Unflinching Loyalty

Personal affection for an automotive brand is one of the more peculiar aspects of modern-day culture.  

Dedication, photo (c) YouTube

Worshipping symbols aimed at identifying one’s affiliation to a particular tribe/race/religion/club are as old as humans’ capacity to create objects. It therefore isn’t a surprise at all that an automotive brand would be appropriated and exploited as a means of signifying status, even beyond the company’s own marketing efforts. What is surprising though is the levels of passion and dedication (or, depending on one’s viewpoint, parochialism and fury) this can elicit.

I recently got to experience this phenomenon first-hand when someone who quite obviously considers himself a Mercedes-Benz aficionado left the following comment on one of my older articles:

“Who the hell are you Christopher “can’t tell a hole in the ground” Butt, to give such a sad pathetic opinion on and of Mercedes. AutoDidakt wipe this Butt clean and move on.”

It isn’t necessarily the (repeated) exploitation of my family name that took me by surprise – this was only a matter of time – but the level of anger expressed by the gentleman who so fervently disagrees with my article. Pointing out that my opinion ‘on and of Mercedes’ is ‘sad pathetic (sic)’ suggests no less than that I’m unworthy of commenting on as supreme or even hallowed a subject as the car maker from Sindelfingen. Lest we forget, it is a car brand we’re talking about here. Not a church or even a football club.

This doesn’t happen when discussing different brands of biscuits.

Underneath this fundamental aspect, I was also surprised by the utter lack of appreciation of nuance by this ‘enthusiast’. After all, the article is not some diatribe by a 15-year-old BMW fanboy claiming that any automobile sporting the three-pointed star on its front is a piece of shit. It is merely a chronicle, charting the different periods of Mercedes-Benz design from the 1970s until today, including personal assessments of each era one may choose to agree or disagree with.

Now, if the gentleman with the knack for solid puns had chosen to tell me off for criticising ‘Sensual Purity’, I wouldn’t have been perplexed at all. However, he seems to be unable or unwilling to understand that a brand like Mercedes-Benz is no solid entity, but undergoing change on a regular basis – which obviously entails the possibility for anyone to appreciate certain aspects of the Swabian marque and disapprove of others.

Hence anyone challenging one part is challenging the whole, in the worldview of certain individuals. Fundamentalism can clearly be found in the most peculiar of corners.

Obviously, this sort of blatant ignorance of complexity and blunt oversimplification is currently prevalent in many aspects of politics, media and everyday culture. That being said, in the context of a consumer durable, it does appear particularly foolish.


The author of this piece has since been wiped clean, but still runs his own motoring website full of sad pathetic opinions, which you are welcome to visit at 




Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs www.auto-didakt.com // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

32 thoughts on “Unflinching Loyalty”

  1. If excessive devotion to a manufactured product is there for automobile brands, it is there in spades for other objects such as firearms.

    It may not mean much to people in Europe, but the “caliber wars” for self-defence handguns are legendary in gun enthusiast circles in the USA. (this is all related to pistol choice for concealed carry, and the extra capacity of 9mm vs supposedly “harder hitting” 40 S&W or 45. And then there are those who claim that anything less than a nuclear bomb 10 mm is not worth carrying…)

    Also, AR vs AK rifle caliber and reliability. Someone did a mud test where an AK didn’t fare so well, and I think some AK fanboys still haven’t recovered.

    1. In terms of manufacturer brands, in handguns it is Glock vs everything else. The Glock boys think their’s is the only reliable choice. So when the Glock crapped out on the mud test while the WW2 Luger (!) did really well… Glock fanboy world view was shattered.

    2. I had no idea gun afficionadoes do this. Yet I am not surprised for long since this is probably the gun fan equivalent of the pointless lap around Castle Combe or the Nurburgring. The only car I´ll really cheer for is the Astra and everyone knows this is half a joke (but which half?).

    3. The gun mud tests were actually an InRange innovation. Although lots on Youtube have since copied.

      Before them, no-one but the military had done that sort of testing – at least not that ended up on Youtube. Like a lot of internet disputes, there was plenty of opinions, but not much data. And InRange provided some actual data points.

      InRange and Forgotten Weapons are really more like small arms historians. This would be more typical.

  2. There are many more products eliciting the same reactions from their fanboys.
    Watch Stockholm syndrome develop in disciples of Apple, watch the Linux vs. Windows war or try to tell a Tesla evanglist that he’s venerating not a car but a hype.

    Good old Schopenhauer was right.
    “The tritest kind of pride is national pride. He who is fraught with it is betrayed to lack individual qualities because otherwise he would not reach for something he shares with so many millions. “

    1. This is an excellent supplement to Wilde’s ‘patriotism is the virtue of the vicious’.

      I’m still undecided as to whether this kind of pseudo-clannish pride is a side effect of lack of intelligence, latent insecurity or a combination of the two. It’s rather baffling all the same.

  3. Good morning, Christopher. I’m afraid that this incident is ever more common in the online sphere: a thoughtful, well researched and nuanced article provokes a furious, vitriolic and totally disproportionate response that makes no attempt at intelligent rebuttal*, but instead resorts to extreme (and extremely inane) personal insults.

    I saw another variation of this sort of behaviour last week on YouTube, where the commenter “went for the man, not the ball” so to speak . I enjoy Honest John’s weekly video car reviews. Mark Nichol, the reviewer, is witty, entertaining and incisive. He is also extravagantly tattooed. Here’s the review in question, of the Alpine A110. Take a look at the “pinned”comment ftom Badger Mustelid (a nom de plume, I hope!) at the top of the list:

    Happily, the replies, including my own, took issue with his behaviour.

    The coarsening of the online discourse is caused, at least in part, by the behaviour of the social media giants, Facebook, Twitter and Instragram, who isolate users in “bubbles” of their similarly thinking peers in order to keep them on line as long as possible (to increase the site’s value to advertisers). This means that users are increasingly unused to arguing their position intelligently against those who think differently, and are, consequently, losing (or, more likely, failing to develop) the ability to do so.

    This phenomenon is extensively analysed in an excellent book, “Zucked” by Roger McNamee, which I have just finished reading. I would recommend it strongly to anyone who uses the internet and, in particular, social media.

    *For those who haven’t clicked on the link above, Christopher has quoted the comment in its entirety.

  4. Driven To Write is a haven of reasoned commentary, lively discussion among enthusiasts and debunking of automotive myths.
    Cars are not sacred objects, their creators are not divine. The sad, sectarian rant of the pathetic troll is just digital halitosis.
    Unfortunately, to have an opinion is to expose oneself to the comments of the unintelligent.
    Please do not change what you do chaps, you are truly necessary in these overwrought times.

    1. Good point, Daniel! It’s easy to remember something like DTW where there is a new entry every day, but blogs with lower frequency tend to be forgotten easily. Which would be a real pity in case of such an beautiful site like Auto-Didakt.
      (Just to avoid misinterpretation: I’m not saying in any way that I wish more frequent articles from Christopher. I’m more than happy with a constant pace and unusually high quality, and I wish it stays this way!)

    2. Thank you very much!

      Auto-Didakt is different from DTW and hence an appropriate companion piece, if I may say so. My motor show reports excepted, none of the articles instantly get a huge number of clicks – but some have legs, like the one at which the other Christopher (if that really is his name) took such offence. It’s rather pleasing to see that something published more than a year ago is still receiving recognition nonetheless.

      Against that background, I was actually surprised it took so long for someone like that individual to come along. It’s in inevitable consequence of increasing reach.

  5. I have to say that I used to be more of a marque aficionado some time ago than I am now. One point is certainly that regular reading of DTW (instead of Citroën-centered forums and sites only) has immensely opened my mind for different points of view and broadened my automotive knowledge beyond French quirks. Another point might be disappointment…

    But I guess even before that I was always able to differentiate, to see light and shadow in my favourite. Maybe it’s because I always refused to just be part of something, as Dave says with his Schopenhauer quote, but was educated to think for myself and find my own way.

    I have the impression that in times of greater insecurity and more pessimistic mindset (as we have it today), some people tend to revert more to irrational belief than to reason. This might be expressed in nationalism or religious fundamentalism, for example. But today, a marque can just as well fulfill the function of a nation or a religious community. And then their exponents will just as well treat the marque as something sacred, not to be criticised or questioned.

  6. Oh-oh, Christopher’s critic has returned for a second bite. It looks as though Christopher has acquired a troll. Hopefully, he has been dumb enough to use his real e-mail address, which Christopher can use to sign him up to some “interesting” websites.

    I’m joking, of course…or am I?

  7. For me “Driven to Write” is all “Read to Learn”.
    At the beginning, when I randomly and fortunately discovered this site, I made a deep dive into its archive, finding articles about almost every single car that had drawn my attention until then. Of course I first started reading all the articles about my own Car’s brand!
    But then, some very fascinating articles managed to change my perspective about the automotive world. A mix of design, culture, architecture, aesthetics, ethics came into play:
    e.g. https://driventowrite.com/2018/03/03/a-tale-of-two-towers.
    At the end, is all about discussing various perspectives, which means communication, which means learning.
    I feel deeply grateful to all the authors and commentators for sharing their knowledge and opinion, and having everyone welcomed in their community.

    P.S. Although, English – apparently- isn’t my mother language, my comments, frequently full of mistakes, were always treated more than kindly and with respect. And that is a core value of Driven to Write.

    1. Thank you very much indeed for your comments. I think we are fortunate to have a very courteous and knowledgeable group of readers here. It reminds me a little of the Manchester Lunar society. I´ve learned a lot from our readers too.

    2. Constantinos, what you write here quite exactly sums up my own history with DTW. And also language-wise, I feel that there is not only a lot of goodwill towards non-native speakers (or writers), but also a great opportunity for us to learn. I really think that my English, which had suffered badly from use in a mostly non-native speaking business environment, has become more fluent since.

  8. It is an unfortunate consequence to sticking one’s neck out that certain individuals (who would never attempt such a risky endeavour themselves) view this as fair game, from the security and anonymity of their electronic devices. It takes all kinds, it’s said, but it never ceases to be one of the more unpleasant consequences of putting one’s work into the public domain. (Well that and outright plagiarism, but forgive and forget…)

    Here at DTW, we have our occasional dogmatists, our trenchant view-holders, but for the most part, what we have is (and while I’m at the helm will remain) a civilised, respectful space where a wide range of views can be discussed and debated. Frankly, I’m often somewhat amazed we have so-far managed to avoid the sort of vomited word-salad Christopher experienced lately – but I fear it’s only a matter of time.

    While on the subject, may I add my voice to those suggesting you visit Mr. Butt’s lovely website, which regularly puts our lashed together efforts to shame. He may not work to DTW levels of frequency, but the wait is invariably worth it. We’re fortunate to have his services…

    1. Seconded. The Auto-Didakt photography leads me to think Christopher has access to a more beautiful alternative reality than the one I am in. I was prompted to get a better camera as a result but still failed. The Ritmo photography and Fulvia images stand out for me. Lovely stuff and very printable.

    2. You’re too kind, Richard.

      My personal favourite would probably be the Rover P6 photos, which were augmented by ideal weather conditions and Arne Jacobsen.

  9. I readily confess to have been a dyed-in-the-wool Alfista for more than twenty years.
    I absolutely liked these cars because they exactly fitted my expectations and driving style and I enjoyed them every single kilometre I drove them. The one car that gave me the most raw driving fun I ever experienced over prolonged use was a big engined Alfasud and this is the only one of the sizeable number of cars I owned in my life that I’d want to possess again.
    Would I describe me as a fanboy, then?
    Surely not. I liked my Alfas but I tried not to see them through rose tinted spectacles and I never would have seen them as being superior to anything (except for the Giulia, which clearly was much better than a contemporary BMW 02…).
    I also never felt as part of a community, let alone follower of a religion (maybe I should have, some Voodoo would have been helpful on a couple of them).

  10. If a brand is truly important to you on a sentimental level, you should be very open to criticism. Fans do not do their brand a favour by always calling a new initiative or product the best thing since sliced bread. It is the danger of “consumer clinics” or social media “#doyoulikethisfans, like and share to win”.

    It’s very strange that people can become overtly protective of things they had no part in, except maybe buying it.

    I must also reflect the point made by others. DTW is one of the very few sites/blogs where the comment section is a civilised place of discussion and learning. It also helps that the articles mostly shy away from bold polarisation.

    1. That’s ’cause this place is GREAT & all others SUCK!!!

  11. There is another possible link to this rising phenomenon, which was espoused in 2004 by Kevin Roberts, then CEO of UK advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi. He proposed the idea of so called ‘Lovemarks’. Products which would transcend brand to engender what he described as “loyalty beyond reason.” People who bought into a lovemark wouldn’t simply espouse and promote that product, but would in effect become evangelists for its creators.

    We can see this very clearly in the blind devotion some owners (and would-be owners) express for Tesla’s products. Of course this wouldn’t work if the product itself wasn’t outstanding – and in Tesla’s case it is – (albeit with some serious provisos attached). We can also see a similar situation emerging at Mercedes, where as a result of a massive PR and marketing effort and the actions of its senior product spokespeople, the three pointed star has successfully established itself as a highly aspirational product – one which brooks no ambivalence amid its devotees.

    Christopher’s antagonist quite clearly conflates criticism of brand Mercedes with direct criticism of both himself, his choices, hopes and aspirations. A personal insult, if you like.

    One wonders if Mr Kevin Roberts ever regrets allowing this particular genie out of the bottle?

    1. Brands can have this kind of religious fellowship even when their products aren’t good.
      Most iPhones aren’t particularly good phones but are objects of worship nevertheless.
      A Tesla isn’t a good car because it can’t do most of what normal cars can and what made them the universally preferred means of personal transport and it isn’t a good industrial product because its qualit is so bad. That doesn’t prevent it from being part of a contemporary ersatz religion.

  12. As a member of the Mercedes club here’s two examples of how clubs can go so wrong.
    Their forum had to be closed down for a couple of weeks for the amount of idiotic, racist, infantile and downright nasty comments over an innocuous comment on some thread or other. Members were banned. A more robust system is now in place but I don’t frequent it.
    National concourse where rare and extremely pampered Star’s show up for judging in a variety of classes; enthusiast, over enthusiastic and Quite Inane (made up last two)
    When a middle aged man is salivating and needs restraining because “I’ve spent a fortune on this and I must win” or being told you’ve used non-Mercedes parts/screws/radios and that’s what in the rules, hence, you’re out; it’s time for a pint of Get Over Yourself Ale.
    Driven To Write is a true find, erudite and friendly.
    Top answer, Chris and very thoroughly worded piece.

  13. Whenever someone accepts and integrates “anything” into the core of their self identification and persona they can certainly become dogmatic about it. Automobile preferences are just a mild aspect of this. Religion, politics, ethnicity, culture and closely held and are causing a World of problems among those who choose to be intolerant of other’s choices. Enthusiasm among automotive marque fans can be a lot of fun. I was a staunch Harley Davidson loyalist for years but I was appreciative of other makes since I had worked my way through many bikes before owning mt first HD.

  14. I may be straying into potentially dangerous political ground here, but the World does seem to be reverting to a worrying degree of tribalism in matters of racial and religious identity. Putin’s remarks yesterday, suggesting that liberalism (and, by implication, internationalism) has become obsolete is truly frightening, coming from the commander in chief of a still large and powerful military with nuclear weapons at his disposal.

    Of course, we know Putin’s hidden agenda is to distract Russians from their ongoing economic plight, and the plunder of the country’s wealth and natural resources by a small group of powerful, corrupt oligarchs. He is doing this by inculcating in his population a fear of malevolent intent towards Mother Russia by the West. Thanks to effective manipulation of social, print and broadcast media, he has been very successful in this endeavour.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the World is increasingly saturated with disinformation and fake news, spread by bad actors via the Internet and drowning out legitimate sources of news. All of this is promoting suspicion, fear and division between groups that previously co-existed in relative peace.

    Even those who would profess a liberal mindset seem to be negatively affected: I’ve noticed recently that many social and political commentators who would regard themselves as liberals seem to be increasingly illiberal and hostile towards those who do not share their liberal attitudes, a tragic irony.

    As a classical liberal, I would defend the rights of those who do not share my values to live as they see fit, provided in doing so they do not inflict harm on me or others with whom they disagree. Of course, in reality its just not that simple: the recent controversy in Birmingham over the provision of relationship education in state schools attended by largely Muslim children is just one example of the uneasy intersection between a secular state and a religious minority.

    How different the 21st Century looks now from the post-Cold War hope and optimism with which we greeted the new millennium.

    Time for a stiff drink…Mine’s a G&T, which has just been handed to me. Cheers!

    1. Everything is political anyway, Daniel.

      Look at car design today, its boorishness, latent aggression and lack of nuance (exceptions proving the rule).

      I wouldn’t accuse car designers of a distinct political agenda – most of them are deeply apolitical anyway. But their job is to register and even anticipate their customers’ needs, insecurities, desires. As a result, car design inevitable becomes political, for the automobile is a social entity – whether we like it or not.

    2. “I wouldn’t accuse car designers of a distinct political agenda – most of them are deeply apolitical anyway. But their job is to register and even anticipate their customers’ needs, insecurities, desires. As a result, car design inevitable becomes political, for the automobile is a social entity – whether we like it or not.”

      I think this is right. It’s easy to slam car designers for hideous designs, but they need to produce designs that will sell. Sad to say, but the hideous, nasty, aggressive designs are what is selling right now.

      Same with vehicle format. The decline of the estate and the rise of the SUV is not a manufacturer driven conspiracy. Some tried to continue with estates, rather than switch to SUVs, but buyers weren’t having it.

  15. Insightful observations, Christopher and Angel. As you might have gathered from what I wrote above, I feel pretty disenchanted with the state of public discourse at present, so I shouldn’t be surprised that I find little of appeal in current automotive design, most of which is too aggressive, overwrought and vulgar.

    1. Well, it is unlikely to get better anytime soon.

      In fact, if you take the current social, cultural and economic divisions and add a major global recession…

      However, for people interested in design, styling, engineering etc., it is not all bad news. A lot of very interesting and innovative product designs were created in the 1930s. For example, a society as divided (and, frankly, decayed) as late Third Republic France, still produced a lot of influential designs that are reference points today.

      It is a paradox of prosperity that the mass market products of affluence do tend to be on the order of tail-fins and muscle cars.

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