I drove a new car today. Lovely it was. Although I couldn’t for the life of me tell you exactly WHAT it was. Now I’m honestly not just being bigoted, small-minded, or trying to ‘up’ my classic credentials, but there are very few modern cars that get my blood-racing enough to make me take notice of the badge and the engine spec. As someone who spends 500-odd miles a week wrestling a 42 year-old Land-Rover or a 30 year-old Mini up the M3, my expectations of a new car are actually quite low. If the heater works before I leave the end of my road and the stereo picks up more than two radio stations without a bucket-load of interference then I’m a happy man. But not for long.
Maybe it’s my attention span. Maybe I’m not as easily satisfied as I thought I was, but it’s official – modern cars are bad for my health. If I’m anything over 20 miles into my journey and I’ve not started nodding, then I’m doing well. 30 miles in and I’ve usually cranked the windows open. 40 miles and I’m masticating madly on a piece of Wrigleys Extra and searching for drum’n’bass on the radio in an effort to prop up the eyelids for the last part of my commute. I should point out that my idea of good drum’n’bass is Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused with John Bonham and John Paul Jones giving it their best, but if it keeps me awake I’ll take whatever Radio 1 has to offer.
There is something to be said for the design of a new car. The seats are sculpted to fit your back rather than break it as in the slab-seated Landie. You can control the stereo with a flick of your thumb to a button on the steering wheel, rather than leaning hazardously into the passenger seat and stabbing at the volume control. Slip it into auto and you don’t need to even use your left foot – none of the relentless double-declutching involved in piloting the syncro-less Solihull special. And if you’re too hot, then a spot of mind-control will have the dual-climate system bringing down the ambient temperature before you know it. No need to pull over, hitch up the canvas sides and take a spanner out to remove the door tops. In fact, I’m probably more motionless than I am when I’m out for the count in my bed at night. Perhaps he final straw however, was when driving said ‘new car’ and I needed to pull off on a slight incline. Before I knew it, something was flashing on the dash and announcing that the ‘Hill Launch Assist’ was active. I remember when that used to be called a handbrake and some clutch control. Next thing I won’t need hands at all.
And all these spectacular advancements in technology and design are exactly why I, and so many others, choose to drive a classic for more than just the odd weekend outing. I don’t do it because I’m a martyr or because I’m trying to prove a point. I even own a new car (well, eight years old and 120,000 miles into it’s life). But I do it because I value my life and that of those around me. Staying alive for me is not just a number from the Bee Gees back catalogue, but something I aim to do by ‘enriching’ my life with the daily discomfort and challenge of commuting in a classic. And there must be something rather perverse about me, because I actually enjoy it – a little too much perhaps. Long live noisy, slow, draughty, smelly classics and perhaps I will live a little longer myself.