- Post is under moderationLooked around the handsome interior and wistfully thought about the beauty of it all, stroking the finely textured instrument binnacle and absorbing the general ambience of well-being. Then I turned on the ignition: with a fine whine that eloquently spoke of high technology, the starter-motor engaged the flywheel. Like an animal stirring, the entire car powered-up and we were good to go. I was soon on a clear stretch of road in gloriously misty-sunny daylight.
‘LIKE CHILDBIRTH AND BRINGING UP CHILDREN, NO-ONE EVER TELLS YOU THE RAW TRUTH ABOUT CLASSIC CARS’
On a good day in the right mood, there are few experiences better than driving a great car in a romantic location. Since the road was empty, I had an enjoyable time attacking the corners on the epic coast road from Lourinha to Peniche: juggling with braking points, tum-in, clipping apexes, gear selection. Feeling forces load-up and then disperse in a series of exciting peaks and dips. Truly, a delicious sort of erotic intercourse with a machine.
What was the car? A dirt-cheap Hyundai rental I had picked up from Lisbon’s Portela airport. I doubt I could have worked this road faster - or more comfortably – in a #Porsche-917 .
Like childbirth and bringing up children, no-one ever tells you the raw truth about classic cars. It’s a survival characteristic. If we were realistic about the pain of parturition and the fatigue (not to mention wince-inducing expense) involved in childcare and education, human reproduction would promptly cease. Civilisation would end. And with classic cars, if we spoke the truth, or, at least, faced the facts, we would be out of business. But we don’t. We bash on. If we were cold-eyed realists, we would have Hyundais. We are, instead, romantics.
But my experience of driving or owning classic cars has been universally dismal. The fact that I am still enjoyably engaged with them is evidence of man’s laughable folly, of the triumph of blind hope over cruel experience. I remember a glorious-looking #1955 #Thunderbird in rural Illinois: steering so vague that there appeared to be no mechanical connections involved whatsoever. Certainly, spinning the wheel did not influence the car's direction. And the crude 120bhp lump could scarcely stir the prehistoric two-speed automatic... which was just as well, as the car had no brakes. Or the little #Fiat-Nuova-Cinquecento I bought for my wife. Ineffably cute, certainly, but it was like owning a sick pet: adorable, but tragic. It could not be made to move.
The E-type, I found, handled like a rowing-boat. And the #Citroen-DS ? This astonishing car inspired Roland Barthes' wonderful line about design being ‘the best messenger of a world above that of nature’ - yet recently its wheezing, cumbersome demeanour made me yearn for something new. precise and Korean.
But this, of course, has nothing to do with it. Complaining that (most) classic cars do not work well is like moaning that you can’t put Sevres porcelain in the dishwasher, that Rembrandt is low- res, Shakespeare can't do jivetalk. Abbey Road has crude stereo separation and Jack Kerouac took drugs. The whole point of any classic - in any medium or genre - is that it transcends the ordinary and defies rational criticism.
For more than 30 years I have been fielding questions about 'classic design’. My response? Any classic has to have an ambiguous relationship with time: it must speak of the age that created it. but also be beyond the basic cycles of fashion. And classics must tell a story, evoking a mystique beyond the here-and- now. Additionally, they establish a type: true classics have neither precedents nor successors. They are magnificently singular. And. of course, desirable.
I think the essence of a classic car is the way it excites desire, an anticipation of pleasures to come. Look at that #Lancia-B24 or that #Lotus-XV and you start an imaginative, rather than a real, journey. In a sense, desire is the opposite of nostalgia because nostalgia looks backwards while desire projects yearnings into the future. It does not matter if the experience of driving or owning a classic is often compromised, a classic speaks to a higher level of psychological engagement.
As with people, flaws and mistakes make cars interesting. The baseball sage Yogi Berra said if the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be. The Hyundai is perfect, yet isn’t desirable. The #Thunderbird , #Jaguar , #Cinquecento and #DS are comedically imperfect, but I want one of each. Sometimes I think the only certain thing about human preference is its total lack of rationality. Thank God. Otherwise, we really would all be in Hyundais.
Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.