I enjoy getting together with a good group of motorheads. I’m not sure if it is the comradery of carburetors that draws us together or the simple fact that most of us are so passionate and opinionated about our transportation choices, that sooner or later blood will be drawn (like the pending horror of a train wreck that simply must be watched. Or the pain of Bobby Unser on television). Whatever the reason for getting together, the conversation always seems to flow without pause (and often without purpose, point, or poignancy, according to many onlookers) as we dive into the history, present day, and future of mechanized transportation.
Try as we might to come to an agreement on what makes a car “great,” the segregation inevitably happens: as the discussions continue the group breaks into smaller and smaller subcomponents, a sort of reverse-assembly line. Eventually, everyone finds themselves grouped in with one clique or another. This is not a choice that can be taken lightly, nor made at that very moment. Rather, it is the culmination of choices and attitudes that one exhibits over years of development. Some may even declare it to be genetic.
The Japanese fans quietly keep to themselves, presumably in an attempt to grasp the concept that cars might actually vary in character and personality from, say, a baseboard heater.
The American enthusiasts are often the first to band together, noisily defending their turf. They are convinced that there is only one way for a car to last and go fast: throw a big push-rod V8 under the hood and have it drive the rear wheels. They bellow forth the advantages of low-end torque and tractable power that a small-block offers. Nods of agreement can be seen as visions of smoky burnouts and never-ending straightaways dance in their heads. The unity of the domestic army doesn’t last forever though as they quickly split into smaller groups. Those wearing Bowties tout the huge midrange and staying power of the Small-Block Chevy. Members of the Blue Crew defend the upper-end breathing of the 289 Ford. Back and forth they will argue throughout the night, with the poor (lone) Mopar fan declaring the Hemi Big-Block as the undisputed King of Torque with all the wit and subtlety of an elephant (though no one pays much attention to him due to the appalling length and greasiness of their hair).
Owners of German marques gather with arms crossed in stoic confidence of the superiority of their choice. They don’t feel the need to defend anything since the supremacy of engineering and execution in a large German sedan should clearly be evident by anyone who looks at one. If anyone ever drove a German saloon car, surely it would be a life-changing experience, similar to a religious conversion moment. Nevermind the fact that the poster child for German sports cars is the Porsche 911, a car so ill-conceived in all aspects that it alone should disqualify the condescending nature of the group. (yet, I still want a ’73 2.7 RS so much it pains me)
The Brits, inevitably with at least one of the group sporting tweed socks, can wax poetically about the smooth, unflappable ride experienced in a Rolls Royce or the lightning-quick reflexes of a Lotus. Usually, a gentleman with extremely large mutton-chops will remind everyone that no one else in the world can combine these virtues like a Jag-u-ar, and that the E-type is simply the most beautiful car ever created. Tifosi di Italia form a theatrical circle so they can get up in arms about the fine wail that a flat-crank V8 produces. They sing the praises of the melodic nature of small V6 engine, while declaring that engines should be in the middle of the car and the driver must be inconvenienced as much as physically possible. The drive is about the feel, the sound, the interaction of car and driver (when the car is working, that is).
If you find yourself wearing a beard and hiking boots, then you can join fellow Volvo owners in comparing ridiculously-high cumulative mileage figures and plans for the car to be passed down to your grandchildren. You can also claim to admire the new generation of Volvos and how you could see yourself in the leather seat of a newer wagon within the next 6 months, knowing deep-down that this will simply never happen (owners of old Volvos would rather die than trade-in the beloved, boxy member of the family). Saab owners will attempt to join in the Swedish lovefest, adjusting their scarves so they can boast about the ridiculously-high cost-per-mile of their machines. Untrusting stares will be offered in return.
Francophiles appreciate Peugeot and Renault but cannot seem to give any reason for this loyalty. Nor can they seem to gain any followers. There is also usually one Citroen defendant, vehemently endorsing the ride quality that only a hydraulic-based suspension can provide. In the end, they are simply guilty by association (and also given asylum due to reason of insanity).
In the end, everyone in the greater group seems to agree on some basic fundamentals: ownership and operation of a car should be more of a relationship than a business agreement. There should be give & take from both parties. Driving should be a rewarding experience, whether it is the frantic shriek of a strung-out Wankel or the soothing ride of a Bentley, a car must respond and meet the needs of the owner. In return, the owner should reward the car’s performance with loving maintenance and gentle cleansing and protection from the elements. You want this relationship to last a long, long time–hopefully far longer than those boring baseboard heaters.