When I was sixteen, I got in a car accident.
It was late May, and I was driving a friend home from school. He lived nearby, but I’d just received my license and was flush with the heady power of being able to give people rides; the fact that his house was no more than five minutes from campus was completely irrelevant. At minute four, we crossed one of our sleepy suburban town’s wider intersections–a whopping four lanes–and were promptly struck by a Ford Explorer that made short work of my 1981 Honda Prelude. My poor car was torn completely in half by the impact; by some miracle, my friend and I emerged almost completely unscathed.
Realizing at the time, and every day since, that the outcome was nothing short of preposterous (truly, if you’d seen the state of the car, you’d realize that we had no business walking away from the event on our own legs), it will probably not surprise you that ever since then I have had a rather strong antipathy toward driving. Or rather, ever since the accident, I have had a crippling, seething hatred of being behind the wheel; why else would I hold New York’s wild, unreliable MTA in such reverence? I loathe driving. Looooaaathe it.
Which makes it all the more curious that in recent years, I have become really, really interested in cars. Not driving. Just cars.
My sister is partially to blame for this; she’s the one who introduced me to the majesty that is Top Gear UK, which has done more than anything to ignite my interest. Something about watching its three hosts careen about buffoonishly keeps me coming back again and again–and I won’t lie, their enthusiasm for anything powered by a combustion engine is quite infectious. I will, however, admit a certain bafflement when they start heralding the perfection of modern-day “supercars”–I find most of them to be abominations of design, all points and no personality. No, what really gets me going is when they start going off about classic cars.
Turns out I have a serious thing for the cars of the 1930′s and the 1960′s–those glorious days when the fenders were voluptuous and the average vehicle was at least eight hundred miles long. They had such personality, such style. I mean, just LOOK at Bugatti Type 57:
The swoops! The swirls! I described this car to M as a noir radio play in car form; I stand by that. It’s not a car you describe as “fierce,” though if it were a human it would be packing a Tommy Gun under its trench coat, and would have no problem using it on you. This car is completely gangster, in the fedoras-and-rum-running kind of way.
Then there’s this:
The AC Shelby Cobra. It’s hard to believe, but beneath that trim and perky exterior, this car is an absolute beast. Powered by a 7-Liter V8 engine, it was most famous for destroying all comers at the Riverside Racetrack in 1963–a rather shocking upset, considering it was up against a whole fleet of Porsches, Ferraris, and Corvettes (who, up to that point, were The Car To Beat). Despite my love of a good underdog story, I have to admit that I have limited interest in its personal trivia. What interests me: the curve of the bonnet, the flare of the wheel well. I want to pet this car like a spoilt siamese cat.
And then there’s this, the great American Classic: 1968 Hot Gold Convertible Ford Mustang. I have no real commentary on this car, except to say I would take up driving again if it meant I could get behind the wheel of one of these. Delicious.
I love these cars because in addition to being absolute monsters on the road (what can I say, I’m a girl who appreciates power), they are exquisitely designed–a characteristic I find sorely lacking in much of today’s automotive industry; in these pieces, the form was as carefully thought out as the function, resulting in some truly staggering cars. Ok, so, the prospect of ever piloting one of them (with the possible exception of the Mustang) fills me with a cold and wicked sense of dread–and perhaps more than a touch of panic–but that doesn’t mean I can’t dream about taking one for a spin. After all, a Ford Explorer would just bounce off that Bugatti, don’t you think?