I watched a commercial today by a famous car company known for it’s safe, boring cars. In the commercial, two young ladies are having a conversation while driving in city traffic when car in front of them stops abruptly, and their car automatically stops in response. They look at each other in visible relief, as if stopping the car was beyond their intellectual capacity and general competence.
While this is “just a commercial” I think this vignette realistically describes how poorly trained and intellectually equipped modern motorists are, compared to their forebears. And, frankly, this is the straw that has broken my personal camel’s back (talking about obscure references to old people games) in relation to modern cars.
The fact is, the safer automobiles become and the more the driving process is taken away from the driver, the worse drivers become and the less safe they are. Recently, the driver of a so-called “self-driving car” blithely sat by as his extremely expensive and automated vehicle hurtled him to his fiery death, watching blankly as it slammed into a median at a high rate of speed.
It is obvious that with the combination of safety, automation and the decrease in critical thinking in our society as a whole, driving is rapidly becoming a lost art. A loss that has lessened our society, in my opinion. As I drive along our roadways, I continually witness acts of stupidity. People appear to be more focused on their cell phones than they are in arriving safely at their destination, much less enjoying their driving experience. And common courtesy and defensive driving are just a faint memory.
I grew up in the American Midwest and learned how to drive early; I started out driving tractors at a shockingly young age, then transitioned to racing go-carts. At the tender age of 12, I earned the coveted “Farm to Market” license and became the first 5th grader to drive a 13-ton Ford F700 grain truck to school. Very soon thereafter, I sold a pen of feeder cattle and immediately attempted to purchase a clapped-out Shelby 427 Cobra at the Clay County Fair in Spencer Iowa. My father wisely dissuaded me from that foolish act which would’ve certainly ended in my own death, but helped me buy a series of Mustangs, instead. The first was a 1967 convertible, which I own to this day. The most exciting was one of the very first Hipo models produced, which I’ve since sold to a museum. I eventually owned 7 Mustangs, all of which I enjoyed immensely.
Then, I entered the military, where I learned to drive tanks and off-road vehicles in challenging conditions. I also deployed to Germany, where I learned to drive on the autobahn. My first car there was a 5-series BMW which burned some oil but was an absolute rocket on the road. My new bride started a business over there, renting supercars to GIs. Occasionally, I would help her out by repositioning cars. My favorite car while there was a 1989 Porsche 911SC, which would absolutely set the road on fire.
As I get older, I’ve sworn off modern cars; I currently have just the 1967 Mustang mentioned earlier and a 1975 FJ55 Land Cruiser. Both are fun and unique to drive, and I couldn’t be happier with them. Sure, they are both challenging in their own way, but the challenge just adds to my driving enjoyment.
But part of me yearns for that 427 Cobra. It was blue, with white racing stripes and roundels, its aluminum skin had been wrecked so many times it looked like a raisin. But it was the most beautiful automobile I’ve ever seen. I recently visited Hurricane Motorsports in Lake City, Iowa, to look at their Shelby Cobra replica, which they call the 427 Roadster. They are just a couple hours down the road from me. I’ve been saving my pennies, and once I get to the place where I can pay cash, I will have, build and drive one of those.
It will be loud, powerful, inconvenient, and dangerous compared to modern vehicles. It will have zero in the nature of creature comforts; no cup holders will be allowed, much less automatic stopping systems, or a trunk that opens if you wave your toes under the bumper. Why no cup holders? Because you don’t need caffeine if you are driving a 90-inch wheelbase car weighing 2400 pounds with 500 horsepower.
Some people may think I need psychoanalysis, but I think driving a Shelby Cobra replica may just be all the therapy I need.