Boring Cars

From a hotel window in Parsippany, New Jersey I watched the nearly steady stream of vehicles exiting Route 46. The exit was hard by the parking lot of the hotel, so I had a good view of each of them as they pulled to the stop sign and then turned onto a local street. After more than few minutes of this idle observation I came to realize that I had ceased my customary cataloguing of the cars, by make, model, and year. Their shapes and colors just blended together. The slight differences between most of them made no impression.

This was a far cry from those days when my cousin Phil and I, not yet teenagers, would sit on a wall along East State Street in Athens, Ohio where I grew up. We would sit for long stretches of time on lazy summer afternoons, watching the cars roll by in front of us and calling out their makes, models, and years. It was a challenge to know them all, and we tried hard to out do one another on the depth of our young knowledge of America’s great wealth of cars. But the cars were different. Very different, one from another and from make to make. And that friends is the difference from what we have today, traveling along our streets, jammed together in long lines on the interstates, and parked in seeming endless expanses of mall parking lots. There is an overwhelming uniformity to them.

Maybe I am getting old, and subtlety is lost on me, but the sameness of today’s vehicles is remarkable. Yes, I know there are exceptions, such as the PT Cruiser and the “new” VW Beetle. Yet, these are the exceptions and they stand out like sore thumbs mainly because the mass of cars around them are an undistinguishable mush of bland and boring automotive design.

Compounding the lack of distinction in our culture’s fleet of vehicles is the tendency of the Asia-based manufacturers to copy the designs and general appearances of the other manufacturers, particularly certain German producers of fine automobiles (come to think of it, is there a bad German car company?). Lets be honest here gang, do we not know that every Lexus that glides down the street is really saying to all around it, “Bet you think this is a Mercedes!”

Is this all bad?

Well, not really I guess.

The boring cars, the ones who imitate, the ones with no soul, allow us to appreciate the minority in the automobile population. The ones that tell you right now who and what they are. And sometimes what they are meant to do. Furthermore, the producers of boring cars fill the positive side of their balance sheets with the profits from these vehicles, thus allowing their indulgences in more exotic marques. Some of the greatest names in automotive history are now parts of corporate empires, and might not exist at all if they had not been so acquired. Would Jaguar exist without Ford? Ferrari without Fiat? Hard to say, but a credible answer would be “no”.

So the next time a beige minivan pulls alongside your 968 Cabriolet, or your 911E, silently thank the driver for being such a bore. When that silver Accord (or was that a Nissan? perhaps a Toyota Camry?) cuts you off, changes lanes without a signal, or waits til the light turns green to put on her left turn signal, hold your anger in check and thank the driver for buying another automotive appliance and supporting the industry which brings us the really interesting vehicles we own, desire, or just admire.

© W. S. Cline/Rose Lane Garage 2001

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