Trawling the suburbs requires a soundtrack.
The Pet Shop Boys considered them hell, Chevrolet named a vehicle after them eighty years ago. The award winning band Arcade Fire devoted an entire album towards them in 2010. According to lead singer, Win Butler, the album “is neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” The Canadian band’s genre has proved difficult to pin down; journalists having dubbed them indie or art rock – one amongst them resorting to baroque pop. Today, let’s go for a drive and search for vehicular connections though a typical suburban environ. Bring some popcorn and your favourite CD’s.
Baroque: As a parting shot prior to his year 2000 retirement, the Tom Gilles (along with Freeman Thomas and Tom Gale) Chrysler 300c design retained many of its Chronos concept car features – plenty of chrome, tortoiseshell finishes, rear wheel drive chassis set up. At a shade over five metres in length and weighing upwards of 1700Kgs, power was derived from in petrol form by a 2.7 litre V6 making 190bhp.
A Touring version gained a 3.5 V6 for 250bhp. Should you wish to buy shares in petroleum markets, a V8 Hemi weighing in at 5.7 litres pushed you lustfully along the suburban strip with 340 bhp. The rare SRT-8 upped the ante to a 6.1 litre, 425 bhp and sub five second zero to sixty. Britain’s share of engines (mainly) drank from the black pump. Mercedes, then snugly with Chrysler provided the OM642 3-litre managing almost 27 mpg circulating the ‘burbs.
Costing £25k when new in 2005, shiny and black, one could easily misjudge this car to bear the Flying B – many the time has this author been hoodwinked as such. The car bestowed status, driven by discerning professionals or savvy entrepreneurs, maybe even the occasional company car. By the time of track one, The Suburbs, these cars were onto their second MOT but still regarded as an left-field, baroque choice. By mimicking Bentley, the Chrysler carried its hulk with some cachet – mean n’ moody in darker colours, quite elegant in silver. White could be something refrigerated.
HonestJohn informed those interested that the 300c was no German autobahn-stormer but more than up to the job of providing decent service and with diesel power, manageable fuel bills. Come the end of the sixty-four minute long album however, and the c began to look a little dog-eared.
Blinged up or slammed down, as time went by the first generation big Chrysler took on a more nocturnal role. Often to be found in the murkier areas of town, the car appeared settled there. The responsibly owned diesel can still be had for around £10,000 with pristine V8’s considerably more. And remember this car (in second-generation form) came as a Lancia Thema for Europeans. Good Lord.
Art rock: Revealed in Detroit 2005, Land Rover’s Range Rover L320 Sport wore a different dress over its Discovery 3 chassis. Solihull rather confusingly called the car “a new sports tourer SUV”, which hampered sales not one jot. Lavishly equipped, petrol (rarely) or 3.6 twin turbo diesels (and big wheeled), the Sport would practically take over in real estate terms.
Barely troubling anything other than gravel driveways – this behemoth could touch 150mph – the RR Sport gained, then maintained significant presence in and around the suburban environment. From football player (or partners) to supporter, gymnasium to office car park or terrifying the white lines and speed humped shopping centre, Richard Wooley’s design bolstered Gaydon’s coffers massively.
Losing the split tailgate of its larger brother gave the Sport a more compact, almost lithe appearance. But again, by the release of Arcade Fire’s album, the first generation had been superseded leaving the Sport to the mercies of the used car market. A favourite for customisation, L320’s can often be found monstering kerbs or squeezing under Drive-thru barriers wearing badges other than the green oval or painted to within an inch of their former grandeur.
More forlorn examples adorn driveways or concourses, troubled by suspension or electrical glitches. After-market wheels seem attracted to this car. LR service depots unvisited in the suburban sprawl. The descent of the L320 matches a once high performing team now relegated, rudderless, face lost. As the full-fat Range Rover and sibling Sport grew with the next generation, the initial Sport, itself toned down from the wild Gullwing doored concept Stormer, has become as bored as the teenagers in Win Butler’s lyrics.
A sad looking 2011 version sat beneath a large tree on a local suburban driveway for years. I never knew of this car moving. Originally Santorini Black, the tree sap and dripping slime had rendered that shade to green. Sometime last year I realised this arboreal depositary had suddenly been changed to a vehicle wearing a different L badge – Lexus. A modern take (that does move regularly) upon our final suburban soapbox.
Indie Rock: Known in its homeland as the Altezza (Italian for highness) Lexus brought the IS200 to the suburbs of the UK in 1999. Chief Engineer Nobauki Katayama (he of AE86, Rally and Le Mans fame), with design work by Tomoyasu Nishi, gave this handsome saloon a petrol powered straight six. Praised for its dynamics and smooth power delivery, time was not kind to this Japanese sharp suited German sub-compact rival.
This car also brought about a new craze – multi-circular rear lamps – which for a time became all one could see, slumped in the suburban traffic jam. Initially mesmeric, copied by many aftermarket types but also by rival manufacturers, they all too soon became irredeemably dated.
The craze of altering this car’s looks soon took hold, gratifying only those pursuing a certain lifestyle choice. Exterior garnishes of madness could be had with what would become indicative of life in and around suburbia – the massive (-ly pointless) rear spoiler, the side skirt, the rally sounding exhaust. Should such organ pipes fail to drone its way into your eardrums, the aftermarket stereo system should do the trick. The deeper the chest and feet pounding bass, the better.
Come Arcade Fire’s now eleven year-old release, the IS200’s shine was probably due to excessive metal flake paint rather than a fastidious owner. Tatty in demeanour, obtuse in sounds, a gamekeeper turned poacher. Unsullied IS200 examples prove rare beasts to find now (remaining pleasing to see) and, like our other two protagonists here were rated rather highly by your correspondent when they first surfaced. Something perhaps to aspire to back in the early part of the new century. At least the Lexus bore no malice in that first flush of youth but even Audi’s were less yobbish then. But no less disposable.
For that is a suburban trait from Florence to Friedrichshain, Gothenburg to Granada, Hull to Houston; it takes but one to begin a following and in such detract from what set out as an individual statement, a diluting of the automobile in surroundings less salubrious than first conceived.
“Oh my old friends, they don’t know me now.” Is a line from the track, Suburban War. Whilst these words ring true to what these three cars have become now, how your author wishes the cars of today could retain the air of free indifference, a frisson of modernity without aggression, a drive without meaning.
Perhaps then grab a sandwich, turn up the streaming, and drown out the suburban sprawl?