I sometimes struggle to think about what to stick in here. I mean, I never thought that would be an issue. Those of you that know me in person — the ones who use cars to just get around especially — know all too well that I can go on about cars until someone strokes or maims themselves to escape.
Just shooting the s#!t and vomiting up facts between two car people is far different than writing an article though — in the same way speaking to your friends is different than speaking at a boardroom meeting. Materials must be prepared, research done and organized in triplicate, and your language chosen carefully.
Luckily, I already don’t do one of those irritating s#!ts (guess which). Today, I thought I’d throw the other two ‘bodies’ into the ditch with their buddy, “modest language” and just ramble off the dead space in my head. When I stuck my hand into the void of the magic hat, this is what came out.
A Perfect Car (as told by Drive By Wire)
This idea isn’t new. In fact, to even mention it borders on the very edge of plagiarism because of the shiploads of automotive writers and journalists who have come before me — their 2¢ about what makes a perfect car collectively adding up to millions of dollars by now.
Unlike everyone before me though, I think I have really good reasons.
1) Cheaply and Easily Fixable Enough to Not Worry About Breaking It:
This is a very important point of mine. That’s why it’s number one. It’s also first because it automatically discounts a lot of bedroom wall paraphernalia, like anything from Italy — or any of the very new greats from Europe (like new 911s, Aston Martins, and yes, even Audi).
I’m afraid of breaking my car a lot. Not because it hasn’t been reliable, but because it can require some speciality to fix (and having car troubles just makes my b@lls itch). If you read 1, 2, 3, Quattro — the car needs a proprietary wrench just to change the center differential’s oil. For the most part, I drive the car pretty gingerly. One of my trusted compatriots at Axis Motoring (menders of all things on the TT) tells me I worry far more than I have to (but I guess that means I’ll break s#!t all the less, right?).
One thing a perfect car can be is simple enough to make you feel it’s near-impossible to break and not mean the end of your world when it does.
2) More Grease Than Circuitry:
If you need a degree from M.I.T. to work on it, pack its bags — because its out of my list.
I suppose this is partly due to criteria number one, but this also has to do with when you’re driving the car. How much of the controls in a car are connected to circuitry instead of something mechanical?
If it’s far more than the radio, the mirrors, and maybe the seats, it may be too much. Drive by wire systems, self-shifting gearboxes, and electronically assisted steering are all feats of forward thinking and efficiency for 99-percent of drivers, but they can numb the driving experience.
I’ve driven cars with both cable throttles and drive-by-wire throttles. I don’t mind the latter, but when you push into a cable-throttle that is directly connected to the engine — its different. You feel the pedal shake with the engine, like a RWD manual shifter does, and anything that makes you tactilely feel what the car is doing is meaningful. It helps you blend into the car, not remind you that you’re separate from it.
I like to drive. I like to drive whenever I get the chance. Need a ride to a store on the other side of town? — hey, I’m your guy. Need groceries picked up? — I love grocery runs. Need to get picked up after a root canal because you’re way too stoned, I always liked you more when you couldn’t speak anyway.
But when we can’t use my car because it can’t fit everyone, or we’re going to get some cut-priced furniture at Ikea, a little bit of me gets sad. We have to take someone’s dull-as-bread S.U.V. or, God forbid, a minivan.
That’s why I think sport sedans and wagons are cool. $100-bill-found-in-your-pocket cool. Some are even take-that-$100-bill-to-a-strip-club-but-the-dancer-gives-you-a-freebie cool.
if you’ve never heard of the Ford Falcon Typhoon, take a look at that OEM front mount and know Ford of Australia has been f#%king you over
see it here in racing trim
I’ve always liked a practical performance car because it takes the choice you’re typically forced to make between fun and responsibility — and it murders it. It kills it for you and then doesn’t even ask you to help bury it. It’s all, “hey I got to do something before we go out tonight, be there in a bit”, so when the police ask you what happened to “Fun v. Responsibility”, you don’t have to lie.
What a pal.
For the other one to four seats in a car, this simply means being comfortable. I don’t care about those seats. I care about the one seat — the driver’s seat. A poorly designed cockpit means the best shimmering jewel of a motor and great suspension won’t mean farm manure if you’re busy wrestling with controls designed by Pablo Picasso.
Your legs must sit comfortably enough to execute a variety of advanced driving techniques, from trail braking to heel-and-toe rev matching. The shifter should fall casually to hand and move with anticipated precision. The steering wheel should be no bigger than shoulder width and need only a turn and change from lock-to-lock.
Poor driver ergonomics are like taking a Moscow ballet dancer and giving them steel-toed boots to perform in. You’ll bear witness to the death of grace and harmony (replaced instead by face-to-floor action). Does a surgeon work with boxing gloves or skin-like latex?
5) It Sounds Like a Kodiak Bear F#%king a Bald Eagle:
I’ve already covered what I think good engines sound like two pieces ago. The best-sounding engines aren’t necessarily the most expensive.
When you drive a good car, it’ll push you into your seat, hug corners, and make you grin a bit and think it’s pretty cool. A perfect package will do all that and make you forget that you’re squealing like a prepubescent kid at Christmas with other people in the car.
In fact, it will make you not care that you’re squealing like someone from Gossip Girl. You need to make these noises because they’ll explode inside you if you don’t let them out. That’s how good the car is and a strong noise that you feel, not only hear, is crucial to that.
This is something older cars are better at than new cars. Before sound deadening was made of lead and liquid-deafness.
I thought of these things while watching videos by an English auto journalist named Chris Harris. He test drives all the new stuff from GM to Pagani and anything in between, but my favorite videos by him are of older or cheaper cars. Classic 911s, older BMW M-cars from the early and mid 90s, and entry level hot-hatches.
see Chris Harris here on a Pirelli tire test with some of the most amazing sounding cars in history: vintage rally cars — skip to 3:25 if you just want to start hearing mechanical brilliance
Before pedigree, before top speed and top horsepower, before panty peeling ability — I think a car with ‘enough’ go, space for your baggage, and less baggage of its own are some of the most crucial ingredients for a perfect car. Anything that lets you focus more on the drive, all day, everyday is what makes the best cars.