Motoring as we know it. An Obituary?
Motoring as we know it. An Obituary?
The snow outside is probably going to stick. The salt trucks are out here in Minnesota. The road and cars are covered with the white dust the county lays out on the road to keep us all from freezing to death in a ditch. This means my ‘72 911 is tucked safely away in the garage. I didn’t even have a chance to take it out one last time.
Winter rolled in more swiftly than usual this year, once again putting motoring itself in extended stasis. With the 911 parked morosely in my garage for 7 months, the rose-tinted glasses of motoring bliss are off, and I’m faced with the harsh reality that in my lifetime, I may not even be able to drive that car regularly on public roads. New generations are doomed for a distant future of self driving A-to-B utility vehicles. Motoring in the sense of a national pastime will eventually decline, and in the meantime, everyone is celebrating the technology-first vehicles which telegraph its demise.
We’re all going about our motoring lives posting on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and snapchat. Viral videos of burnouts and Gymkhana runs are everywhere. There are shows for everyone. You can watch two guys dial in a Charger they dragged out of it’s coffin beneath a barn in Omaha and drive it to Los Angeles. The so-called “influencers” fly around the world creating epic adventures for us to live vicariously through from the comfort of our couch. Even if you’re you’re old school and don’t indulge in the fantasies purveyed by the internet, the vintage motoring world is almost as good as the real thing. Cars are being loved, appreciated, and restored.
Given enough capital you can own anything car related since the inception of the combustion engine. We really are in the glory days of motoring. So what is there to complain about?
It’s only a matter of time before the sensory experience and the nostalgia of American motoring just isn’t enough to convince legislators we deserve freedom. This sounds a bit like the premise for the first book in a dystopian future trilogy, but isn’t it? At least, in the context of driving? Motorsport is half in the bag with the hybrids. Sensory deprivation at the track is in full swing. Ear plugs aren’t even needed in Formula One anymore. At what point does striving for performance gains sacrifice the experience itself? The discussion is no longer if electric cars will be the norm and if we’ll even be allowed to drive, but when. The curmudgeons like myself will fight it, but we’re soon to be overwhelmed. It seems like a long time away, but it’s been proven that the human mind perceives the years shorter the older we get.
In the meantime, a younger generation is growing up. Kids are inundated with talk of climate change, and electric vehicles. Young boys and girls won’t look forward to the freedom a driver’s license represents. Fathers won’t teach their sons and daughters how to drive stick in empty parking lots. Huge cultures existing purely as conduits for enthusiasts to get together will vanish. Without the experiences enthusiasts my age had growing up, and even today, what is going to inspire these kids to carry the torch? Answer: nothing. Motoring has been under assault—rightly or wrongly, that's another debate for another time—by governments signing world climate change accords. Manufacturers are being forced to push to market increasingly complex and expensive technology to keep up with CAFE and other world standards. The demise of the combustion engine is not only inevitable, but it is planned. Consumers can fight it all they want, but governments around the world don’t care. Electric vehicles are going to save the earth, and your life. There’s nothing you can do about it.
I envision the day in the quite distant future where I take back the keys to my 911 my family appropriated from me to protect me from myself. I’d lead a chase through a dystopian city zig zagging around auto piloted electric machines. I imagine an equally stale populace, deprived of sensory input for their own protection. The sounds and smells of an antiquated combustion engine would rapture off glass buildings. It would probably end in jail time, but at that point, what difference would it make?
Climate change policies are having an immediate effect on our hobby. This dystopian future is an ever closer reality. For enthusiasts, it’s turning into a nightmare. If you think hip, always in the red, tech industry government-subsidized cars, or even the latest super-duper fast hybrid supercar, is going to save us, you’re wrong. If I hear that a $40,000 electric car does 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds again, I’m going to lose it. Who cares? Is that all motoring is? These mainstream electric vehicles are not a replacement for the experience you know and love. This is all just a bridge to the inevitable. It’s the placation of the masses. It’s the unintentional black hood of climate change politics when it comes to motoring. We’re transitioning to a world where it’s no longer considered safe for you to transport yourself, and no longer considered climate-conscious to enjoy doing it. “Morally reprehensible” will be the term used for for the car you love. Those willing to buck the masses will be rebels. Hopefully I have the courage to be one of those people, holding white knuckle to what once was a defining piece of American history.
Society now knows nothing of the benefits of many industrial revolution breakthroughs. It only knows the fruits of decades of advancement. This is evident now more than ever. The new electric hybrid cars will never have a respectable heritage or pedigree. The tech side of the vehicles is so integrated into the fiber of their function that the majority of their benefits as we see them today, will be worthless in a few years. Just like that desktop you bought in 2003 just to keep in the basement simply because it still “works”, the cutting edge vehicles of today will turn out to be undesirable relics. They’ll be great for recycling but bad for writing interesting books about. They will be inefficient but in an uncool way.
Sure, my 911 doesn't get the greatest fuel economy, but man does it turn the knobs to 11 on my senses. Not being able to pair your future digital whatever with a 2010 Tesla and having archaic apps and operating systems isn’t going to be seen as romantic. We aren’t building anything nostalgic anymore. It’s a garbage-time race to the top of the lazy don’t have to do anything yourself just because it’s the safest most efficient way mountain. Except they aren’t competing against anyone but the consumer.
Many movies have been made depicting a dystopian future where the banes of today's societies have been cured—crime, pollution, risk, death, and any other number of other evils. In the cult classic Demolition Man, Sylvester Stallone ends up driving an Olds 442 through a glass window, shattering the “perfect” world around him with the sound and underground rebellion that the car represents. In iRobot Will Smith rips through another perfect future on an MV Augusta motorcycle. Both films show a system where the populace is stripped of risk. Film is often used to show that a dirty, filthy society that is free trumps a clean, perfect, and morally superior one brought upon by force. The plots revolve around human beings breaking free of this system, and the screenwriters have used motoring as an allegory representing that forgotten free society. In that free spirit is represented the inherent risk that you take driving yourself, essentially controlling your own destiny, and where you go and when. Motoring isn’t the only part of our lives that's being mortgaged under the guise of protecting us from ourselves. The real question is, IS it worth it? Is sacrificing expediency, and efficiency worth ceding yet another part of ourselves to someone else worthy of the consequences to the environment or future economy?
This isn’t to say we cannot have a compromise. Throughout motoring history there has always been the person that wants to do more, go faster, and overcome restrictions placed on vehicles like the speed limiters on ECUs. Society may eventually forget what a combustion engine is all about and why it was so cherished once, but perhaps a new generation of tuners will take over the mantle. We’ll have kids hacking electric cars, taking control of their operation. Maybe we’ll have insane batteries and electric motors ported in from industrial applications.
Perhaps it isn’t the fear of motoring's death that I’m afraid of, but the selfish fear of losing of what I cherish the most—of what I know. I may struggle with an incurable myopia concerning burning fossil fuels, but it’s time to admit that I’m doing nothing but carrying a fading torch. Hopefully some of the warmth in my hand rubs off on the future, and all is not lost. Maybe us old guys will inspire the young enthusiasts and they’ll do things with the new generation of cars we’ve never dreamed of.