My father was an old-school Freudian in his outlook. He wouldn’t miss a chance to make an association, and my obsession with cars was fertile ground. He pronounced that many cars were just phallic compensation symbols and I, in what I thought was a witty response, said that a phallus was just a compensation for not having a decent car – it sounded better when I was sixteen. Cars and Sex, Sex and Cars, they’re an old pairing, but I’ve never been entirely convinced.
Maybe I just look at it the wrong way. For a start, I’ve never had that animist thing with cars. No car I’ve ever owned has had a gender, let alone a name. I’ve never spoken to a car, except when I’d been really let down by it and, even then, my Basil Fawlty like rant was just a device to get the adrenaline flowing enough for me to push the useless heap of metal to the side of the road.
Yes, you can make a correlation from mouth (grille) to anus (exhaust) and bring in the shape and position of other elements to approximate. but, really, when I read journalists describing ‘lithe, muscular flanks’, I find it rather silly. There is also a Top Gear school of journalist who likes to connect the appreciation of a car’s aesthetics to movements deep down in Darkest Trouserland which, unless their tastes run to bestiality, suggests that they are not just animising, but anthropomorphising the vehicle in question. Since, these days, faces at the front of cars are in vogue and, although many are as cartoonish and sexy as Marge Simpson, I guess some people might get off on them. However, maybe it’s just the paucity of language that causes us to use the same vocabulary to describe the attraction of both animate and inanimate objects.
In 1965, I was ill in bed and my Mum bought me my first ever copy of Car Magazine. Inside, a bare-breasted girl sprawled over a Daytona Cobra. This was a surprising thing for an, until then, loyal Motor Sport and Autocar reader to find and, although it probably made a mark for that then pushy and iconoclastic publication it was, wisely, not repeated. But did I find it exciting? Well, what’s not to like about 7 litres of V8 packed into a …. OK, yes I did since, despite what myths you might have about The Sixties, in pre-Internet days, a young, provincial teenager’s exposure to such things was restricted, in my case to the inevitably disappointing torn pages extracted from the tightly packed bundles of ‘Parade’ magazine which, fresh from the printers, sat on the local station platform. But did I make the connection to cars? No, and I never have since.
I pride myself that I am of the generation that did most to de-objectify women. Of course, whilst my peers heroically occupied the front lines, I was sitting in an estaminet a couple of miles back, leafing through a dog-eared copy of Car Magazine, but they knew they had my support and that must have given them heart since, little by little, those cheesy shots from Earls Court on Motor Show Press Day receded and we thought that we had achieved something. Did we? Nuts!
Age brings the appreciation that everything moves in circles but, although trouser bottoms might widen and narrow to a fixed frequency, I would never have foretold the renaissance of The Lad and, with him, The Babe. Motorshowbabes – doncha luv ‘em? My own response to the complaint ‘this demeans women’ is ‘this demeans us all’ but, in the end, being an old-school libertarian, I have that feeling that, if adults want to do that sort of thing, there are far worse things they could do. I might wonder at the slightly desperate look of untamed desire or mock control on the model’s faces, but I offset this with the thought of the sad, unrequited leer on the face of the unseen observer, hiding in his grimy bedroom. In a world where so many of us piss our time and dignity away, this is just one of the more obvious ways. But is the juxtaposition of girl and car really sexy? Not to me certainly.
Of course there are people with object-sexual desires, or Mechaphiles if you prefer, who actually feel a direct attraction towards, say, a 1969 Wartburg Knight and, in a way, I can understand that better. The girl/car thing is less convincing because it is never clear which is the object of desire and which is the prop. Or is it always the case that the girl is just there to make the physical stimulation felt by seeing a picture of a matt black wrapped Porsche respectable?
If all the above seems to be relate solely to the male heterosexual, that is just because the majority of such images are produced with him in mind. There will certainly be some gay women who also find them interesting, though I suspect a majority will find them ludicrous, and there is undoubtedly a fair amount of specifically gay male imagery of guys and cars, notably the short 1965 film Kustom Kar Kommandos by the pioneer filmmaker, Kenneth Anger. Lasting around three minutes, this features a chunky young guy polishing his car (arguably more strictly a Rod than a Custom) with a fluffy duster to the soundtrack of Dream Lover, he is the undoubted subject/object of the film and the car is his fetish, but the connection made with the ostensibly red-blooded, hetero, West Coast custom scene gives it a subversive humour and means that, once viewed, Sunday morning on the driveway with a bucket and the Insignia will never seem the same again.
Such good humour is usually missing from most would-be erotic automotive imagery, which was why I was so heartened to chance upon a variously titled niche that I’ll give the generic title of ‘Pedal Ladies’. Chance upon? Well yes, honestly I did. I was googling some images for the Citroen 2CV when I came across a YouTube clip of a curvaceous woman having trouble starting the same. The camera spends some time recording her footwork on the pedals, presumably to later analyse whether too much throttle caused flooding, and makes use of the open sunroof to film, from above, her gyrations as she rocks to and fro, as one naturally does, encouraging the miscreant snail to fire. All to no avail.
Was the film a one-off? Apparently not, since linked to it were a series of similar situations. Now, for those of you seeking something on the hardish side, I’m going to disappoint since, from a reasonable scan (some of them were 20 minutes long – the makers could learn a bit from Mr Anger’s concision – and I was pushed for time), there was nothing in them that would have looked out of place in a 1970s Benny Hill Show. As I said, my research has, as yet, been reasonably superficial but, if asked to award a Palme d’Or, I would nominate ‘Revving Sisters’ in which two young women decide to liven up a dull day by climbing up into and starting a misbehaving 4WD army truck. Their innocent pleasure as they fire up and rev the smoking, belching engine is matched by the epilogue where they sit together on a bench, enjoying post-event cigarettes and discussing the sooty particulates that have adhered to their legs. In its modest way, erotica can seldom get more arcane than this. As a runner-up, though in a different genre, I’d nominate a film I found some time ago (again whilst engaged in essential and legitimate research), a novel take on what could be a tired cliche, which involves a detailed and accurate description of the oil change procedure for the Citroen SM as carried out by three ‘French Maids’.
But, when we have dealt with the entertaining fringe, was my Dad, with his large Jaguar incidentally, right? Freud’s theories have lost some credibility, but no-one should dismiss them entirely. We all make subconscious associations. You can probably approach people and cars with the same attitude, but you’d lose out on one score at least. People are mercurial and complex in a way that would make even an H16 BRM seem the paragon of predictability. On every level – emotional, aesthetic, physical – the rules are entirely different, but I guess it all depends what you expect from a relationship.