Like many people I find different experiences around cars fulfilling. There is a certain satisfaction you get from hitting the perfect shift, hitting the apex just right, or getting just that perfect amount of throttle coming out of a turn to get just slightly sideways (not enough to do anything crazy, but just enough so it feels like you are in total control). As our tech continues to advance and make driving more precise, I find that doing the little things to maintain a little analog in a fast-digitizing world makes these kinds of experiences maintain that little bit of magic. As you start to realize the types of experiences that make life worth living, some overarching themes start manifesting themselves. Since everyone reading this is most likely a car nut, I am going to try to explain one of my themes through the eyes of a gearhead. Theme: Don’t give into the conveniences of life. Some of the reasons & examples you might agree with, and some you might not. The point is, not to be able to relate to exact examples, but try to relate to the themes. You may find yourself agreeing with some of these with your own spin on it. You may find yourself wishing you could have your 5-10 minutes back. Either way, enjoy.
Drive with the windows down: What is one thing that we love about cars? It might be aggressive, deep, throaty, etc. etc? It’s the sound. The sound of an exhaust is like a symphony of bliss to the common gearhead. That symphony though is not just limited to the sound of the exhaust. The mechanical clicks and whirs of all the little components working together in perfect harmony to make this random grouping of parts fly down the road at ridiculous speeds are part of this too (under the posted limits, no worries). The noise of the tires rolling down the road is like the bass that forms the foundation of the orchestra. So with new cars these days, comfort is a big “consumer demand.” That brings on noise dampening & deadening. I like to refer to that as fun dampening & fun deadening. We all spend a lot of time behind computers looking at spreadsheets and sending the same emails over and over again. I sit in air-conditioning all day, breathing the artificial air that they pump in there to make us “comfortable”. I refuse to sit in AC on my drives. I rarely turn it on actually. When it rains, and I need the compressor to do its thing and send in some dry air to combat the fogging, I will turn it on. Other than that….never. So basically, roll your windows down, turn off the air. Don’t just drive from point A to B. Hear it. Smell it. Experience it.
Shift your own gears: This one is nothing new. The manual transmission is dying. You can really break down the impending death of the manual transmission down to 2 basic reasons; one of which I am more than willing to accept, and the other I see as the real enemy. A) Dual-clutch technology and automatic transmissions in general have become so advanced that they are in fact making cars quicker around a track. I mean you aren’t going to see Lewis Hamilton slamming through the gears in his W06, it’s more of a flick. Although this is still fundamentally changing the driving experience, it is for a good reason. I am okay with that. B) The second more troubling reason is that drivers are becoming less engaged with the driving experience. I’m not blaming people because the car is, for most, a tool that you use to sit in traffic and make your 15 mile/45 minute commute to and from work. So if that is the mass market that cars will be made for, you would expect things like mindless automatic transmissions and the arch nemesis of fun, the CVT transmission. I get the chills just saying CVT these days. The point here is that these automatic transmissions are taking away the driving experience. It is no longer a drive, but rather a seat you sit in while you just make sure you don’t slam into the wall, which for the truly mindless population there are “driver’s aids” for now. I guess it is not fair to call people who like “driver’s aids” mindless, they are just using the tools/technology available to make the driving experience safer. The way I see it is that “driver’s aids” make people who should not have a driver’s license a little less of a hazard for the qualified drivers on the road. Back to my original point, I am not against automatic transmissions. I am simply saying that everything has its place. Driving a car with 3 pedals is the driving experience on the road. The feeling of hitting that perfect shift, hearing that mechanical click as you engage the next gear, and hearing the motor dig deep and climb through that next gear….that my friends is a life experience. You hear people say it all the time, some cars make you feel connected to the road. The next level of that is to have full control of the machine itself and over time it really starts to feel like an extension of your body. Those kinds of connections are what life’s about. It could be with a family, friends, a loved one, or in this case a car. You get out of it what you put into it. Do the work, shift your own gears, and you will really experience life.
Embrace your patina: When I first started into the world of cars, I was obsessed with having the best/most unique paint job, having the coolest aftermarket parts, and making sure that there was not a single blemish on the machine. As I started to wrench more and more, I realized that it would be almost impossible to keep my car from getting little blemishes. It just couldn’t be done on something you drive everyday. A couple of years in, I started shifting my modifications effort for the track. Now there is a completely different train of thought when building something as a road ornament versus a track warrior. Cosmetics don’t really matter anymore. I no longer thought of this wing as a sweet cosmetic feature that made my car look mean, but now it was an tool that actively gave me what I needed…downforce. (And yes, I knew that having the wing on my civic was going to do me a lot of good in getting traction to the FWD. I mean the 130 bhp was so uncontrollable without that wing over the rear axle. By 17, I realized how ridiculous it was, literally tore it off my car, and used some fiberglass to crudely patch the mounting points I drilled in the year before…..I came to my senses). After a day of tracking a car, you end up with all kinds of little blemishes, and I started to think they looked cool. I wanted my car to look like what it was, a precision tool for getting around corners very fast. I wanted my car to look like the cars I saw coming to the checkered flag at Le Mans. I stopped caring about getting a layer of wax on the thing all the time. I focused on cleaning my car to maintain form and function, rather than cleaning to maintain shine and luster. My car started to develop character over time. Over time it just grew into itself. I added modifications here and there to help make it a bit faster, and they added to the look of the car. After a couple of years it really turned into a cool looking car, and all without even trying to work on aesthetics. I take that approach with all my cars now, and something that is very parallel to other aspects of your life. Just create the car you want to create, and drive it. Don’t worry about trying to make it look cool. Just make it do the things you want it to do, and eventually it will look like the coolest car you have ever seen…even if the paint is chipping.
These thoughts are just some of what I have gathered over the course of the automotive life. Like everything else, this is also about balance. There are times when I run the AC, or wish I had an automatic tranny. All I am saying is to make sure the conveniences in life remain just that…conveniences. Don’t let them just become the norm.