You won’t believe number six. One problem with automotive enthusiasts as a group is that they never stop whining or beating on certain things they don’t understand -or even make a minimal effort to understand. Here’s my top five things car enthusiasts should stop bitching about.
5: The Trabant
Ever since the Berlin wall came down, westerners have been making fun of the Trabant. It was an automotive symbol for everything wrong with Communism. We all felt so superior in our Ford Aerostars and Plymouth Horizons - cars that showed how truly mighty western capitalism was.
But that also meant nobody really took time to understand what they were criticizing. It was just a slow, ugly, car that hadn’t been updated much for a few decades. The problem with that mindset is the Trabant 601 was actually a pretty ingenious design, and at least when it was introduced, stiff competition for other cars in its class. In 1964 it handily beat other small cars in its class in terms of interior and luggage space, and it wasn’t appreciably worse than anything else in terms of performance. There is a myth that Trabants only sold because they were the only cars people could buy, but this is not really true either. The thing is most of the other cars available behind the iron curtain just weren’t as good - or they cost a lot more.
Sure by the time it ceased production all of those other cars were long gone and forgotten, but given the praise heaped on heaps like the BMC Mini and Citroën 2cv, one could guess that had the Trabi been made in the west it would be praised for its “idiosyncrasies” instead of damned for them.
4: Ralph Nader
For decades Nader has been the punching bag for unimaginative automotive journalists who wanted all of us to be outraged at an American exercising his rights to freedom of expression and pointing out that cars were in fact far more dangerous than they ought to be. He became the symbol for a nanny state that demanded automotive manufacturers spend a couple dollars putting seat belts in cars, so their customers didn’t die in minor fender benders. Outrageous demands right?
Here’s the thing that’s wrong with that mindset: Ralph Nader wasn’t the first to study the problem of automotive safety, or the first to publicly criticize automakers for not giving a single shit about the people they took money from. In fact, had GM not sent hired goons after Nader, and then been exposed - Ralph and his little book would have more than likely disappeared off of the radar screen. GM bought Nader fame and ensured he would get attention whenever he had an opinion to express. The real point though, is that regardless of whether or not GM had given Nader fame, the safety movement was already in motion. It would have happened with or without Nader.
Further, Nader didn’t kill the Corvair. This is one of the stupidest myths of automotive history. The Corvair was an expensive car to make, it didn’t share many parts with other GM cars. It required different production techniques. It required different skills to be assembled and repaired. It was unpopular at GM and with dealers. But it continued to sell even after Unsafe at Any Speed. GM killed the Corvair.
3: Bike Lanes
Let’s be frank here. Motorists who hate bike lanes are all colossal, self absorbed, idiots. People who can’t stand that there are other people, who are less lazy, in better shape, putting some effort into moving their own colossal ass around, instead of sitting in an oversized mobility scooter, shoveling burgers into their gaping pie hole. Ok, I kid. A bit. But, bike lanes exist for the sake of motorists. Not cyclists. The bike lane essentially is a small slow lane, for small slow vehicles to travel in, so those of us in cars can pass them easily. Something almost nobody driving a car understands is that in many states a bicycle is classed as a slow moving vehicle, like a tractor or road roller. Which means legally, when passing, you have to completely exit the lane - and pass them like they’re a huge tractor.
Unless you live in one of those states that says you need only give three feet between yourself and cyclists when passing - and apparently even that throws some people into shit conniptions and triggers massive hemorrhoidal flare ups. How dare anybody be mandated to display a minimal amount of respect for the life of another human being. And before one of these people comments about bike owners not paying for the road: Most people who have bikes also own cars. Yeah I know, mind blowing that somebody might own two forms of transportation!
In any event, bike lanes = good for motorists. Think of the bike lanes as the bicycle equivalent of that extra slow lane that appears on a steep mountain pass for semis.
People in places outside of the U.S. might be familiar with roundabouts. But when there was a sudden spike in their appearances stateside about 20 years ago - a lot of people lost their shit. Again, automotive journalists fueled the fires. I remember one particularly amusing column (in Car and Driver I think...) about how roundabouts were evil. Because their design was to slow traffic. As opposed to you know, a regular intersection that stops traffic with a stop sign or a stop light. We were supposed to hate them because traffic would move slower if people had to slow down instead of come to a complete stop.
The bigger problem was that roundabouts forced drivers to pay attention to the road momentarily, and make a judgment about how to drive! A yield sign? What? I have to make a decision and not rely on a light bulb to tell me what to do? Insanity! Two decades on and it seems most people have figured out how to handle them. There are still critics of course, and like any intersection, a roundabout is not perfect - but one still gets the impression most of the people complaining have never actually used one and are just afraid of circles.
You know that awful traffic jam you wasted your time in today?
Were you in a car?
Were you by yourself?
You are the problem. This is your fault. Yeah it’s annoying and tedious, and I’m stuck in traffic -in a car by myself- all the time. But I don’t pretend like I’m not the problem. This is the price we pay for personal powered mobility. You’re one person taking up fourteen or fifteen or more feet of road to yourself - along with thousands of other people wasting space in the exact same way. Of course tailgaters and idiots who don’t know how to drive are also part of the problem, but since people rightly bitch about those fools all the time, they don’t make this list.
Either get more people in your car, or get out of the car, or stop bitching about traffic like it’s everybody else’s fault. It is your fault.
Or at least get a Smart or something. Damn.