Minis may have feelings, but what about the rest of them?
I'm not crazy. I promise...
Back in the 1980’s British Leyland, or whatever it was calling itself that week, ran a Christmas-time television advert for the old Mini. Set to the strains of ‘The First Noel’ a little blue Mini bounds its way up a snow-covered driveway and deposits a young couple at the front door of their festively decorated house. All very wholesome, but the real genius of the ad was what happened next; Our diminutive blue hero continues rolling, seemingly of its own accord, until with the slightest of bumps, it ‘kisses’ the front bumper of another red Mini on the driveway. The camera pans out to show the two little cars locking lips under some conveniently-placed mistletoe, with the words ‘Minis Have Feelings Too’ writ large on the screen.
It was a brilliantly simple advert and one that kicked the old Mini right back into the public consciousness. Before the ad aired, the poor old thing had been due for the axe after being on sale for over 25 years. But as soon as the Christmas kiss had been beamed into British homes, sales of the Mini shot up and Graham Day, the chairman of Rover, personally saw to it that the car was given a stay of execution. After which the old girl soldiered on for another fourteen years. The genius of the advert, was that in the space of twenty seconds, the Mini was transformed from a relic of a bygone age and a bit of a music hall joke, into a faithful old family pet. And you wouldn’t put down your dog just because he’s getting on a bit, would you?
The thing is though, I’m not sure that it’s just the Mini that has feelings. I was walking past a little used car dealer not far from my house the other day. It was the first time I had been down that road in at least a year, but as I strolled past, I noticed an old green Ford Fiesta sitting forlornly in the corner of the lot. I noticed it because I had seen the exact same car in the exact same spot over a year earlier. The last time I saw it though, it had clearly just arrived and I recall thinking it looked very clean for an old ‘Uncle Fester’. It had obviously been loved and cared for by its owner and was just waiting for a new home, and a new adventure.
Now though, its once buffed and burnished paintwork was dulled by the dust and leaves that had gathered atop it. The tyres were perished and a bit flat. Its headlamps were cloudy, as though it had developed cataracts. You just knew from looking at it, that if the poor thing could shed a tear, it would have wept from its washer jets.
The more I thought about it, the more it made me a bit sad. Here was a car that had been somebody’s faithful runabout for twenty years, as much a part of the family as the cat, or your Nan. It had been there through good times and bad. It might have taken them on holidays. Perhaps it had taken the newborn kids on their first journey home from the hospital. And then one day, for no reason it could possibly understand, its owner drove it to the used car lot and just left it there, cold, and scared and alone.
I can understand why you might read this and think I’m being stupid. But I honestly believe that some cars do have feelings. Not all of them though, and this is the bit I can’t quite explain.
A few weeks ago, a man from Mercedes took my car away and replaced it with another one. I discovered this after many hours of close inspection when I concluded that whilst the previous Merc was silver, this new one is very definitely black. Here’s the thing though, I spent nearly two years and several thousand miles driving the old car. I had even made friends with the lady who lived in its dashboard and could talk to me about the traffic ahead or the weather in Adelaide. Despite this, I haven’t thought about the silver car once since it left. If it were self-aware, it would know it is still a supremely competent machine and it would be brimming with confidence about finding a new home very soon.
I don’t think it’s a question of it being German either. An A35 may not have feelings but an old 300SL brims to overflowing with personality. A new 911 GT3 is a device, an incredible one, but a device nonetheless. An old 70’s 911 Turbo just isn’t somehow. It’s the same with a modern-day Toyota Supra. It’s a great car, in every measurable way it is miles better than the one they used to sell in the 90’s. But you still want the old one, don’t you?
Is it something that only comes with age then? Well I don’t think that’s true either. The VW Up! GTi has bucketloads of personality. It isn’t just cheap cars either. The Alpine has a definite je ne sais quoi about it, and so does the F-Type Jaguar. The most recent BMW M3 just went out of production and I couldn’t care less. But soon the bell will toll for the M2, and that will be a sad day.
The truth of the matter is that I simply don’t know why some cars illicit this emotional response and others don’t. But I’m starting to suspect it might be something to do with flaws. None of the cars I’ve mentioned as having feelings are perfect. You could park the old Mini and Fiesta in a giant airtight polythene bag and they’d still rust away in about a week. The Up! and the F-Type are too harsh and too expensive. I don’t believe I need to get started on the catalogue of faults that go hand-in-hand with ownership of an old 911. Maybe cars, like people, need to be fallible for us to truly love them.
Put it this way; Superman is the perfect example of a movie hero, courageous, noble and handsome. But the Iron Man films made a lot more money at the box office. Not because Tony Stark is a better superhero, but because his character defects make him more relatable and enjoyable to watch.
I suppose what I'm saying is that for a car to have a personality, a soul even, it has to be a bit shit.