We take so many things for granted. That our car will start or the garage door opener will work when the button is pressed. That fuel will be more gas than water and our favorite fast food venue will get our complex no raw onions, extra crispy bacon order just right. Well, right more times than not.
But that also means that we take how we interact with our cars for granted too. Think about it for just a minute (or as long as you would like if you are inclined to think deeply). If you dropped someone from the early 1900’s into a modern car, hell a car from the 1960’s even, they’d probably be in shock. Automotive transportation was so new then, their senses would be completely overwhelmed. Used to smelling freshly dropped dung, rotting food and raw sewage (okay and the great smells emanating from Mom’s kitchen), seeing rutted dirt roads and the smoke painted sky from the greasy fruits of the industrial revolution, surely all their senses would go into overload if they saw a modern (ish) car on a modern freeway. It would seem otherworldly.
But it still takes all five senses to get the most of our collective automotive experience. Let’s start with touch. Wrap your hand around that meaty steering wheel twisting it to test it tautness, or grasp the cold hardness of the leather wrapped shift knob as it sinks into 4th gear or the feel of the brake pedal beneath your thin soled racing moc testing exactly how much force to exert to get the car just to the edge of threshold braking. Sure it’s all that, but it is also the time (when I was much younger…like last year) when I wondered how hot a brake rotor got after repeated use. Yes, I grabbed it with my thumb and forefinger. It was fucking hot! And as I howled and danced up and down shaking the singed skin on my finger, cursing up a sailors storm and wondering how I could be so stupid, vowed never to do that again. Or all the times that I cut or gouged my hands on a variety of sharp objects under and around a motor, not noticing until I pulled the blood soaked nut off the bolt and wondered how that red stuff got on there.
Says right on the oil can and on the side of the fuel pump at the gas station – do not drink this shit, it can harm you.
How about smell? Yeah, it could be that rolling wreck you’re about to pass (quickly) with rust panels, dents on all all four corners, dozens of stickers covering up a multitude of sins, splotchy paint, missing front and rear bumper and miss-matched 22’s (yo) belching out unburned fuel and spent oil from non-existent cylinder rings oozing gray stinky smoke on an unsuspecting public. But of course the windows are tinted, you gotta hide your sorrowful self away from the hateful stares of everyone on the road. You wonder how this POS (look it up) could still be on the road. Surely it lacks insurance and current inspection. I have no doubt it passed with an “after-six” inspection. Hey it happens, had to do one myself at one point with a track focused 944 Turbo that refused to comply with the law. Not proud of that, but that is another story. Or being cooped up inside your car with just yourself and the gassy aftereffects of a fiber filled lunch…or breakfast…or dinner.
Hearing comes next. There is nothing better than a high performance engine singing its mighty song as it approaches the red line. The rumble of a V8, the Waaaa of a flat-six or the roar of a flat-plane crack V12, it is just glorious. Each uniquely different, but all doing the grunt work using reciprocating mass, fuel, air and spark to create their individual voice. But it is also the nasty buzzing sound of a rice rocket with an exhaust can the size of a Folgers coffee tin whose assault on the aural senses probably should be a crime. For every beautiful sound of a GT3 at full chat, there is a buzzing chatter of rusty, lowered, nitrous fueled Honda to totally ruin that perfect sonic moment.
How about that perfect day? It comes only a few times a year. The leaves have turned gold, red and orange and dropped to the ground leaving only the naked skeleton of trees in their wake, the crispy sky so blue it hurts to look and your favorite twisty patch of road calls its fall time siren song. On that perfect day, you take your very old and cranky 1976 930 Turbo Carrera out to let her stretch her long legs with the only four forward gears that she will ever know. She tends to run a bit hot, so all the better to let her have her legs while the outside temp hovers in the low-50’s. She revels in the colder, denser air, her barely legal exhaust just a bit more frantic, maybe churning out just a few more precious horsepower. Each corner approaches and passes in rapid succession and your eyes dart from edge to edge, trying to pick out the perfect spot to hit the apex that does not contain a pile of colorful leaves.
Sight is so much a part of the driving experience. It is sometimes hard to remember these times when you are stuck going 10 MPH in miserable bumper to bumper freeway traffic or trying to determine if the idiot in the aforementioned trashed out rice rocket approaching a 4-way stop sign will stop or just sail through knowing that you will do anything not to hit him. Away from the banality of the daily drive, it’s those times when your eyes do the heavy lifting, searching for spots that might still be damp, or note that the yellow sign says CAUTION the following corner should be taken at 30 MPH and you glance down and see the speedo sweep past 70. Yeah its good to be alive, enjoying what you and your car (preferably a Porsche) can do best. Just shut the fuck up and drive.
Can’t leave out taste. Ever had a big blob of oil drop into your mouth while you are wedged under a 968 changing out rod bearings? Or had to suck a rubber hose to get gas going so you could fill up your tank because you forgot the damn fuel gauge sticks at quarter full? Yeah, I can tell you first hand, those things do not taste good. Says right on the oil can and on the side of the fuel pump at the gas station – do not drink this shit, it can harm you. A tiny amount should not kill you, but will remind you that petrochemicals do not in fact taste great. I am not going to even talk about the afore mentioned complex fast food order, because we all eat in the car, and may or may not have to suffer the after effects.
It takes all our senses to drive. But there’s one more sense that’s part of the experience, or at least it should be. It’s called the gut feeling, the seat of the pants, mojo, vibe or what ever else you want to call it. Racers know. It’s driving at the edge; that fine line between a perfect corner and spin city. It is jumping on the throttle just past the apex so that the car does not over steer because the off camber nature of the corner is not helping you. It’s getting the most out of a car. Every last ounce. Racers understand. They have the seat and track time (in the tens of thousands of hours) to trust that built in, innate sixth sense. And you know what? It feels damn good.
And on that exhaust note, I’ll see you all next time.image source: http://thechicaneblog.com/
Robert Turner is the author of The Driver, a series of six novels your editor in chief finds intoxicatingly engaging and superbly written; Book I— Decision and Book II— Training are currently available here. He also has a blog entitled My Life with Porsches. Robert can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.