kill you.
If you’re one of the rare ones and really just enjoy driving, cornering, gauging the apexes, mastering the art…(and it is an art), I have some GREAT news for you. It’s that Zen thing again. The most challenging driving machines don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. A Mazda Miata (a good used one is fine because they all look alike). Its steering is exemplary, shifting too and it’s perfectly balanced. You actually shift it…with a clutch and best of all? Because it’s not mega-powered you can floor it through all the gears, downshift and power through the hairpins. It’s fun just driving to the post office…zero frustration. The first little BMW Z-3s (1996) were great, too, gorgeous, and now you can get one for a song. Mine was Atlanta Blue, 135 hp and you could floor it in every gear just going to WaWas, and drift it through a corner like there’s no tomorrow. Mmmmm….
A new Porsche Carrera will do the same thing much faster, but you’re not driving it, it’s just loafing along…bored because it isn’t on a track. Mini Coopers are in the same category as the Miata and there are heaping handfuls of “pocket rockets” for people who want hone their skills. Or… if you want to seriously get into parking lot gymkhanas, look at a Caterham Super 7. It’s very funky but you grow to love the looks. It’s not expensive and more fun than, well…. And at the end of the day, once you begin to learn, you realize that there’s true driving and then there’s posing. Consider enrolling your favorite guy in an expert driving school, ie. The Bondurant School of Driving. Just posing? You fool no one.
Women and Souped-up Cars: Oh, another little secret no matter what your age or maturity? Loud, noisy, rumbling, tire-smoking cars aren’t what turn girls/women on. They just aren’t. A long black Jag quietly pulling up in front of the house? Well, that’s better. However, a guy in any kind of clean moderately new car, well-groomed, with a cute Boston terrier puppy in the shotgun seat and a great sense of humor? That’ll trump the Lambo every time. Why? The guy in the Lambo probably has a love affair…with himself, not you.
Here’s a little simile you might consider: Airplanes: When I was a teenager, I studied and trained to get my pilot’s license in a little Cessna 150. It was great and I was…a PILOT! Woo Hoo! I was a pilot of a small single-engine prop plane, qualified for VFR (visual flight rules) only…but I was flying.
When I joined the Air Force, I had to learn how to fly a second time, starting out in a T-37 jet trainer, then transitioning to the very hot, very sexy T-38 Talon. The in-joke used to be that what you really needed to fly the ’38 were ballet slippers, not combat boots because it’s a touchy plane to land. And although I was a “pilot” going in, it took an entire year to be able to fly that T-38. It was that different. Cars are that different as well. Beware.
Bringing that simile back to automobiles. You can buy a Prius or the Smart (?) Car, and tool around and be an excellent Prius driver. However, plop your fanny down into a Hennessy Corvette or a Dodge Viper, or a Lamborghini and go for it…and you just might end up dead or worse, kill someone else through your inability. These aren’t just fast cars, they are a different breed of animal entirely. Beware.
And yet, you can actually go out and buy one. Porsche has a very fast and rare exotic car that most racing drivers won’t touch. They’re just too squirrelly. But you, with no training at all can buy one if you have the $$$$$$
Why??? Because not one company creating cars really cares whether you kill yourself in it…as long as it’s your fault, not theirs. It’s survival and it’s Darwinism. Eventually, maybe they will come out with special license requirements for 900 hp super cars. For now, it’s up to you to act like a grown-up.
For the sake of you, your wife, daughter, son, granddaughter, plus the idiot who purchases the car, there should be a reasonable law passed requiring some bare minimum aptitude, in the same way pilots of puddle jumpers don’t fly F-18 Hornets. I’m thinking of Justin Bieber at the moment, but you see what I’m saying. If you have a son or daughter graduating now and you want to buy them a car (I’m assuming you really love them and care about their welfare) don’t buy them a Vette, or an M-3 Beemer…or anything in that category. They’re just learning. Get them something heavy, big, and safe…preferably with an automatic, because just learning to survive in the eastern corridor or L.A. freeways these days takes a bit of luck and a lot of practice. First comes survival.
If you talk-the-talk, you must also walk-the-walk. When it came time for me to sell my Shelby Cobra I put an ad in the paper. A woman called, then drove up our driveway in her Mercedes with her 16-year-old son in tow…with a check for the full price. They came in. We sat down, exchanged pleasantries and then…I handed her back her check. I attempted to explain to her that her kid wasn’t old enough nor mature enough to handle that much horsepower. She went ballistic and red-faced. She ranted, raved, and threatened to sue. (Well, that didn’t happen.) Shortly afterwards, I sold my Cobra to McCluskey Racing, and guess what. It’s still around and restored from the ground up. It’s now a rare classic and in pristine condition. No one died from owning that Cobra.
P.S. If you think you can text and drive, you haven’t done your homework. If you think you can safely use your cell phone or Blue Tooth while driving you’re either arrogant or misinformed. Even with Blue Tooth, it’s the equivalent of driving drunk…every time. Yeah….write in to me agreeing in principle, but whispering that you are very gifted and can get away with it. Yeah… Sure…
P.P.S. If you’re a woman, waded through this article and are thinking, Gee, guys are really infantile about cars, I have no real defense, except sometimes…just sometimes, there’s no prettier sound than a Ferrari V-12 revving through the gears in a hairpin. It’s as good as Beethoven…sometimes.