The current generation of motoring youngsters only recognises insane turbo-boosted (rev/pssshht) performance. If it doesn’t have rotors, variable valve timing or dial-in boost (and the obligatory Nismo sticker on the windscreen), they show little interest. Triumph? That’s the brand of their girlfriend’s bra stuffed into the glovebox. Their cars fly and they range from bullet-proof to highly fragile. Mostly they are very light with high revving engines and front wheel drive. More than likely, every one of those rice rockets will out-accelerate a Jensen and probably all of our Triumphs. The nexus of my argument is that there is pleasure in power. But once again, outright grunt is not the holy grail of motoring.
Perhaps what I’ve established here is that there are pleasure centres in the brain. And no, I don’t want your minds out of the gutter because the gutter’s attached to the road that we drive on. The young blokes love their Saki-burners (they have to be called guys today, because they were all brought up on American television programs). Just what it’s like to be in one of their lightweight zillion revs front wheel drives at nine tenths on a winding mountain road with all the skill of a seventeen year old at the helm, doesn’t bear thinking about. The torque steer would be akin to arm wrestling a very angry massive Maori. But they have fun. I should know, in the early 70s I did exactly the same in my two door XP Falcon up Mt Glorious and Mt Nebo (and equally crazy things on my 650 Triumph Thunderbird). Several changes of undies later, I lived to tell the tale. Did I have fun? You bet. I also learned that outright grunt is not the holy grail of motoring.
If there is a bend in the road, I want to be able to get around that bend. That’s why car manufacturers cleverly thought to provide a steering wheel. In some cars it is loosely connected via several elastic linkages to the front wheels. American Barge-o-matics are especially well designed in this respect, with the bonus of mid-Atlantic sized wallow necessitating the consumption of sea sickness tablets before sailing in them. Most of the rice rockets only need kidney belts to keep one’s innards somewhere near where they should be. Less protective than Barge-o-steel, one hopes not to get clouted. The thought of the tin foil doors being crumpled towards the occupants does little to inspire confidence. Sure they have grunt, but outright grunt is not the holy grail of motoring.
More exotic is a friend’s Maserati Merak. Powered by a triple carb DOHC mid-engined three litre V6, it pumps out a healthy 200 neddies. Consequently it has performance that can easily be described as excellent, coupled with superb handling and head-turning good looks. Its Citroen-sourced pressurised nitrogen-hydraulic brakes pull it up so rapidly that it feels totally safe. However it is horrendously heavy to steer and operating the clutch is akin to kick starting a Harley Davidson with 12:1 compression pistons and shaved heads. By contrast, his Fiat X1-9 handles like a go cart and steers like it is on rails. It is small and cute and is very easy to drive. All in all, a wonderful fun machine whose only drawback is that bicycles can out-accelerate it. Once again this proves that outright grunt is not the holy grail of motoring.
So what is? The answer probably depends on which marque you have enjoyed the most. Thoroughbred or mass produced podge? Is style exclusive of mass production? Is mechanical sophistication the pinnacle of motoring excellence? Is the exclusivity factor, the rarity, what makes your decision? I’ve driven a lot of cars. Haven’t we all? Too few have brought smiles and the desire to want to keep driving until you reach Sydney. Just for fun, just for sheer enjoyment of the drive and love of the vehicle. When I step from my three year old turbo Astra SRI into my thirty year old Stag, I smile. The Stag isn’t a backward step, an antiquated out-dated, primitive bucket of bolts that makes me think, “Wow. Haven’t cars come a long way?” No way! Instead, I think, “How wonderful is this?” I know it’s sixty five horsepower down on the Astra, but… again this just proves that outright grunt is not the holy grail of motoring.