So you grew up, like me, on a steady drip of numbers – 0-60 times, Gs and perhaps even lap times. Each car was measured out, some found wanting and condemned to epithets from car journalists and some found to be exemplary, receiving high praise.
From Camrys to Corvettes, the numbers never lied. But now, you've started to look around and find cars that were never designed for any kind of numbers, never designed to perform, and find, for some inexplicable reason, the you are drawn to them. And like some confused young man who finds himself attracted to the same gender, you rationalize it, dreaming of putting SBCs into a host of cars to make your kink seem normal to mainstream culture – 2CV with an LS; a Tatra already has a V8 so it would be easy; Fiat Multipla, why not?.
But leave aside the mask of normality that an LSx will get you and revel for a minute here with me, enjoying a car that isn't necessarily fast, or comfortable or good in any way by modern standards.
What makes us love these weird cars? Red-headed stepchildren and uber-popular people's cars alike?
Not slow to go fast, or slow in, fast out, or even slow to learn how to go fast, but just can't pass on the freeway slow. Everyone can go fast these days, but can you go slow?
Bentley sold fast cars in the beginning because their customers were brits with a devil may care attitude and a fistful of dollars. Now they sell fast cars because if Bentley owners knew their cars were slower than Camrys they would be embarrassed to own one, but that's neither here nor there.
Fast in the new pace of life that everyone's pushed to, so, like the people who buy sail boats or take time off 'upstate' maybe what we need now is something to slow down, time to cruise and enjoy the drive, instead of pushing hard and regretting the missed second more than relishing the the minutes in the vehicle.
Many of these cars are strange dead ends of automotive cultures or unique artifacts of automotive cultures that are not informed by a not informing of North American car culture.
Think for a minute of the Mazda Carol. Its small engine relegates it to the slowest of slow lanes, behind couriers on bicycle. But still there is something about it that draws me. I want it. I want it more than a Corvette or a new Ferrari (which is not to say I would take it over a Ferrari if the two were offered to me, but only that I have a palpable desire for a Carol and rarely think about new Ferraris).
That back cut window is just so different, Who makes cars as whimsical as that these days? (Japanese car manufacturers by way of Kei cars, sure, but I don't count them because the bastards in Ottawa won't let me buy one.)
You could choose a number of these cars, from Tatras, with their rear-mounted, air-cooled V8s, to the DS with its magic suspension by way of hydraulic fluid and grenades under the hood. How about the Studebaker Commander, with its weird, propeller-like chrome bit on the nose? Strange cars, every one.
They kind of knock you out of the haze of new cars perpetually more alike, or at least not radically different. Hell, even the ugly Aztec can brag a following, if only because it so strangely broke the mould. Who doesn't want a car that makes you step back and look at it? Not just glance at it with preconceived ideas about what a car should look like, but actually look at it for what it is.
Everyone likes to go fast, everyone likes to be comfortable, but with the Camry hitting 0-60 in under 6 seconds, speed and comfort have lost their panache. It takes but a passing familiarity with cars to enjoy the speed, but you really have to know and appreciate cars to like one that does 0-60, not in a certain time period, but it will do it, if you point it down hill or have a tail wind. Maybe it's some piece of design or some piece of it's history, but you appreciate something other than the unknowing car proletariate.
Now this could veer into some very elitist bullshit, which probably makes you worried because your an everyday, blue collar 'murican who loves his cheeseburgers and freedom, not some hoity toity french man who always surrenders and turns up his pencil moustache at California reds.
But stay with me for a bit here.
Speed is bought, not two ways around it. Speed costs and always will; whether it's flappy paddle gearbox, a week of lessons at a racing school or a dedicated track rat, you will pay for it, like some hoity toity frenchman who drinks champagne instead of Baby Duck.
But what if you found a car that isn't about speed, but is still cool? There's no shame if you don't take a Tatra to the track, but if you get a Turbo 911, well your wasting engineering not going to the track, and that makes you a bad person and you should feel bad about your car ownership.
But if you can't be assed to go to the track, or maybe just suck at it so bad that it's not fun, why get a fast car? Why not get something more you? If you don't play basketball, or follow a team, why would you wear the jersey? Go get a David Foster Wallace shirt instead and display your allegiances proudly.
Conforming to your car
Fast and comfortable conforms to you. Do you want to get somewhere five minutes ago? Your Camry will get you there with plenty of speed and with plush seats so that the minute you get out you'll have forgotten you drove at all.
But cars that are slow, loud, smelly and quirky require you to react to the car itself, not with your passenger or Siri. You are driving the car, that is what you are doing, not multitasking.
You can drive a 911 as a daily or on the track. Porsche fans are proud of this fact. It's the do everything car for the man who made his fortune in the teeth business and wants to make sure people knows he has made his money. But what makes it good is also what makes it boring, because it's a car that you don't even have to notice, like an upscale hotel room – comfortable but forgettable.
An old Beetle has more presence than a new 911 from the interior because you have to be there, in partnership with the thing, even when your cruising around at speeds legal even in Paris.
It's this conforming to your car, these sacrifices you make, that create the relationship old MG owners and the ilk bang on about, instead of flipping the car for the newer, shinier version when your lease is up.
All of this is to say it's time to start embracing a form of automotive culture that is less about pure speed and more about the automobile in all its permutations. I think we could stand to gain, in a subculture, often rightly, accused of an overabundance of testosterone and a douchey attitude, if we stopped thinking about showing each other up, stopped thinking about having the biggest engine, and started to enjoy cars both fast and slow.