Writing about my love for cars over the last few months has been a privilege, and saying goodbye to this column presents its own little challenge. So instead, I present this final article to you as a toast to the very best of what cars are about.
The cornerstone of American transportation for close to a century has been the car. In the early days, it was a thin-wheeled, fragile piece of machinery. More often stuck or broken down than moving smoothly along, car prototypes were ridiculously dangerous to start, drive, turn, or stop. But as with all things, they grew and developed, and before long, cars were cheaper, faster, more reliable, and beautifully designed.
Americans loved them. Some loved being able to sit comfortably at 90 miles per hour as they howled across the heartlands; others enjoyed the personal freedom to drive to work on their own or have a weekend trip somewhere farther away than the normal horse could trot in a day. Cars got their own movie theatres, spurred sprawling highways, and even invented suburbia.
Some will tell you that the golden age of the automobile is over, but I can happily report that it is nowhere close. Cars today continue to spew out mind-boggling numbers, breaking records for top speeds, horsepower outputs, and prices seemingly every single day. They get even cooler to look at and include more technology. They are safer, more reliable, and more efficient than they have ever been, and manufacturing standards only continue to rise.
New fuels such as electricity, hydrogen, and ethanol promise us a brighter and more environmentally friendly future for the car, thus indefinitely extending its rule over the transportation world. For car lovers especially, this is a beautiful affirmation that the cars we so adore today will not disappear. The roaring of an internal combustion engine may be sentenced to time’s archives, but the speed demons, the cars that push the scales of possibility further into the improbable, will remain, albeit in a new form. And while it seems inevitable that there will come a day where robotics will guide our vehicles instead of our two hands and feet, that day is far off. Our freedom is, for the moment, intact.
I am still making excuses to get behind the wheel. The Saab is humming along happily, and as the weather improves, the sunroof will be open more often, the windows will be down, and the music will be up. I’ve had many adventures at the courtesy of that car: catching early morning sunrises and chilling into the late night.
The more I drive the car, the better I understand it, and the more enjoyable it all becomes.
The car is like any item: your favorite pair of cleats or that lucky sweater. The more it works for you, the more you rock with it. The more memories you make with it, the more attached you become and the more it transcends machinery and becomes a friend with whom you communicate. It is these intangibles, beyond the specs and looks and tech, that drive the automobile enthusiast’s adoration.
I believe, though, that there is a chance for everyone to love cars as much as I do, at least for a day. I am reminded of an evening I shared with a few close friends a few weeks ago. It was one of the weekends when winter went into hibernation for a couple of days. We met up to get some dinner. Bravely equipped in shorts and t-shirts and tank tops, we meandered around the seaside, watching the sun fall behind the ocean’s churning surface.
We got back to the Saab as the sky turned a luminescent pink and purple, as though somebody had spilled a watercolor palette on the heavens. The ride home was comprised mostly of single-lane roads flowing through oceanside Massachusetts towns and draped over small hills, free of traffic. The sky gracefully illuminated the car as we drifted though the darkening roads. The headlights speared through the black, as did our laughter, spilling out of the windows. The heater kept us comfortable, and the music kept us happy. The Saab zoomed along quietly, content not to slow down or stop.
It was a lovely evening by all standards, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the car. I patted its hood thankfully that night when we got home and left it to tick itself cool in the chilly night air.
I’m sure you all have stories like that, and if you don’t, go grab your keys. I can guarantee a good time.
Luckily for us, the human and car love story isn’t over yet, my friends.