The Editor swoons as he considers this month’s theme
Aaah, Romance! A sunny day, a full tank of petrol, the roof down, a good companion, a fine picnic in the boot, a clear road …..Well, that may be some people’s idea of romance and the motor car, but how often does that happen? Yet, the car remains, for many people, a hugely romantic device. If not, why would so many of us spend so much money in such an indiscriminating way on something that, inevitably, will let us down in one way or another? Really, I need not explain the romantic pull of the car since, if it were not so, it is unlikely you would be visiting this site.
The word ‘Romance’ will have different meanings for many of us. Some might regard it as an attainable goal, others recognise that it is an ideal, never to be actually reached. Yet others still will consider it a foolish distraction from the more important matters of everyday life. Of course, the word is derived from the Latin ‘Romanicus’ and this reference to what is now Italy is particularly apt, since some of the most romantic vehicles have come from that country. But, although I can’t entirely exclude them, I’m not necessarily thinking about Ferraris and their peers. Italy seems to have understood that affordable transport was about more than just making people mobile. With the 1947 Vespa scooter and the 1957 Fiat 500 they did it with style, offering something that lifted its user slightly away from day-to-day reality.
This piece is illustrated with two paintings from Alan Fearnley, illustrating two romanticised versions of the motor car. The first is that lazy picnic I suggested above – are these two people happy in their lives, or is the woman contemplating how she is going to dispose of her dyspeptic husband who seems to prefer his newspaper to her? The second is night time at Le Mans, with two Jaguars almost side-by-side – is this the fantasy that many of us have of powering a racer around in one of the greatest races, or are the occupants purely intent on holding in their bowels, with the knowledge that their fates as they go down the Mulsanne Straight in darkness might be as much in the hands of chance as their own skills? Either way, both paintings skilfully emote something more than the representation of well over a thousand kilograms of engineer-produced car.
This month, DTW features Romance. What has made so many of us in thrall of the car? And, in the case of the car at least, as Google’s autonomous vehicles advance inexorably from California, is Romance dead?