The stuff of cars


4y ago

When I was young and Donald Trump was only a story that Mexican parents told their children, cars were made out of metal. It was a solid and tangible age, when men were cisgendered and gearboxes were manual and we spent the evenings watching Iraq getting carpet bombed over a plate of something straightforward and unhygienic. Corridor? We used to dream of living in the corridor.

Not anymore. There's a Range Rover Sport in my driveway, a new one, and it looks very nice. Light blue, glassy panoramic sunroof, clean lines that make it look designed rather than cobbled together, like the old one, out of vulgar oddments. And they finally got rid of those spangly headlights. But there are downsides. In order to save weight and make some of the more complicated panels, they have decided to use what feels like plastic.

Plastic is useful in many ways. But it is a morally questionable substance. It feels false; it provides very little sensation; no smell; it never biodegrades or nourishes. It is, in short, alien. Mailer said that plastic was "a malign force loose in the universe... the social equivalent of cancer."

Now, Mailer was completely mad. I accept that. But ask yourself: is plastic really the stuff of cars? Would the GT-40 or the Daytona have been remotely the same if plasticised? Plastic cars are toy cars. When racing drivers crash at inhuman speed, leaving only a trail of metal and rubber and gasoline and ceramic, there is a certain gravity about it. A plastic crash is just an ecological mess.

Or consider the prospect of a 3D-printed car. A print is, by definition, a copy or facsimile. It can never be real. You can print off a copy of the Mona Lisa, but it won't really be the same as the original. Already though, in the car world, there are panels and components so complex that they have to be made this way. Some of them are rather beautiful. But are you really driving a car, or are you driving the print-out Mona Lisa? The new Aston Martin DB11 is a harbinger of what I mean: instead of having a spoiler (which would ruin the geometric balance), it has a strip cut out from the back. Air gets pushed out of the strip; the back of the car gets forced down; no need for a spoiler. Great. Similar story with the new Honda NS-X, which simply couldn't have been designed ten years ago.

But soon, I fear, we will have plastic cars made by 3D printers and designed by artificial intelligences in jars. Am I talking rubbish? Probably. Am I just trying to start an argument to drive more traffic to our Tribe? Maybe. But tell me: what do you think?

You can print off a copy of the Mona Lisa, but it won't really be the same as the original.

Andrew Trower

Join In

Comments (0)