Theme : Values – Intellect & Emotion

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).

Prizewinners at the 2015 Festival of the Unexceptional - image : telegraph.co.uk
Prizewinners at the 2015 Festival of the Unexceptional – image : telegraph.co.uk

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.

Citroen Xsara - image : only-carz.com
Citroen Xsara – image : only-carz.com

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.

Proton Saga - image : malaysiazine.blogspot.co.uk
Proton Saga – image : malaysiazine.blogspot.co.uk

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.

Fiat Punto - image : autoplan.co.uk
Fiat Punto – image : autoplan.co.uk

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.

Morris Ital - image : aronline.co.uk
Morris Ital – image : aronline.co.uk

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.

1995 Mercedes Benz W210 E-class.

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 ……

11 thoughts on “Theme : Values – Intellect & Emotion”

  1. I’m thinking a lot about cars, yet I like to believe I’m fully aware that they don’t matter in the bigger scheme of things.

    We’ve got a place here in Hamburg called the ‘Oldtimer Tankstelle’, which is the melting pot of all things involving classic cars any summer weekend. One day, I was given the chance to interact with both a DS 21 owner, as well as chap running a Mercedes 600. I was very thankful to both of them for allowing me to experience their cars to some degree, but then, later on, as I was standing by my Jag with the Citroen owner, Herr Benz felt compelled to come over and take offence at my comments about the XJ’s V12 engine’s smooth running.
    ‘Puh, you should’ve listened to my W140 600 SEL – you could hear nowt!’
    Then he went on about his own experience with rubbish Jaguar engineering back in the day, which caused Monsieur Déèsse to grind his teeth and comment in hushed tones:
    ‘That’s… the problem with Mercedes owners… they cannot fathom that other companies are making decent cars as well.’

    One could, of course, swap the brand names in this tale (even though owners of German marques are more likely to be suffering from a superiority complex than others, admittedly), because I actually just want to emphasise Sean’s point.

    While I certainly dislike particular cars, I wouldn’t feel elated by deprecating someone else’s car. Apart from BMW X6s or Mercedes UGLE coupés, that is.

  2. I can assure you that I bought all of my Citroëns for purely emotional reasons. Why else would I have preferred a thirsty petrol engine and insisted on a non-greyscale colour scheme?

    And yes, as a driver of several underdog cars, my feelings are with all owners of any car that is despised by the general public. But I think I have learnt not to get too emotional about comments on my motoring choices.

  3. As I said, I don’t like anthropomorphising machinery, but to meet those who do half way, I suppose i should think how I’d feel if someone came up to me in the street and called my (hypothetical) dog ugly. It’s just not polite, and it’s not their business. But of course most cars aren’t individual, they are just single examples of a series of identical objects and their good and bad features don’t reflect on the owner at all, but on the designers and engineers who produced them.

    Objectively, I can form an opinion on what I know about a car. Of course what I ‘know’ about a lot of cars isn’t first hand, and even (especially!) the opinion of the blessed Setright, can’t fairly be used by me to condemn something I’ve never experienced, unless backed up by some solid evidence. So, I feel I can have an opinion on the very well-documented behaviour of the original Chevrolet Corvair, but could I have a reasonable opinion on the road behaviour of the Panther Solo?

    Ignorant and polarised judgments irritate me – like the Volvo driver who confidently told me that my Citroen was useless at going round corners. It does seem from other things I’ve heard that many classic Benz owners have an agenda that goes beyond an innocent enthusiasm for nice old cars.

  4. I might disparage any number of cars in writing or in sympathetic company, but I would consider it the height of rudeness to so so to an owner’s face – or within earshot. Which of course makes me something of a hypocrite, albeit rather a polite one.

    Recently, a guest turned up in an early X200 Jaguar S-Type, a car I consider amongst the worst visual crimes perpetuated within recent automotive memory. Did I point this out to the car’s proud owner? No I did not. I made polite conversation about his vehicle before finding someone more interesting to talk to. Hypocrite or polite host? You decide.

    However, outside the exclusion zone of cars I actively detest are ones I hold no firm opinion upon at all. A couple of years ago, at the Bromley Pageant of Motoring I found myself engaged in conversation with a very enthusiastic owner of a pristine Renault 15. It didn’t seem to make sense to ask him why he bothered painstakingly restoring it, when an R17 might have been a slightly nicer car. Similarly, I didn’t quite know what to say to the owner of the only known UK registered Simca Ariane who clutched me to his bosom claiming I was the only person who had happened by that day who knew what his car was.

    Mind you, inadvertently insulting one owner (as Sean appears to have done) is one thing, but insulting an entire group of one-make zealots is a cat of an entirely different meow, I can tell you, although in this instance, the relocation scheme does seem to have been quite effective.

    1. I second Richard’s observation. I don’t get why anyone would directly criticise another person’s choice of car. I do struggle to understand certain choices, but that’s my own business/ problem, not theirs.

  5. It’s okay to say a choice mightn’t suit you but not to insist the other person was flat out wrong. As an XM owner I have quite often experienced people saying flat out it’s a bad car. At which point I bite my tongue and withold a string of expletives about their, for example, spit boring Skoda freaking Fabia estate… I realise they’ll get offended but have no idea they’ve offended me for no good reason.

  6. It says more about the berater than the beratee. An otherwise good friend of mine was simply apoplectic with derision when I swapped the Type R for the Renaultsport Clio. All French cars were shit, he declared. Actually, no, I said; the French have an engineering tradition equal to the British or the Germans. Oftentimes they have been at the vanguard of technology and styling. Their hot hatches have defined the genre. Then my Clio ate its own gearbox and he carried on in his 3 Series.

  7. About ten years ago I attended a meeting of the MG Owners Club at Silverstone. Wandering around the many, many MGBs and MG-branded Rovers (that still being a thing at the time), I happened to spot a red MG Maestro. I might have been a bit sniffy about this car in the past and this particular example was attracting few onlookers despite being Weirdly Immaculate ™, but in a sunny field in Northamptonshire I thought it looked great: low and purposeful. I got chatting to the owner, his story being that he bought it from some old boy from Canley years ago (one wonders who indeed?), then used it as a daily driver for a while. According to him, the Maestro hardly ever missed a beat; he never sold it simply because the cash offered never seemed commensurate to its condition (superb), its performance (fast) and his high regard for the car, so he simply stored it in his garage and bought something else to use every day. In a sea of sports cars the MG Maestro stood out, and from that day on I decided to reappraise the value of these cars and the people who own them. We all have our flaws, yet if we are lucky, we can all find someone who will love us.

    1. I think it´s great to be able to enjoy something and find the good in it. If anything makes it hard to open conversations with the owners of immaculate Talbot Tagoras and Porsche 911s it´s that generally these people download their spiel as soon as you ask a question. They have three minutes to change your mind about the car. They are in broadcast mode. But if not it can be nice to hear some insights on the vehicle and vehicles in general.
      I don´t recommned wilful risk and I also don´t advise wholesale risk aversion. We strike a balance. What´s annoying about the BMW buyer, for example, who will jeer at your exploded gearbox is that I am fairly certain they won´t really have enjoyed their car in any positive way. My XM has had “issues” down the years. Compensating for them has been the delight of the car´s appearance and character. As I say to people I can´t believe I have found a car as satisfying for the money. I am confident many people who have spent twenty times more than me (i.e. 20,000 pounds) have had nearly no pleasure from their car other than the pleasure of it working as expected. I think some philosopher would call that a negative pleasure or the satisfaction something bad didn´t happen rather than the positive pleasure of something good happening.

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