An older Hooniverse podcast pointed me towards this one. It’s simultaneously very dry and extremely amusing. The careful examination of sales reps’ nuanced interpretation of make, model, and trim level opens a window into their strange and deeply petty world. The top gear boys have joked about the importance of company car trim level, which I never took seriously until I watched this. These guys talk about having a 1.6 vs 2.0 Cavalier as though they were comparing a Civic to a 7 series. It’s incredible. Company cars were life or death, apparently. These guys blame everything from their business failings to their marriage issues on the presige of their company cars. And lets be perfectly clear - every single one of the cars mentioned, with the exception of the 190e and the supra, are highly disposable pieces of garbage.
This obsession explains so much about European car culture. One thought I had was about de-badging. We don’t do that in the US, but it’s conspicuously common in Europe. I assume the benefit is either hiding the fact that you have the cheap model or being discrete about having a fast V8 5 series instead of a more polite diesel? I even saw AMGs debadged when I was in Germany, which was fascinating (as if the quad exhausts and the snarl they produce weren’t dead giveaways). That would never happen in the US.
First of all, unless you’re driving a new looking luxury car or a ratty beater, people in the US don’t think as hard about your socioeconomic status when they look at your car. Maybe these modern values have crept into Britain too? The biggest concern most people in the US have when it comes to inferring something about the driver from the automobile is whether or not it pollutes. Another US only factor is that you can’t easily tell how old a car is by looking at the license plate. We have a tiny sticker, not an age identifying number within the plate sequence itself.
Sure, big trucks and loud performance cars are seen as a bit of an “f you” in the US, especially in the Northeast, where stealth wealth and ev/hybrid elitism reign supreme. But not to the point where you’d consider debadgeing your car to hide how much money you did or didn’t spend.
Passing prowess is another consideration touched upon in this video that blew my mind. The extent to which these salesmen read into variations in displacement size is hilarious. First of all, everything they’re over analyzing has a displacement of 2 liters or less. They discuss aggressive motorway driving (blocking passes based on how nice/powerful your car is) as an extension of status. Does the man in your rear view mirror have a color matched bumper? Then he has the Cavalier 1.8 gxi - better let him through because you have a 1.6, or floor it so he can’t get past because you drive a 2.0 Mazda 626, and that plebe needs to be put in his place.
Seriously? How was this level of ridiculousness reached? In the US at this point, higher displacement cars were far more common. Any old American piece of junk from this era with a *technically* anemic V6 would still have 180+ horsepower and over 200 lb/ft of torque. Sorry mr. printer ink salesman, even your svelt 190e would get smoked by an Oldsmobile Alero. In the US people do play games in the passing lane but most of our engines are large enough to the point where top speed isn’t a consideration when it comes to overtaking. You’ll reach “arrest me” speeds in pretty much any car sold here if you were to floor it on the highway for any significant period of time.
The image conjured up by descriptions of English salespeople jockeying for position on the highway in their “satatus symbol” econoboxes tickles me. I imagine them doing 60-80 MPH pulls at the top of third gear, side by side for 30 seconds straight at full throttle, deciding who was the better man via wringing out their tiny 4 bangers. The junior manager in his 1.8 Escort tries to thwart the assistant vice president of sales in his E36 318i and fails; the BMW had twelve more horsepower at the top end. The junior manager feels dejected. Inferior, lower-class, and simultaneously recharged. He NEEDS to rise in rank so he can claim his 2.0 liter tower of power.
Congrats if you’ve read this far, this was quite the ramble. Definitely watch (or just listen to) this documentary if you can. It’s quaint, informative, and hilarious. All of those sarcastic comments on Top Gear about the significance of modest differences in engine size make sense to me now. And now I know exactly what british auto journos mean when they call something a “sales rep’s fleet car.”