We spend a lot of time here considering certain car brands that are, historically at least, a cerebral choice (Citroen) an emotional choice (Alfa Romeo) or a combination of the two (Lancia).
In fact these are just the adjectives of motoring journalism, a defensibly quick and easy shorthand. Most people use a portion of their intellect to decide which car to acquire, balancing price against consumption against tax.
Likewise they use their emotion in deciding that a particular car suggests the life they’d like to be leading and how they’d like to perceive themselves and be perceived by others – this might be silly, but it’s something most of us can understand, however much we deny it would be the case for us.
So, nearly all cars are bought for a complex and contradictory combination of reasons, which is a good job for most manufacturers and this site or we’d just be writing about the Ford Model T, Series 1 to 22, all available in a comprehensive range of black.
The other week, DTW had an irate comment from an owner whose car we had maligned. Not their individual car, of course, but the general make and model. I see their point – I really can’t stand those smartarse lists and books typified by Top Gear Crap Cars, with lazy, half-facts mixed with lazy, half-arsed social comment. But we do try to be objective and, both historically and from personal experience, even viewed in the context of their time, some cars weren’t as good as they could have been, and the rosy glow of history shouldn’t excuse that.
But that doesn’t deny people the right to enjoy them and, despite our bluster, the editors, and probably most of our contributors, like to think of themselves as reasonably sensitive, and we don’t take any satisfaction in insulting people. Except for one notable case in the past (we’re still sorry Ashley) we hope we’ve generally managed to be successful in that.
Of course that desire to avoid offence is directed solely towards the civilians, those people who buy and drive cars. When it comes to the people in the industry it’s another matter since you can’t criticise the products without criticising the individuals who produce them. So, if your name is Lord Rootes (risen from the grave) and I insult your Hillman, I can understand why you might be pissed off though, actually, I doubt the investment-shy cynics who ruled the UK industry back then took so much pride in their products that they’d care.
But, in the end, if I slag off a car, somewhere I inadvertently offend a proud owner and, although I might not like that, I also can’t be that sympathetic – as you get older, you tend to focus on those things that matter, and those things that don’t. We play a game here, but I think that most of us would agree that, on any sensible scale, cars don’t really matter and, if you don’t like mine, actually I don’t care.
But then there is the car as a totem, which is a slightly different matter. You might like a car because it was the one that your family spent its last holiday in before one of you died. You might like a car because it is the one that your parents owned. You might like a car because it represents the 2,000 hours you spent restoring it.
I will admit that my SM does have something of this value to me – we bought it at a time that my partner was seriously ill, and the journeys in the first year were a welcome distraction for her and for me.
As an acid test, if someone dropped a block of concrete on my Citroen, and assuming the insurance company coughed up, would I buy another? From what I’ve written about it in the past, I should. A good SM is a unique driving experience, and I can’t think of another car I’d swap for it. I have never anthropomorphised my car, giving it a name or, odder still to me, a gender. So, putting aside the emotional memories I mentioned above, I should reason that one SM is just like another. And yet, I suspect that I would draw a line under it.
A replacement one wouldn’t be ‘my’ car, which, although I have put an embarrassingly small amount of personal labour into it, is a result of my 20 years ownership. I can suggest that this is really more a reflection on my fatalistic attitude towards life in general, than any belief that my car has a unique identity beyond its number plate, but still ……