Trust in the Machine: State of the Union
Updated: Jan 7, 2020
We will start our inaugural state of the union address where all inaugural states of the unions should start: a funeral. On Friday, December 6th, 2019, TEN Publishing sent a memo around to their staff notifying them that the print editions for 19 of their 22 automotive magazines would be halted indefinitely. Included in that list is Automobile Magazine, a publication that, along with Car and Driver, Road & Track, and Autoweek is as responsible for helping me to learn how to read as Dr. Seuss. As someone who long since ceased subscription to print magazines, all that’s left for me is the cold shudder that comes with the dying fire of nostalgia.
I should probably go one step further and acknowledge that the proliferation of online publication is, well, maybe not the healthiest of discourse, but it certainly gives a microphone to more voices in more corners of the automotive universe. Hell, the only reason why you’re able to read this now is because I’m able to publish it on a website – as someone clearly devoid of both qualifications and talent, nobody in the old guard would take sufficient pity to let me take up any of their ink.
Still – I should hardly complain, as those who were deemed worthy of using the space between the ads were able to create quite the production. Automobile, in particular, had gorgeous spreads devoted to all sorts of shiny things, all driven by publisher David E. Davis’ guiding mantra: No Boring Cars. And that’s a philosophy that I subscribed to for years, and, with the death of the print version, it’s one worth revisiting. In retrospect, I think Davis nearly got it right.
As a kid growing up in the Midwest, all that professional poetry heaping praise and scorn on Lotus Esprits and ZR-1 Corvettes hardwired 0-60 times and maximum lateral-Gs on a skidpad as bits of trivia taking up permanent residence in my brain. Between that and the best photographers in the industry, it wasn’t difficult to see how these cars entranced us.
Davis and his band of journalists painted the picture of a world filled with Rosso Corsa and Mexico Blue and Dakar Yellow and occasionally besieged by the beige of everyday tools that put forth a less successful attempt to murder you with turbo lag and snap oversteer.
After having had the luck to drive some spectacular machines – including some of those that I’d read about and took up valuable real estate on my bedroom wall during the angsty and awkward years – I’ve been struck with the idea that the concept of a boring car is an inherently flawed premise.
All we’re dealing with is sheet metal or composites bonded or bolted to a chassis with some interior bits and an engine tossed in for good measure. From Juggalo-era Cavaliers to pre-radiator Porsches, they’re all 4 wheels with some form of locomotion. At the end of the day, all we ask of them is that they move us from one location to another. It’s an odd notion to someone who can still tell you blindfolded that the 993 911 Turbo has 400 horsepower at the crank that there is nothing, outside of some homologated French rally cars and stuff Gordon Murray bolted together in his own awkward and angsty years, that leaves the factory as particularly special in its own right.
Cars are just a medium for the stories that we live out. All the trickle-charging hypercars trucked out to Carmel-by-the-Sea once a decade to sit in traffic on 17-Mile Drive don’t really have a damn thing to say. By contrast, the $400 Lemons fodder that’s out enduring the daily abuse of a 19-year-old who has decided that D1GP is a valid career choice is an epic tome of joy and heartbreak, knowledge battling ignorance and occasionally notching a victory.
“No boring cars” is the equivalent of saying “no boring celluloid” or “no boring pages”. It’s just a medium, a vessel for carrying the plot. Whereas it’s not a challenge to tell a good story of a restored F355, the fact that you’ve got someone out there driving it (and racing it) at every opportunity is what actually tuns it into something worth documenting. Cars – whether it is through art, engineering, execution, or adventure – only serve to tell a human story.
While I mourn the death of some dead trees, fantastic writing, and positively inspired photography, I’m happy to lend my decidedly unskilled hand at moving the discourse past the false dichotomy presented by “No Boring Cars”. Car culture is more than editorialized press releases. It's more than 458s only turned over to drive between whatever Cars & Coffee iteration we’ve settled on now.
Gambler 500 daredevils, stance obsessives laying frame, drifting dorks, DJ Screw mourners poking out on 84s and Vogues, and track rats just trying to get one more session on a set of Hoosiers: regardless of their chassis of choice, these are stories being etched into the culture.
And so I have a request for 2020. From the backyard mechanics sculpting rickety brilliance from death traps to the artisans of carbon pushing past what OEMs decided was within tolerance: go out there and make some noise. Whether that's turning cars into misunderstood dangerous art or tires into smoke and sparks.
Because there are no boring cars.