Life is what happens when you’re making other plans, is how the old chestnut goes. I had a plan for this week: make public albums of my photos from the Lingenfelter Spring Open House and the Shell Eco-marathon that happened last weekend, and begin writing another Supporting Cast article. But then a voice from the heavens spoke. And what he uttered sparked a fire that burnt my plans to ashes. But I’m glad. Because while I will do the things I planned on doing, I can know take the time to reflect and properly speak about why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Earlier this week, a Road & Track article written by Jack Baruth crossed my feed. In it, he discussed his feelings on the decay in the car-world’s upper strata. And, as he points out, in many ways our modern society is doing many of the same things. Please read it, as it’s a genuinely inspirational article, in the best Les Miserables “can you hear the people sing?” way.
Instead, I’m going to directly talk about my family. Yes, I’ve mentioned my dad before, but always (in my mind) fairly vaguely. I’ve never talked about his hopes, or his dreams, or what daily life is like with my family (siblings included). But now, I need to talk about my mom, and one of her dreams.
My mother is the only one of my parents that received any kind of extended schooling. Both my parents grew up during the Communist era in Poland, a time when a majority of the population depended heavily on farming to live. Dad grew up in the extreme south of Poland, as a Highlander (goral, to give the technical term), actually not too far from where Bernie Sanders’ dad grew up; Mom was raised a few miles from Krakow. She’s the only one of my parents to receive any kind of extended schooling: my paternal grandfather was the village blacksmith, and if my dad hadn’t joined the Army, he probably would’ve apprenticed with my grandfather. My mom, on the other hand, went to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in world, and earned her Master’s in economics. It’s a shame that Poland was still Communist at the time, because she couldn’t use her degree when she immigrated here. I’ve never asked if she’s bitter about it; I’m kind of afraid of what she’d say in response.
While Poland in those days wasn’t exactly medieval Scotland, the fact that wide-spread electricity use was put into place during my parents’ childhoods should give you a sense of what it was like. So you can imagine what an impact it was for my mother, a student from the sticks, to be taken around in a BMW. This would’ve been the mid-70s or so, and she doesn’t remember the model, but for her, from that day on, the best car in the world was a BMW.
My parents are getting on in years, and soon they’ll be retiring. I’ve been telling them that they should finally invest in a dream car, something that’ll last them a while and they’ll want to drive. I’ve been telling my mom to get a 2 Series, because they’re honestly the best current distillation of what a BMW should be. And the last time I talked with her about it, what came out of my mouth at one point was, “Buy the BMW—at least one person in this family deserves to have a dream fulfilled.”
It wasn’t until I read Jack’s article that the enormity of what I’d said partially in jest sunk in.
I’m in the middle of trying to acquire an NC Miata, to replace the Malibu I received via the Relative Inheritance Program. But the simple fact is, I don’t think I’ll be able to for a while. I just can’t afford it without another loan. And with my student loans, I just don’t think I can do it.
I know the obvious answer is just to get a cheaper Miata or a different car. And I know everyone’s sick to death of hearing about whiny millenials and their student loans, and why don’t they just suck it up and do their job and...sorry, started projecting there. But it isn’t that simple. The reason why loans are high is because I got a Master’s, and the reason I got a Master’s was because I knew from talking to students who’d gotten internships that, these days, a Master’s is required to get good positions. Problem is, although my job pays fairly well, it isn’t enough. Sure, if I lived with my parents and paid no rent I’d be able to pay the loans back faster, but why do you think I moved to Metro Detroit in the first place? No one in Chicago was hiring.
But that isn’t even the real problem. It’s never been about the money. Money may help me buy things or go on adventures, but I’ve never been in love with money. No, the problem here isn’t that I can’t afford a new car; the problem’s that there are precious few cars I’d want to own. And you know what? Beyond maybe a Gallardo, there really isn’t any modern supercar I covet. Because I know there’s no way I’ll ever be able to afford one.
“But it’s a dream car! Don’t give up now!” you cry, with the same pleading that I used on my mother. But even putting aside the money, the fact remains that there really isn’t a modern car that fills me with pangs of unquenchable thirst.
Here’s a list of cars I’d give my and/or other peoples’ souls to own, in no particular order:
- R34 Skyline GT-R
- Mazda Miata
- Morgan 3 Wheeler
- Alfa Romeo Giulia (Type 105)
- Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione II
- AC Shelby Cobra 427
- BMW M2/E46 or E90 M3
- 1969 Camaro SS 396/1970 Camaro Z/28
- Ariel Atom
- Lamborghini Gallardo Balboni
Actually, I told a white lie: R34 trumps all. Wanna know how I can tell that? Because when I went to the Lingenfelter event, I was flabbergasted the most NOT by the view inside,
but by what was parked right outside,
I was so completely shocked at seeing an R34 in the flesh that I forgot to take a photo until just before the guy left. BTW, how perfect is the license plate?
Oh, and one more thing: this was also parked inside.
And you know what? I’d still rather have the R34.
At this point, every Oppo reader is screaming at their screen: how can I NOT want a Ferrari?! Especially a LaFerrari?! Let me be clear: I loved seeing the Ferrari’s, and if I had the money and space in my garage I’d welcome a 458 with open arms, but I don’t WANT one. I don’t stay awake at nights browsing forums and foreign eBay postings looking at 458s, but I do with the R34. It isn’t the money, because, hey, we’re talkin’ dream cars. It’s the car’s purpose. Notice, most of the cars on my covet list are classic cars. Also, beyond the Lamborghini, none of these cars are really “supercars”. But, what they all share, is a focus, not just on driving, but on driving pleasure.
You can’t use a Ferrari where I live. Maybe out somewhere in the hills of California or Italy, yes, but not here in the Midwest where I’ve grown up and continue to live in. And more than that, I get the feeling the only place you could really put the Ferrari where it belongs is a racetrack. The LaFerrari and 488GTB are pinnacles of race-car technology for the road, but they don’t MOVE me.
“Of course you can say that,” dude-bros in Ferrari caps harrumph, “you’ve never driven one.” And that’d be a fair point, if I didn’t already have my heart stolen by another car I’ve never driven:
I don’t have to shift a single gear or turn a key to know that THIS moves me.
All the cars on my list are more about ssensation than speed, more about what I feel than what a gauge’ll tell me. Oh sure, the Cobra’s a screamer, but even reproductions made with modern materials and tolerance standards aren’t enough to take away from the fact that it’s a vintage barn-stormer. And yes, the GT-R is a number’s car now, and arguably was since the R32, but with the R35 (at least in pre-refresh spec), I almost feel like the car was built to reach some number on some scale, rather than reaching that level as a side-effect. Plus, even though the gentleman’s agreement was clearly as enforceable as jaywalking laws, it’s not like the R34's got a ton of power out-the-box.
I get the feeling that I’m starting to sound like those old dudes—looking at you, PJ O’Rourke—who complain about how cars have changed. I get that there has to be evolution, but why does that evolution always have to be about more? More power, more downforce, more cupholders, more $$? At what point do you change a car so much that it becomes unrecognizeable? Mazda’s evolved the Miata, but it’s still basically the same car. It’s just that they’ve used modern materials to make it. It’s why we love it, why /DRIVE called it the motor industry’s conscience. Because no matter how much the world changed, or how much their business suffered, Mazda stuck by their principles. The spirit of the Miata is present in every car they make. CX-3? Compromised, and part of a segment who’s slice of the pie is nothing more than crust and air, but fun to drive. Mazda 3? Great to look at, a Car and Driver 10Best, and fun to drive. Imma call it—Mazda’s the new Lancia.
And I finally get now why every time Porsche updates the 911, the fanbase start having heart attacks. When Jalopnik tested the new, all-turbo 911, I said that Porsche, as a company that prides itself on excellence in performance engineering, was well within its rights to add the turbo. But now, I’m not so sure. Because today’s 911 isn’t always bough by the discerning driver. It’s the same problem that faces today’s BMWs, especially their M cars. In the recent Motor Trend review of the M2, Jason Cammisa says that the M2's stiffer ride will “’be a problem only to those who buy an M-car because it’s the most expensive model in the lineup but don’t want to spill their three-pump chai soy sugar-free nonfat mocha lattes on the way into work’”.
The 911 and M cars aren’t bought exclusively by people who give a sh*t about steering feel or chassis communication. They’re bought by people who look at the badging, the price, the fact that the engine is “all-new” and has a gazillion horsepower. The outcry of 911 fans isn’t anger, or at least, not pure anger. It’s fear. Fear that with the next update, Porsche’ll finally do what BMW has done w/so many of the their cars. It’ll stop being about the car, and start being about the badging. It’ll stop being about differentiation in driving, and more about pure styling, gadgets, and a nameplate. The company will start following profits by hewing to what the populace perceives as a “standard”, rather than doing its own thing. 911 fans sob because they’re afraid that the next 911 will be just another sports car.
I don’t agree with everything Jack says. Tesla, for all its perceived faults and transgressions, is not only shaking up the auto industry, it’s helping bring a sustainable method of transport to the masses. Okay, our electricity isn’t carbon-neutral, but it’s still less CO2 than burning refined oil (screw you, Singapore!).
I love the Model S, and I firmly believe in electric cars. But...damn it, I don’t WANT a Tesla. Maybe it’s the Autopilot. But that’ll be more the Model 3's shtick than the S’s. You can still drive the S! It’s got insta-torque! There’s a driving mode called Ludicrous, for Chrissakes! How could I not want one?!
...You know when you were a kid, and one day for dinner you decided that you wanted a Whopper? It’ couldn’t be a Big Mac, or a Wendy’s Quarter-Pounder? It didn’t matter if your parents wanted to get you a burger that was the tastiest thing in town, you had to have a Whopper
It’s like that. I know the Model S is good, but I just...don’t crave it. If I got one, it’d be because it’s the best electric car on the market. It’d be cheaper to run on a day-to-day basis, better for the environment, and so on. But I wouldn’t be shopping like I do with cars; it’d be like shopping for a computer.
There’s a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while now, but my damn ADD’s got me chasing shiny penguins. In essence, the car as an “access point” for society has been supplanted by the smartphone. You no longer have to drive or fly to see the Rockies or Bali—you can call up Google Earth and get satellite imagery right in the palm of your hand. Your phone can access your bank account, give you city maps, track packages, order food, and I’m sure Apple’s workin’ on an iPhone that can julienne fries. A car? It just drives. Your phone may be your life, but everything’s backed away in the cloud, and a replacement’s only 400 bucks. You can earn that in a summer. A car? Pssht, I wish you can still earn a car in 4 summers, let alone one. You need a phone to work in society nowadays, and a good one isn’t much more expensive than a bad one, so it’s worth the extra dough. But to get around? Yeah, you need a car, but as long as it works, who cares how it feels?
That, right there, is why car enthusiasts weep at night. They weep because they know the day will come that people treat their cars like just another appliance. It’s why all cars are starting to look the same, why everyone’s copying everyone else, like how everyone copied the iPhone. But all that does is move units; it doesn’t move the heart.
I started fencing sabre in college; I blame Rurouni Kenshin. Hang on, hang on, I get back to cars in a sec. I loved helping my team win Club Nationals in my last year as a student. And even now, after I’ve graduated, I still fence. It’s hard, guys. Sabre is fast, tight, and rigorously brutal. Every milisecond counts, and the more you tighten in frustration over not getting a point, or doing a lunge wrong, or simply because you just want to bash your dumb-ass opponent’s face in, the worse it’ll go. I train, I work out, and it’s got its benefits. But last week, I was reminded why I fell in love with fencing in the first place. I stopped thinking about footwork, about my blade position, about what I was going to do at work the next day. I stopped thinking, and started fencing. And it was f*cking fun. Remember that? Before those college football video games, before monstrous salaries, before Deflate-gate, when you played games as a kid, everything was a dandelion seed in the wind compared to having fun.
It’s why I’m so exasperated here, both with my mom’s reluctance and with my own inability to afford the car I want. My job pays fairly well, and I’m getting proper experience, but it isnt’ what I want to do. I’m not bitter about the money per se. For all the financial burdens, my time at Northwestern is something I wouldn’t trade for anything, not even an R34. But it blows major goats that my mom, who helped put me and my sisters through college, is worried about the money involved in fulfilling her dreams. I hate that I have a job, but I need ever more money.
I’m sick of rich pricks buying special edition Ferrari’s that they got because their daddies worked hard in the past, then locking those prancing horses away in some warehouse with the rest of the stallions for “investment purposes”. Jack Baruth discusses a family friend who’s dad saved enough money that he could go to a Ferrari showroom and just buy a 512BB. Could you do that nowadays? Probably not. You have to pass an application process, be a Ferrari owner already or have been taught the secret handshake by Nick Mason, prove that you’re not that one cocaine dealer who’s been on the news...and in the end, more often than not, some random rich kids get the keys to a car they don’t have the first idea how to handle. But surely that’s okay, right? I mean, it’s not like there’s ever been a cheap Ferrari, right?
All the same, I’d like to ask you this. Enzo Ferrari was a man who sold cars because he wanted to fund his racing stable. The company that bears his name is now building amusement parks. Do you really think Il Duce would be okay with that?
Most of all, I’m sick of the modern car business as a whole. Yeah, yeah, they have to make money. But at one what point does making money become more important than doing the right thing, and making sure the original core values of your product are maintained? When did it become less about building race cars for the road and more about selling a badge, a nameplate, an idea of a lifestyle? When did it become less about amazing feats of engineering in the pursuit of sheer thrills and a wild grin stretching from ear-to-ear, than about engineering a better way to make cash flow in? When did the obsession with sheer numbers blind people away from the joys of great steering, and an engine whose exhaust note could make angels weep?
When did the world of the supercar become more about “super” than “car”?
So I promise to you, here and now, the first moment I can, I’m becoming a writer. The first opportunity that comes, I’ll leave for a motoring publication. My mother is getting her BMW even if it kills me. And damn it all, I’m getting a freakin’ Miata. To hell with what I feel like I’m supposed to do. Let’s just do what makes me happy. Will I be a Jalopnik writer?
I applied, but the fact is, I don’t know. I’m no journalist, nor a trained writer. But then again, all Tavarish had was passion, and through sheer will and hard work became a part of the Jalop team. It may take a month, a year, 5 years, or 10—but I’ll keep at it ‘til it sticks. And you should too. You have a dream? Don’t let it fizzle out. Keep chasing it anyway you can, because despite what my dad says, life without a dream is pointless.
And to all my fellow enthusiasts, I say this. If these are the last days of the supercar, then let’s send it off right. If the empire of the supercar is to return unto dust, let’s not let it decay and crumble amongst the ruins of past triumphs. In these (potential) End Times, let’s bring back what was once great. Let’s burn it all down, and bask in one final blaze of glory.
Let’s relight the precious spark.