Now is the future and the human condition is under attack from the top down. Go get ‘em Doc! Take my old Countach, it’s faster than your DeLorean and Mr. Fusion is good to go.
Boom! Boom! Boom! (Silver Countach slides into the driveway. Trash cans go flying)
Doc: “Marty! You’ve got to come back with me.”
Doc: “Back to the future! Bring Jennifer along. This concerns her too.”
Marty: “What’s wrong with the future Doc? Do we become assholes or something?”
Doc: “No, Marty. You both turn out fine. It’s your cars! Something has got to be done about your cars!”
Marty: “Whoa, that’s heavy Doc!”
(Cue ‘80s hit music. Protagonists drive off to save the world. V12 engine wails. Clap of thunder and the frosty Countach spins out on wet pavement in front of the Twin Pines Mall at 2:00 am in 1986.)
Marty: “Doc, DOC! We just hard rebooted into ‘80s MS-DOS mode! All it says is Top Gun, Cannonball Run, War Games, and MacGyver. There is no internet connection and it’s running some technical file on transmissions.”
Doc: “That’s right Marty! I had to bring you back to this wacky time. It was just before everything went wrong with cars. Heroes in the ‘80s used their raw talent and intellect to save the world or be the life of the party. Culturally, this was the last time when it was socially acceptable to be smart, talented, or even wealthy. Yacht Rock was powerful stuff back then Marty!”
(Back to present day. Narrator speaks.)
A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided that we needed a break and a fun weekend away from our long work hours. We decided to get out of town for an exotic car drive for some swanky fun with dynamic people.
I washed my old blue Viper GTS, we both got prettied up, and hit the highway for some fun. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Audi, and McLaren dominated the scene and many of them were personalized by their owners extravagantly. Think 600-hp Christmas ornaments and Easter eggs.
Oh the sweet people watching! I was playing the car guy game: “Is that car stick shift or flappy paddles?” My wife on the other hand was playing the social game: “Are those real or fake?” and “Is that his daughter or girlfriend?” Spoiler Alert! “Paddles,” “fake,” and “girlfriend” were the safe bet.
Everyone gathered around for a driver’s meeting. They talked about the driving route and thanked the sponsors. Then they announced they had raised $13,000 for charity and everyone clapped. Clapping? Even though quick math would suggest this crowd probably lost $4 to $5 million combined in the last year alone to car depreciation for the sake of fashion. We’re setting the bar a little low for the evening aren’t we? Oh, but I digress… Let’s drive!
The atmosphere was exciting and my wife and I had our favorite music playing. The mood was about to die though. We drove approximately 25 mph all the way in a single file line like depressed kindergarten children who just lost their recess.
For that matter, no one could even maintain a steady pace, but seemed to be having a blast. This on 4 lanes of smooth empty highway with a speed limit of 65 mph for the general populous. “I could be doing 200 mph safely on a bike right now!” I said to my wife.
To make matters worse, my Viper’s engine was beginning to get hot from this bad driving we were doing that my wife told me “go ahead and turn the heater on so it won’t overheat”. She is brilliant and was right. My poor Viper wasn’t used to driving like it’s stuck in a small midwestern town parade or a traffic jam on the 405. “I could beat everyone there on horseback and have a lot more fun too!” I yelled. Welcome to race driver hell!
It gets worse… We proceeded to parade all around downtown. Creating the biggest and most pompous scene you’ve ever seen. “Woom WOOM! Snap boom CRACKLE !” If I hear one more Aventador revving its engine to the moon to show off, it will be too soon. Finally we arrived at the destination, looked at my wife and said “I look like a cat that just got thrown into a pool by an evil 8 year-old child.” I was wet and mad!
A motorcycle cop that saw we were baking, asked me if my car was ok. “Both my car and I are not used to driving that slowly and we are roasting” I bluntly said. He told us that “neither is he and that his air-cooled motorcycle got hot too.”
Realizing I was honest, the police officer asked me “Is that why the Lamborghini Aventador drivers are revving their engines? Too keep them cool?” To which I quickly replied, “Not at all! That makes their engines hotter. They are just doing that because they can’t drive and that’s the only thing they can do to feel important.” The officer nodded with a smile.
Welcome to the future everyone! Everything that the last 100-plus years of sport racing has gifted us with has become nothing more than jewelry to be paraded around by people that don’t need any more talent to drive it than my 93-year-old grandmother possesses. Just a couple fingers to pull a paddle shifter and to sign a check.
Don’t believe me? Watch this:
(Scene change, ’80s time travelers -Doc and Marty)
Marty: “Why is this transmission-tech file here, Doc?
Doc: “Transmissions are the barometer for car culture, Marty. They pinpoint the downfall of ‘sport’ in sports cars. You see, the current decade has the wildest 1,000-hp-plus Formula 1 cars with manual transmissions. Maestros like Ayrton Senna look like some kind of magnificent lunatic dancing in their cockpit, lapping places like Monte Carlo at speed. It is a thing of beauty, but right after Formula 1 hits its exciting crescendo with V12 engines in a few years, something diabolical is created.
“Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters! Made to find a winning edge by making the driver’s job easier, it will harken the end of the sports cars and the racing sport as we know it. The great sports-car downhill all starts with Ferrari offering their Valeo Clutch option in the early ‘90s. A rare option with a computer-operated clutch and the classic dog-leg gated shifter with only two pedals.”
Marty: “Seriously Doc?”
Doc: “That’s right Marty! Two pedals and a manual shift lever. “Was it good? Not at all Marty! It was garbage and a kitschy novelty, but suddenly people thought it was cool. Now Nana could take the kids to school in a Mondial, even though her syncros will be screaming for mercy in a few years. Next, Ferrari offers their 355 model (an evolved 348 from the current 1980’s line). Suddenly they are selling tons of these paddle shifted cars.”
Marty: “Was it fast like an F1 car, Doc?”
Doc: “Not at all Marty! It was also garbage. They ate clutches alive, and the shifting was slow and unsophisticated. The human brain is more powerful than any computer, and certainly better than the ECU in an Italian car.”
Marty: “You mean Ferrari drivers just wanted to pretend to be Formula 1 drivers and turn off their brain while driving? Whoa… That’s heavy Doc.”
Paddles everywhere! Except for ol’ Bob’s green snake…
Doc: “It gets worse Marty. Paddle shifters were en vogue everywhere! They spread to Lamborghini, Porsche, were a joke in Corvettes, and effectively ruined the Aston Martin Vanquish. The few cars with manual transmissions are prized by drivers to this day, and only the Dodge Viper didn’t give in to this crazy fashion trend.”
Marty: “You mean the monster car from Chrysler created by the cigar smoking, fighter-plane flying tough guy, Bob Lutz, that was just discontinued?”
Doc: “That’s right Marty! Most of the high-end cars were just normal manual transmissions, shifted by a hydraulic ram, and had their clutch modulated by computer. Later, some cars from Maserati, Corvette, Porsche, and Aston were actually automatic transmissions with a torque-converter operated by buttons to fool the masses. They were all garbage Marty! It was a dark time for the sportsman.”
Marty: “So, paddles died when people realized they suck, right Doc?”
Doc: “No, Marty! They became incredible . . . they invented the dual-sequential transmission. The transmission has two clutches and is effectively in 3 gears at once. When the driver or computer selects the next gear (either up or down), the computer just disengages one clutch, while engaging the other with the selected gear. Shift time effectively became ZERO, and the car blips the throttle perfectly. You can even switch the car to full-automatic mode.
Marty: “That’s genius Doc!! I realized this when I test drove a Ferrari 458. They made cars into starships. Everything was perfect. Isn’t that the goal Doc?
Doc: “Not at all Marty. You see, racing and cars no longer push the boundary of ultimate agility or human capability. They are led by ruling boards, politicians, and big companies. Formula 1 has become a purposefully obtuse monetary and engineering circus. The ‘sport’ component and human element is little more than a stage play at our point of origin in time. Racing sport is merely on life support from the triumphs of the past, Marty.
“By having the car take away the driving experience, challenge, and any sense of accomplishment from the driver, you trample the human experience and condition, Marty! It would be like going to Vienna to see the Johann Strauss Orchestra with Andre Rieu. There, all the instruments would be automatic and the singers using autotune.”
Marty: “Like T-Pain Doc??”
Doc: “Yes Marty! Like T-Pain!”
Marty: “That would be worse than if Biff ran the world from a Casino!”
Doc: Exactly Marty. Talentless wannabes can now-then buy their way into the limelight.”
Marty: “Now I get it Doc! This stinks. Let’s go back to the future.”
(Present day, Narrator speaks.)
The exotic car drive was a race-car driver’s hell that day, but it was a poser’s delight. Ferrari and Lamborghini have killed off the manual transmission for good. With that, they killed my love for the once great Italian marques who have sold out to posers with paddles. At least there are a few marques who still sell driving satisfaction with a stick shift. Alas, but not the ostentatious mid-engined exotic Jabberwocks that I grew to love.
Welcome to the “progress” that makes me sad to merely sit in a Lambo or Ferrari anymore. I’m no longer an owner and don’t plan to be one again in the future. Even though I love driving or racing the older cars, this modern “scene” has become too embarrassing as a serious sporting driver to be associated with.
By removing the stick shift from racing as well, we have removed one more opportunity for great drivers to shine, or mediocre drivers to get better. We have equalized the field to the point of boredom. We have taken away any sense of accomplishment and pride from driving well.
Let’s face it, our culture doesn’t have the grit anymore to risk life and limb in the quest for speed. We simply don’t need paddle shifters for that edge anymore. We need a challenge. We need sport!
People who drive manual transmissions want more from life and the human condition. There is something noble in that. Interestingly enough, that is why all the finest and most sought after watches in the world are powered by springs and mechanical complications, not batteries. Rolex, Patek Philippe, Jaeger Lecoultre, and Bovet to name a few. An electric quartz movement would be both more accurate and astronomically cheaper, but there is no soul or humanity in that. Sound familiar?
I bet you that at least 80 percent of the executive officers of those leading exotic car companies are wearing a Swiss mechanical watch right now. Yeah… let’s just hope they stay out of Geneva and Basel. If they applied the same logic from their car companies, they may ruin hundreds of years of Swiss watchmaking history, selling out to people with quartz movements the way they sold out the human experience of driving to computers.
I honestly think Ferrari as a driver’s car is lost. Just look at all the stores selling out the branding through clothing the world over. How many geeks have you seen wearing three or more branded items of clothing at once? Barf! I have seen too many… Lamborghini was formed on a “screw you, I’ll make it cooler” attitude. Maybe there is hope for them, if only a glimmer.
For some time, I planned to “retro-mod” one of their new cars by simplifying the interior, bringing back the glorious gated-shifter, and making it rear-wheel drive only. Individual throttle bodies, with velocity stacks gleaming like the mechanical movement of a Swiss watch under glass, will be slightly cruder but inspiring. The exhaust will flow through x-pipe tuned Jota megaphones and howl like the terrifyingly beautiful sirens of mythology. It’s doable!
I figured I could once again bring the daring human element of passion and sport back to exotic cars by painting the glorious exhaust note at speed through the countryside and autostrada of Italy and Europe where no posers would dare. I wanted to inspire the daring, and nonchalantly call it “the Driver Mod”. These days I wonder if I should just get back into horseback riding.
Think about the black Lamborghini Countach in the opening of the movie Cannonball Run. THAT was Lamborghini — flat-out, mischievous, and a thing of beauty. Rugged and raw. A bare knuckle race car for the street. The theme song said it all. “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it…. It’s not what you got, it’s how you use it. If you got the soul, you can’t fake it.”
People get cosmetic surgery to cheat their DNA, old men date much younger women to cheat time, and people buy supercars with paddle shifters to cheat their talent level. I can’t cheat my DNA or father time, but I can endeavor to be a more talented racing driver. I never want to lose that sense of accomplishment for the fruits of my labors. That is something that cannot be bought.
Killing off the gated shifter and clutch pedal is the crime against humanity that Ferrari and Lamborghini are especially guilty of in the highest degree. Driving their newer cars is a felony to the human spirit. They have robbed me as a purist driver of any sense of accomplishment and I wonder why I should have any interest in watching or driving in a flappy paddle, buy-a-ride, “challenge” racing series. Why would I want to buy one of their cars when posers prefer to parade around in them slower than I can ride one of the animals that adorn their logos?
Let’s hope these exotic car companies have something up their sleeve to give a sportsman hope, like they did so long ago.
Death to paddles and posers! Long live the Driver Mod!
Take me with you Doc and Marty.