Carpe currus: why now is the time to buy an idiot car

I’m not great at blipping the throttle on down-shifts. I get it right about half the time. Recently, as the revs flared to match the road speed as I engaged third on a tight corner, it struck me that, relative to modern and future generations of drivers, I’m close to an expert on such arcane matters, as nobody does that any more; and, mostly, with dull-witted turbo-diesel engines, and on-off batteries, it’s respectively largely, and wholly, impossible.

Why bother anyway, says you. Well, 3 reasons:

  1. Stability – by rev-matching, you minimise any transmission jolt when adapting to higher revs – you equalise / smooth them out. In a corner, a stable car is a safer car.
  2. Minimises wear and tear on the transmission.
  3. And, most important of all, it sounds great (especially going through Paris in the early am in the 1970s):

Another satisfying micro-skill, soon to be lost forever, sacrificed on the embourgeoisement altar. Soon, we’ll all be wafting about in our transportation pods, entirely passive, perma-monitored every second of the way by government (and big insurance company) computers.

Good <article by Jeremy Clarkson> in a recent Sunday Times:

My sentiments exactly. As I noted in a previous post:

Cars used to have a variety of personalities.

Nowadays, all cars are converging to a bourgeois mean.

And, for driving enthusiasts, it’s only getting worse. Audi cheerfully admits that, when designing its forthcoming A8 model replacement, the “drive system and the handling are no longer at the top of the design specifications in this new generation of cars. Instead, the starting point is the interior, the occupants’ living and experience sphere while traveling.”

Travelling! They don’t even bother to say “driving” any more …

Whereas, for people like me, drivetrain and handing are front and centre.

And, as the alarming success of the unashamedly Big Brother-y Alexa reveals, this lamentable state of high-tech serfdom is what lots of people want. Here’s the interior mock-ups of Audi’s 2025 A8 limo replacement. Admittedly, attractively done – it’s a radical shift away from the current digital and screen clutter. Any essential info (not that there will be much, given how limited the “driver”, sorry traveller‘s inputs will be) will be mainly HUD:

Audi is modelling the modern “driver” experience, not on driving, but on travelling, and, specifically, on first class airline travel, where the most you need to do is get the recline angle right on your seat as you settle back to do precisely nothing:

And then you realise the steering wheel is retractable, for those increasing-duration periods when you won’t even need it:

I can see the appeal. Many people find driving stressful and boring, and they’re not very good at it anyway. People will lap this up. And, being Audi, it’ll be well made and nicely-finished (none of your Tesla shonkiness here).

For enthusiasts though, it’s a loss.

Imagine a skiing holiday where skiing was banned and replaced with rides up and down the mountain in the gondolas / cable cars:

The new skiing – no effort needed – why did nobody think of this before?

That’s more or less what it will be like. Great for folks who can’t ski. And safer and more relaxing, obviously. And you still get to see the fab scenery. But overall, a bit shit for those of us who like to, er, ski … or drive …

There isn’t much time left. Now is the time to consider buying the most idiotic, the most car-ry car possible. One whose design priorities are entirely counter-cultural.

To most people, I’d tell them to get an old air-cooled 911. There’s still nothing like it. It’s easy to drive at normal speeds; it’s not easy to drive well at higher speeds. It takes a lot of time to understand how to make that “juggling sledgehammers” weight bias work for you in a corner.

This is why older 911s can catch you out – in extremis, they do the opposite of what we’re all used to. Say you’re in a regular car, and you carry too much speed into an unfamiliar bend. The car starts to understeer (i.e., run wide / plough straight on). You might fail to make the turn and go through the hedge. No problem though. Instinctively, faced with a nervy situation like that, people will lift their foot off the throttle. That’s the instinctive reaction – and it’s also the correct reaction. As soon as you do that, the nose of your car tucks back in toward the centre of the road, away from the hedge, you’re now tracing the bend accurately once more, foot back on the throttle promptly, and all is well.

Lift off like that in a 911 though, and you may screw yourself. The transition to oversteer is abrupt, due to the extra weight hanging out the back. Instead, go in slower than you think, deliberately lift off to deliberately get the tail out a little, and then get back on. Easy to talk about, but can be scary on a road, as most people (me included) will not have enough experience to know how much is “a little” bit of tail out in any given corner. I’m easily faster and more confident in a conventional car, but the fear-inducing possibilities of a 911 are addictive. The challenge never gets old. Essentially, to get the most speed out of an old 911, you “back the car in” to the corner. Nicely explained in this short 1 minute 50 seconds video:

And as motoring journalist and 911 afficionado Dickie Meaden (here on track with the little old 1973 2.7 RS 911) explains, that fear factor, that difficuty, is how we like it:

“But would you really want a car where you get everything right, every time? … if it’s easy, it’s boring.”

Alas, while I’m very much in the Meaden camp on this, we’re culturally out of step. This is not an age where the masses want to feel challenged, or made to feel uncomfortable, whether in or out of a car. Conceptual safe spaces at college, and actual safe spaces in your car. Everyone smiles, nods along. It’s the future, folks, the faux-peace of cultural tyranny. Easy, and boring, that’s what the people want; and you can’t blame Audi, or any other car manufacturer, for giving that to them.

Meanwhile, in the few car-driving years we have left, bollocks to all that. If you have the spare £€$, get yourself an old air/oil-cooled 911.

Or, if you already possess such a life-affirming accoutrement, get yourselves one of these:

Any Caterham 7:

Any Morgan 3-wheeler (the new one is just out, but the principles are the same):

Any car from the 1930s – this is a 1935 Riley MPH (only 15 ever made), but any basic 1930s sports car will do. Prices from this era range from ludicrous to a few grand, but the viscerality and the participatory nature will be common to any of them:

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