New or modern cars (and we’ve covered a lot them) are great. They’re quiet, they’re comfortable and for the best part, they’re reliable. Perfect, then, for undertaking the task of getting us from our point As to our point Bs.
However, there is one shortfall that these cars have. As technology and consequently, the use of electronics become more commonplace in our cars, the chasm between us and our machines increases. And why? Because we’re not as connected to them. The technology that has, outside of the world of cars, improved our ability to communicate and connect has also, somewhat ironically, disconnected us from our cars.
Fly-by-wire is the culprit here. We have fly-by-wire throttle pedals, fly-by-wire brakes and even in some cases a fly-by-wire clutch. Electronics are not replacing the mechanical happenings of our cars, but they are building a wall between us and the moving parts. And that’s a bit sad.
When we started driving, we did so in a Triumph Dolomite. When we depressed the heavy clutch, that was because the system was hard and mechanical. The very operation of it depended on our ability to sink our fourteen-year-old foot to the floor.
When we pressed the brakes, the car’s willingness to stop was a direct result of our leg pushing on a pedal, which then acted on a servo, which then pushed fluid around the brake system which then activated the calipers. The fact we still managed to crash into a wall is beside the point.
When we wanted to advance, the throttle pedal was directly connected to a wire, which went through the bulkhead and then directly to the carb. We were, in all three instances, a part of the car. We were connected to it.
Modern stuff doesn’t have that. All it has is myriad wires and sensors buffering us from the mechanical goings on. On an older car, you can tell when something isn’t right, when something mechanical has gone awry. In a new car, unless it’s a truly catastrophic failing, you’d have no idea. Well, you would, but only because the computer or a light on the dash has told you so. Not because you sensed it. Not because you were at one with your machine.
The mechanical operation of a car is something to celebrate and something to cherish, too. Cars are seen by many as a right, but that’s not true. Cars are a privilege. And you earn that privilege by understand your car, by being aware of what makes it work. A concept that is lost on many.
Then, of course, there is the satisfaction. Drive a modern car down a twisty B road with some pace and you’ll feel good. But what have you achieved? Was it you, or was it the car? Hammer an old Mini or even an old Mondeo down the same bit of road, come out unscathed, and you’re be rewarded with a true sense of achievement. Computers and electronics didn’t get you there. You did.
We like modern cars, we truly do. But we love the older ones for their soul, for their personality. And we’re not talking about out and out classics here. Even our Proton has oodles of charm, simply by being mechanical. The same can be said for our Rover 800, though arguable being a 1999 car, it’s right on the cusp of when things got really electrical. But still.
A car that puts no wall between its driver and its mechanical function is car you can bond with. Without that buffer of beeps and bongs, you can learn its every squeak, you can differentiate between charming idiosyncrasies and outright failings. And that’s special. To feel that, and to appreciate that, it’s important. Cars have a soul, as far as we’re concerned, but that soul gets muted when there’s a wall of computers in the way.