The Problem With Automotive Snobbery
I'm convinced Starbucks (and others of their ilk) has ruined us.
It's not in the sense that we're chugging down $6 lattes or consuming enough calories in liquid form to feed half of Iowa. It's not their competition with local shops, their business model or their products. It's the fact that they've moved the goal posts for what's considered a cup of coffee. And with those coffee goal posts, so have gone so many other goal posts.
Nobody is interested in beer unless it's small-batch and the wheat is harvested by free range, union-backed horses. There's no consideration for hotels without marble floors and granite countertops, no interest in shoes that aren't crafted in an Italian villa by a renowned cobbler and no thought of a vacation that doesn't include the visitation of at least 6 of the 7 Wonders of the World.
There's no doubt that this focus on better quality products has improved our lives; the average person has access to that which only the wealthiest could have had access to not so long ago. Quality is better. Variety is greater. But I'm worried that with this improvement has come an elitist attitude, one that has spilled over into a certain interest of mine: cars.
Visit most any automotive forum, for example, and you'll see it: new 911s are junk because they have electric steering, you're wrong for buying that car because Road and Track and Clarkson both said the interior was unremarkable, utter disgust at the purchase of a sports car with an automatic transmission, shock that one would buy a car not built in (insert country here). It's one thing to have standards, but we've really taken the snobbery to a new level. We can't enjoy things. We fear buyer's remorse. Our hobby could degenerate into a community of hostile critics, the types who don't let kids sit in their cars at car shows, answer questions about their new Lotus at the gas station and are focused only on the image their mode of transportations conveys. We need more gearheads and this isn't the way to reach them.
I'd estimate that if most enthusiasts thought back to their first automotive encounters, they'd be with cars that, objectively, weren't very good. I remember riding around in a friend's early 90s Thunderbird on 3 bald tires, trying to jump every hill we came across, driving an anemic Honda Accord with a bodykit as a first car. These cars we started with were on a scale of average to bad— and yet they still sparked the enthusiasm that so many of us carry into adulthood. How bad could they have been?
Take, for example, a car that I've grown up with. In 1986, as a sixtieth birthday gift to himself, my grandfather bought a brand new C4 Corvette. For the car forum critics, we're talking Bright Red paint over 1980s red leather, an interior assembled from the GM parts bin and the not-so-impressive L98 engine. In the Corvette world the C4 is a footnote, an interruption between the gorgeous Stingrays of the 70s and the ZR1 and the new Stingray. It won't deliver top dollar at Barrett-Jackson or be sought after like a '63 Split Window.
But as a kid, that was a car. It was red, had two doors, bucket seats, a cinch button for the seat belt, pop-up headlights and toggle switches. After my grandfather passed in '98, my Dad inherited it. Last I knew the odometer had rolled over 11,000 miles and it might've been rained on for the first time in the past year. I had a blast the last time I drove it, eating up the highway miles and listening to a cassette tape left in the stereo (probably Genesis or The Police) by my Dad. Driving around in a Corvette that had once held my tricycle after a day at my grandparent's house was not only a flood of nostalgia, it was a reminder that a car can be enjoyable without being great.
It's the same way I felt about my slow and unreliable old Audi, my rusty Prelude or my Fast and Furious-style Accord. None were particularly good, but what they lacked in so many areas mechanically they made up for in experiences, lessons and memories. As I've seen, there's no correlation between enjoyment and dollars spent (though I've never owned a supercar, so I could be wrong) and when I look back on my "good cars" (a WRX and a MINI Cooper S), I enjoyed the clunkers even more. Build quality, reviews and lap times don't matter much if you like what you're driving.
What if it's not about the 0-60 times, the Top Gear reviews, the Nürburgring results or what your neighbor will think when you step out of a car you bought just because you liked it? It's time that we move the goal posts back, drive what we love and focus on the cars. After all, isn't that why we got into hobby in the first place?