Blood Type or E-Type: Sci-Fi genetic engineering isn't just for people
How car makers are playing God with your wheels too...
This morning, as I was getting ready in my hotel room, a man appeared on one of those bizarre rolling news channels that only ever seem to be broadcast in hotels. He was a German scientist and he was talking about how, in the not too distant future, medical science would be able to eliminate disabilities altogether via the miracle of genetic engineering.
It sounded fantastic, a genuinely huge milestone in human achievement. No matter who you are, the idea that one day these very clever people would be able to improve the lives of millions of people across the globe is just incredible isn’t it? I thought so too. But whoa there… there was more. Herr Doktor then went on to tell the slightly bemused interviewer that this same technology could also be used to ‘augment’ healthy people. To give them heightened abilities, and do away with our pesky human limitations. With this technology, the German said whilst sounding increasingly like a Bond villain, we might be able to run faster, jump higher and push ourselves further both physically and mentally than we have ever been able to before.
To be honest, it all sounded a bit ‘Captain America’. But it did get me thinking. Surely our limitations are part of the very essence of being human in the first place? For one thing, each of us has different limitations. In the London Marathon for instance, Usain Bolt would start much more quickly than Mo Farah, but after a mile or so you’d better make sure there’s some oxygen on hand for Usain as Sir Mo glides past on his half-speed saunter across the city.
I’m the same. I can bang out a thousand words in less than half an hour when I have to, whereas my fiancée would still be there at dinner time trying to decide if ‘donkey’ was a better opening word than ‘blanched’. But give me a simple long division sum to do and I immediately turn into a useless, gibbering wreck. My beloved could do long division whilst cooking a complex meal, or performing open heart surgery. Probably.
The point is that it’s these limitations, these differences that make up a huge part of our individual personalities. Taking healthy people and giving them all the same heightened abilities would make them into little more than robots rolling off a human production line. The ethical argument against interfering with the natural order of things is substantial.
That being said, I think there could be one group of people for whom a little bit of genetic fiddling could be a good thing; the elderly. Imagine how much more exciting the prospect of those Sunday morning visits to your parents would be if dear old Dad could lift his grandson onto his knee without popping a hernia and recount his thrilling war stories without dozing off mid-sentence. I know it sounds a bit far-fetched but I also know it’s a good idea because of what we’ve seen going on recently in the world of classic cars.
Not that long ago, the dream of owning a lovely old car was just that, a dream. Sure, you could buy an old MG, or Citroen DS, or even a Ferrari if you were feeling flush. But the idea that you could actually use them, the vision of pointing that gloriously sculpted sixties nose at the horizon and cruising down an unspoilt Alpine road or sunlight-dappled boulevard was almost immediately washed away in a deluge of garage bills, rust remedy, and snapped halfshafts.
But a few years ago, a small firm not too far away from where I live in Sussex got hold of a classic E-Type Jaguar. They threw away its stupid SU carburettors and fitted fuel injection, they then replaced the Massey Ferguson tractor gearbox with a five-speed unit that actually worked, and when they’d finished doing that, they had the presence of mind to equip the car with the braking system that Jaguar had forgotten to install at the factory. The end result was something that looked like an E-Type, and felt like an E-Type, but unlike any E-Type that had gone before this one actually worked as a car, not just as a piece of automotive art.
You’ll probably have realised that the company I’m talking about is called Eagle, and if you know that then you’ll also know that after their first attempt they kept at it, tweaking and improving their Jaguars until they ended up with the incredible Speedster that we saw on Top Gear a few years back. It was the most jaw-droppingly beautiful car ever made then, and having been lucky enough to get up close and personal with one a few months ago, I promise you it still is.
That isn’t really surprising though. What might raise an eyebrow though, is that despite the Speedster’s half a million Pound price tag, Eagle had no trouble filling their order books with eager punters during a global recession. Neither, in fact, did the rejuvenated Jensen company, who found more than enough takers for their updated £200k Interceptor R.
Never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, the car manufacturers themselves soon caught onto this and some have started to offer modernised versions of their greatest hits. In Japan, Mazda have started restoring original MX-5’s to better-than-new condition. Aston Martin will, in exchange for an enormous fee, sell you a re-worked, revitalised version of anything from the pretty little DB2/4, right the way up to the thunderous 90’s Vantage. Porsche too, have been busying themselves with tarting up old 911’s, and word has it that they’re even looking at the 928 a bit wistfully.
The ones who’ve really taken the bull by the horns though are Jaguar Land Rover. Perhaps following Eagle’s lead, they’ve set up an entire department at the factory where you can have your E-Type, XJ-S or Defender fettled, tuned and modernised in such a way that you might even conceivably complete a journey in it. You can even have an electric powertrain installed in your E-Type if you are the sort of person who thinks that Natalie Dormer would look better with a beard.
Without exception, all of these rejuvenated classics are brilliant, and the 556bhp Range Rover Classic Chieftain is even better than that. I know they’re hugely expensive, and they’re never going to be as dynamically brilliant as their modern, fresh from the ground up equivalents. And yes, eventually they will probably still break down because no matter how many ECU’s and botox shots you fill them with, an old car is still just that; old.
But look at it this way; my Grandfather was old. By the time he died in 2016 he was 92 his hip didn’t work and neither did his brain to be honest. But he was my absolute hero, and if the technology existed at the time to allow doctors to ‘restore’ him so I could sit on the floor, wide-eyed and cross-legged as he talked one more time about changing his landing spot at the last minute on D-Day after the boat thirty yards front of his had been cut to pieces by gunfire, or about how he and his pals liberated Brussels, and then went AWOL for two days to make sure it was liberated ‘properly’, then hang the expense. You can bet your back teeth I’d take the mad German scientist up on it.