Stef’s piece today on the Pebble Beach Concours not being an event for cars and more being about the looks of vehicles got me thinking about something that has been on my mind for a long time: that cars cannot be appreciated on their looks alone, and by having them parked in a car show, it actually makes them less beautiful.

We all hear stories of sultans and car owners keeping their cars locked up in a static state. And we also have shows like Pebble Beach where cars are taken out to be looked at and judged purely on that. Sure, these cars are beautiful, rare, impeccable feats of engineering, and so on. But cars are a different medium from something like a painting, that really only need to be looked at and have some historical knowledge of the work in order to appreciate. Cars have something which I call functional beauty.

Now, what exactly do I mean by that? It’s the fact that a car is not designed to be looked at, it is designed to be heard, to be driven, to be experienced. Imagine you have a watch, something really fancy like a Rolex. The moment you get it, you immediately let it unwind, as to prevent the mechanical bits from spinning and wearing away.

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That may get you to think: if I have a watch that doesn’t tell the time, what’s really the point of it? I mean, sure, it could be the most beautiful timepiece in the world, but there’s also a beauty in the function of an object. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this Patek Philippe video of the building of a watch: seeing all the parts get put together is quite amazing, but the way that all the parts move and interact is a kind of beauty on its own. Imagine just having that sitting in place, not moving, not being used for its purpose of keeping time. Kind of seems like a waste, doesn’t it?

So, back to an automobile. As mentioned, an automobile is not just a visual experience, there’s also a beauty to how everything works together in order to make an experience: the way the engine fires and sounds, the way it handles, the way the steering wheel feels, the way it stops. There is an experience and a beauty beyond just the physical appearance of a vehicle that can really only be found by firing it up and driving it. To me, the end result is that cars that are fenced up, parked, hidden away lose a large amount of what makes them beautiful. Owners maybe keep a car low mileage in order to sell it for some high price because it’s “pristine” or whatever, and the next owner keeps it in a similar state. Sure, it may be wiser economically to keep it low mileage if you want to sell it in a few years for a higher price, but with the classic car market cooling off, that’s not exactly a safe bet.

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So it all comes back to this: if you really want to appreciate the beauty of a car, it needs to be driven the way it was intended. Big luxury cars cruising, sports cars racing, et cetera. Stuff like the Tour d’Elegance at Pebble Beach is definitely a better display of the true beauty of a car, and track time for some race models would be absolutely amazing. With cars, we need to go back to focusing on not what it looks like, how many square inches of leather it has, how rare it is, what have you, although those are important. But the most important thing of all in order to determine its beauty is how everything about the car comes together and creates a driving or ride experience. Of course, if I’m wrong or right, please chime in below, because I want to hear other people’s opinions about the whole matter.

(And yes, this pretty much rephrases what Stef said, it’s just been on my mind for a long time and this is the kick in the butt I needed)