How the humble beverage receptacle spelled damnation for car lovers
Think carefully about the evolution of the motorcar over the last 120 years. For the first 50 years, the practical developments came thick and fast. Manufacturers decided upon an agreed method for driver controls, experiments with steam power were ended, the internal combustion engine was widely adopted and vehicles gradually evolved into something we’d recognise now as a car. We had the introduction of pneumatic tyres and hydraulic suspension. Our love affair with the automobile blossomed into a dedicated marriage.
Then came the finer details; power steering, electronic fuel injection and turbocharging. All excellent developments that genuinely made driving better and helped us chase the elusive horsepower. Cars in the 60’s and 70’s were stylish and experimental; often using new technologies that hadn’t been fully mastered yet. This built in unpredictability was thrilling and sometimes scary, but it also gave drivers a sense of accomplishment and enabled us to really get to know our vehicles. After all, there’s a certain satisfaction to be gained when you know exactly how to drive your car while others gnash gears and stall.
Then, as technology continued to improve, cars were ruined by the strive to make them safer, more comfortable and easier to drive. Comfort in particular has had a calamitous impact on the motor vehicle.
If you want to know whether your car comes from the golden era of motoring, check for cup-holders. They were the first sign that we’d strayed from the righteous path of motoring. Designers should never have been allowed to include such devices in a motorcar. Think about it, when cars were at their peak cup-holders were nowhere to be seen. Do you want to know why? Well I’ll tell you anyway; it’s because drivers didn’t have time to think about tasty beverages! They were wrestling with heavy steering, leaf sprung suspension and a clutch that required Sir Chris Hoy’s legs to operate. The ride was jerky and the lean angle through even modest corners was alarming. No time for drinking, it took 100% concentration to negotiate the journey safely.
Who would dare try to enter this masterpiece with a cup of coffee? It would be like spitting at the Mona Lisa.
And the passengers? If you tried to get into a car in 1970 with a cup of hot coffee, you may as well have given the driver immediate instructions to head to the burns unit. No amount of cup-holding sorcery would keep any beverage from splashing around the cockpit. Statistically, there was a good chance the driver was drunk and speed limits weren’t really enforced. Besides, any self-respecting car owner would refuse to let anyone in their vehicle with food or drink. It’s a car, not a bloody café.
So, sometime in the 80’s or 90’s the cup-holders started to appear and it was a bad sign. It meant that we also had smooth automatic transmissions, effortless power steering , light clutches and velvety-smooth engines. It also meant that your Granny could easily drive your GTi to the shops. Gone were the days of pinning your pride on your ability to tame a wild stallion of a car. It was all too easy and too comfortable, so you may as well enjoy a nice cup of tea while you glide down the road.
The four horseman of the apocalypse in their modern guise...
Then it got worse. The cup-holders were merely the first symptom. We had cruise control, traction control, stability control, speed warning alarms, rev limiters… the list is endless. And now there are cars you don’t even have to drive. What’s the point? I like cars because I enjoy driving them.
Let me bring in some solid psychology here. In the wealthy western world there is a current epidemic of depression and anxiety. It’s a genuine problem that’s ruining lives and we must strive for a solution. One opinion popular amongst some experts is that people in positions of wealth and privilege are suffering from a lack of adversity; it’s simply too easy to be perfectly comfortable. The idea is that constant comfort leads to a lack of fulfilment and satisfaction, and I personally think there is some truth to this. I also think that this applies to the way I feel about cars.
I like modern cars. I like that they’re fast and clever and sophisticated, but I hate the way they’re so easy to drive. I want to be challenged and I want to learn all the little quirks and nuances. I want to control the car, not the other way around. The decisions about whether or not the wheels should spin or how high the engine revs should be mine, not a little computer hidden away somewhere. If I end up backwards through a hedge or sending a piston flying through the block, it’s my fault and I should know better! And that’s OK. I accept responsibility.
"Don't worry Johnny... It'll buff out."
Now, car companies should go ahead and make these user-friendly, yawn inducing cars for the masses. That’s fine. Plenty of people do just want something that gets them from A to B safely and in comfort. All I’m asking for is an option. Don’t force us all down the path towards driverless cars.
When I think of autonomic cars it sends me into a cold sweat. It’s like a dystopian nightmare. Please, car manufacturers, ignore the legal eagles and the boffins and let us have a rear wheel drive performance car with no driver aids. Then stick a giant label on it that tells people that it will almost certainly kill or maim them… you can even make them sign a disclaimer, but give us a proper driving car! I don’t mind power steering and fuel injection, but leave the throttle and the clutch to me! You can even throw in some ABS, although I’d prefer you didn’t. I want to be uncomfortable and I want to be frightened. I don’t want my Granny to be able to drive it to the shops and I want people to be scared of it. That’s the modern car I want. And no f£%king cup-holders!
As always, let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks for reading!