“It runs like a dream”, “It’s like a brand new car”, “It handles worse than a wheelbarrow”, “It should be driven on to a field and shot” and many other more or less picturesque descriptions are all comments which I’ve witnessed as enthusiasts attempt to best explain the driving experience – amusingly, of the one and same car. So everything indicates that the experience is about which glasses you see through.
I have been reflecting a little about which parameters determine the final experience of a given car’s driving characteristics. In addition to those often discussed features which make a car suitable for trackdays, such as rapid acceleration, effective brakes and not least precise and communicative steering capabilities, there are of course other qualities which can positively compliment the overall experience. There are after all a plethora of cars which are NOT suitable for trackdays or other performance orientated driving, yet have entirely happy and satisfied owners.
Within my own little circle of car enthusiastic friends, I have experienced quite a few different interpretations and surprising statements when it comes to old cars. One recently arrived in a MG TF with ultra-narrow wheels, pre-war brake drums and a very old fashioned steering system. Even so, he stated that the old Brit was running really well, and the enthusiasm had caused him to wear tweed headgear whenever he was behind the wheel of the classic MG. Yet last year, the same person expressed himself in not very positive terms about an Aston Martin V8, which he compared to a wheelbarrow. For the sake of good order, I must emphasise that the above person is certainly at his full senses and is always both sober and nuanced in his statements.
Another friend had finally purchased his dream car: A Ferrari Dino in superb condition and properly set up. Still, the iconic carriage was sold shortly afterwards for the benefit of the owner’s replacement of his former Porsche 911 from 1969. The Dino is NOT missed by my friend while the Porsche still excites. A third friend, who has always rather enjoyed explaining about his latest achievements in upgrading to more powerful torsion springs on his 911 from 1974 and meticulously tuning and enhancing the engine and brakes, has now lost his heart to an original Jaguar E-type 3.8 coupé. On the face of it, the E-type is no adversary to his powerful German, yet he seems to extract more pleasure from his Brit dispite the inept brakes, thin wooden steering wheel and lack of seatbelts.
The above stories are not an extradition of my friends, but rather to outline just HOW differently we view the good driving experience. My father once told me that I should only ever answer “good” or “fine” to the question: “How is it?”, even if the subject was better than expected. Something similar could apply to the question: How does a car drive?
Perhaps we could all learn a little from Einstein who had to use the universal constant to get his equations and theories to add up. He knew that the world space was expanding, but not how much, and he found a number that could illustrate this and put it into his equations and suddenly it all made sense. As a classic owner, we might invent the C-factor – C for culture – and through clever use of this somehow be able to eliminate the disappointing braking distances, the amount of steering wheel slop or the limited acceleration capabilities.
In any case, there is no single key which allows anyone to file a patent on the absolute driving characteristics. If there were, we would all be driving an Alfa Romeo Bertone (see what I did there…?). Yet, I have now also been driving a Citroën DS20 for a couple of years. As we all know, this is a car with sparse engine power and a suspension which focuses on anything but the sporty. But I still extract great pleasure from getting the semiautomatic gearshift to change smoothly and unnoticed, while pondering over the joys of a car which sounds much like a Tati movie with all its pfffffffffff, drrrrrrrr and svuuuuuup sounds. It’s thoroughly wonderful and I can’t say that I miss anything else when I’m navigating my DS.
But what is your opinion of what makes driving a classic car just right? Do you recognize the C-factor? And what about the statement “it’s like a brand new car”? Do we mean it drives like when the car was new? For surely the higher powers above must forbid that it means like a modern car…