The automotive industry has a problem: it is taking itself too seriously. Car design has reached unprecedented levels of aggression. It seems there isn’t a single performance car model made today that doesn’t feature ridiculously angry styling. Why is this happening? I mean, good god, they’ve gone and done it to the freaking Mazda Miata.
You could blame car designers themselves, but they are merely reacting to consumer preferences. Car designers can’t control what people buy. They want to make cars with classic, balanced styling. They even still do so from time to time. The ‘BK1' Genesis Coupe is a good example. With its small mouth and gently curved front end it manages to evoke more classically styled sports-cars.
The problem was nobody bought it. This lovely, demure styling language was a complete flop. Hyundai hastily redesigned the car’s front end for the ‘BK2' mid-cycle refresh. They gave it a gaping Audi mouth and some fake hood nostrils from the Challenger. Sales picked up as a result.
When did we, the American car-buying public, become so incredibly insecure that we need “angry eyes” on every single new car, even the precious little Miata. Under-confident people have always compensated for their own perceived shortcomings through possessions such as cars. That isn’t a new phenomenon, but one might think this effect would have become less common in our modern, sensitive, politically correct era; not more.
This hasn’t been the case though, as car design continues to march towards a heretofore unseen singularity of pissed-off automobiles.
Even cars that make some sense to be designed as anger incarnate are betraying their history. The Corvette is one of the better examples.
Through much of its past the Corvette could be optioned up into one of the ultimate hairy-chested OEM driving experiences. Some of the most ludicrously over-powered cars ever to wear factory badging have been Corvettes. Yet through most of that history, the Corvette has been a case study for a balanced mix of masculine and feminine design queues.
Take the legendary 427 Sting Ray, perhaps the most unhinged Corvette of all time, which featured curvaceous hips and suggestive body lines. In the 60's, even this monstrosity was in touch with its feminine side. So how have we slid from that point to the present, where a Toyota Camry now looks like something Michael Bay would jerk off to?
The USA is more fearful today than it ever has been. The echo chamber that is modern cable news has become nothing but a feedback loop full of the scariest shit that underpaid interns can dredge up from the Internet. Not even the Cold War was this bad, perhaps because the American public had no idea about all the terrifying goings-on of that conflict until long after it was over and government files on it became declassified. Oh, and the concept of non-commercialized journalism; that helped too.
We’re afraid of everything these days. Zika, terrorists, immigrants, Muslims, women, babies, and literally everything else you could imagine to scare someone with. We have become an anxious and nervous people. Constantly shell-shocked, we never get the chance to recover from the latest tragedy before a new one gets shoved down our throats. This has led to the rise of bizarre, PTSD-like symptoms among perfectly ordinary people.
We’re on high alert all the time now. You can’t put any kind of animal through that and expect good results, even one as intelligent as we are.
This dysfunction now bleeds out of us through our consumer choices. For instance, I think many reasonable folks could agree that the last thing we need in this country is even more guns. At over 300 million and counting, we’ve got plenty to go around. Yet, new gun sales have seen record highs lately, and they have surged after every mass shooting that is widely reported on.
We are allowing fear to control our purchasing habits, and that effect has spread to car-buying. We want our cars to look tough.
So how do we fight back against such a depressing, omnipresent, monolithic problem? And what the hell could it have to do with our car buying habits?
Many of these terrible things are happening because of how afraid we are. Even the cops are afraid, hell, they’re more afraid than anyone. Why else would a police officer in an overwhelmingly advantageous tactical position shoot an un-armed man who was laying on the ground with his hands in the air?
Again though, what does this have to do with cars?
Cars bring people together. Whole communities spring up around certain automotive makes and models. In order to defeat this overwhelming fear, we must reach out and make connections with our fellow man. A sense of community is the only antidote to such madness. Small but promising signs of this truth have been popping up lately, and we automotive enthusiasts need to do our part to foster that trend so as to generate some much-needed relief for our beleaguered country.
We need to do it right though. Performing a failed drift at a car show and plowing into a plant pot, or a crowd of bystanders, is not the way to go about it. Again, these incidents can be traced back to fear. Fear causes insecurity, and insecurity causes people to act like colossal douche-canoes.
We must reign in the aggressive and often judgmental stance we have on our fellow car lovers. We need to call off all the dick-measuring contests and get back in touch with what made us love cars in the first place. It isn’t about showing off or being perceived as a tough guy. It’s about having a relationship with these fun, beautiful, evocative machines that we call automobiles. We need to stop challenging eachother so much. Instead of doing that, we need to say this:
“Nice car dude. No, I really don’t need to see you do a burn-out right now. Maybe at the drag-strip some time, okay?”
We need to work harder to keep things civilized, because the world is already at a huge deficit in civility. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun, we just need to have fun in a way that is friendly and safe. How do we do that? Well, let’s look at some examples:
David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan just get it, man. They really, really understand what I’m on about here. When they got ahold of the three most powerful cars ever produced by Chrysler Corp, they refused to engage in anything resembling a formalized competition. They brought in Carlos Lago, one of the most aggressive guys in automotive journalism, only to drag him down to their level and have more fun than you can shake an immolated tire carcass at. I mean just look at this:
I’m sorry, but that right there has to be a billion times more fun than arguing over whether or not the Charger Hellcat sucks because you can’t get it with a manual.
Chris Harris is such a celebrated car reviewer because, again, he gets it. He is an extremely competitive man, with serious racing skills and credentials. He has performed well in a variety of endurance and classic car races. He gets to drive all the new supercar hotness, and regularly wrings the necks of the most intimidating new cars that money can buy. Despite this, one of his favorite cars to drive of all time is a geriatric Citroen 2CV:
Chris understands that you can have just as much fun driving the wheels off an old crap-can, perhaps even more so, than you can trying to find the limits of a modern, powerful sports-car. He is not at all concerned with being judged for his love of such an incredibly slow, cutely styled car. In fact, he’s just that much cooler because of it.
Mr. Regular has been widely celebrated on the Internet, and for good reason. I must repeat myself yet again: he gets car culture in a way that so many dude-bros never will. He finds the joy in everyday automobiles, and his humor does a lot to undermine the credibility of overly-serious car enthusiasts who are more concerned with their image than having fun. Just witness the sheer glee with which he reveals the secrets of this awesome Buick Roadmaster sleeper:
It doesn’t matter that the Roadmaster is a whale of an automobile. It doesn’t matter that it has a Christian vanity licence plate. It doesn’t matter that the front grille strongly resembles Grover Cleveland’s mustache. In fact, those things only make it better.
These are but a few of the joys to be found within the realm of automotive enthusiasts. It’s some of the best fun you can have while clothed and sober. Everyone deserves a chance at these incredibly enriching experiences, and it is up to we pre-existing car fans to share the love.