Last week, on our commute to her school, my daughter made a rather dismissive comment about cars. She said "Ian, cars aren't cool anymore". I've heard quite a few kids say that recently, and studies show that more and more kids are opting out of learning to drive, partially due to the financial climate, but also out of dissatisfaction.

And I think it's true that cars aren't cool anymore. There was a time when cars were cool - back in the 1920s, when most of them had an open cockpit, when you started them with a crank and when you needed to wear goggles and a heavy driving coat. But now? She's right - they aren't cool, and I think they're not very 'manly'.

My daughter made me realize that, as far as 'manly' commuting goes, driving a car leaves something to be desired: it's air conditioned, you sit in a comfy chair, you can drive in your shirt even in a blizzard, there's a radio, cupholders, GPS, etc. It's hardly 'Scott of the Antarctic'. The motorist's motto is something akin to "Hope the seat warmer is working" or "Glad I've got my coffee".

Meanwhile, those on bicycles and motorbikes have a different and much more rugged experience: you're out in the elements, you're on a saddle (how manly is that!), no radio, no cupholder (other than a cage with a bottle of near freezing water), no GPS, you must balance and wrestle the bike through rain, wind, snow. Your motto, like that of the Post Office is "Victory or Death". If you cycle more than half a mile you get more excitement than a motorist gets in a week.

Even car ads have a sort of desperation about them - they're all about danger, thrills and driving fast somewhere exotic, but when the ad gets to the interior, it always just looks kinda weak. And the outside... well, they all look the same - and they're almost always offered in shades of grey. And you know that when you actually drive it, it's not going to be an experience of driving like a bat out of hell on the Nurburgring - it's going to be pottering along at 5mph in bumper-to-bumper traffic while cyclists and bikers pass you by. The fact is, the modern car experience is slow, frustrating and BORING!

So, assuming other members buy the premise, what happened to make cars go all wimpy and boring? And when did it happen? Was there some key moment when the car lost its manliness? Why is it that modern cars just don't have that 'manliness quotient' anymore?

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ppssssssttttttt I think he drives a prius... 

I don't know about the "manly" part, I just know car design has taken a nose dive in the last ten or so years.

I believe there is so much competition car companies are terrified of taking risks, so they all come out focus-grouped to death and looking boringly similar similar.

They are all more or less more dependable than before; maybe that's the feedback they are getting: get me there I don't care how it looks.

I have a theory about how the first "box on wheels" came to be. I don't know which was the first but I'm talking about the Scion XB, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube and others like them.

I envision a car designer who loves his job more than just about anyone else but over time gets less and less enthusiastic. He takes great care to design the most incredible cars but his boss doesn't like them and says nobody would buy such a car. This goes on for many many years and this designer has hundreds of awesome car designs dismissed and they never see the light of day. One day he has had it and says to himself "F it, I'm going to draw a got dam box on some got dam wheels." He then draws basically a square box on a pair of wheels much like the car any three year old boy would draw. He sends this to his boss fully expecting to be yelled at or if he is lucky fired because he just can't take it any longer. As it turns out his no talent @ss clown of a boss thinks it is the absolute greatest design anyone has ever seen and the company moves forward in producing that box on wheels. Other manufactures see this design and since they have an endless number of no talent @ss clown management running things, think they too need a box on wheels. Now this incredible designer has new found fame and fortune (it's kind of a fairy tale so just bare with me) but hates it all because now this abomination of a vehicle is on the road and he is the one that cursed the streets with it's design.

The irony is with all  the CAD and three-D design to construction they can do some really wicked stuff now...back in the day they just had draftsmen and clay models.

I totally do.

Beauty (and there are many forms of it) has been relegated to committee; a focus group, and has been democratized to death. To relegate a mediocre "just get me there" mentality to something that is such an important part of our lives, culture is a shame.

To produce beauty takes courage, and no car maker seems to be willing to do that except in the very high-end.

and they were designed and made here.

Today there is no "here".

I don't know about the design getting worse in the last ten years. In fact, I think the opposite has occurred. Just look at the return of the muscle car. The Mustang no longer has the feminine look they gave it in the 90s, the Charger and the Challenger are both beastly machines, the new Camaro is sex on wheels. Trucks have also gotten much better and there are many more choices than there were 10 years ago. 

The new Challenger and Camaro look almost identical.
And all these designs do is ape the past. Car design in its prime looked forward, not backward.

Your daughter calls you "Ian"?  Bicycles strike you as "more rugged"?  I've met very few bike commuters I'd describe as "rugged".

 

I don't buy that amenities in vehicles makes them worse.  Manly or not, I am not buying a car without an air conditioner.  Its hot ... and I'd rather not get to work looking and smelling like I commuted by horse.  Some cars are manlier than others -- minivans just can't hold a candle to a big pickup or muscle car -- but it mostly in how you use it.  A car is a means to an end.

 

Switching car engines from cubic inches to liters didn't help, though.  A "302" just sounds better than a "5.0".  It also doesn't help that most cars look exactly the same, so differentiation between cars is almost nonexistent.

 

JB

"Your daughter calls you "Ian"?"


Yes. It is my name, after all. Would you prefer she called me Clarence, or Tony? :)

"Bicycles strike you as "more rugged"?  I've met very few bike commuters I'd describe as "rugged"."


Yeah, well, most people who use bikes aren't really 'cyclists' any more than folks who spend one day a year collecting litter in the park are 'environmentalists'. I'm not talking about the folks who only take a bike out on 'Bike to Work Day' or on a weekend ride, and who put the bike in the garage when the weather turns damp and the temperature goes under 70 degrees. I mean the ones we see out there commuting year-round. If you see a cyclist out in the winter, I'm guessing he's a bit more rugged than the average motorist.

I can think of three people off the top of my head who commute by bike, and not because of finances. They all live in Philly and commute to work.

They do race as well.

One acquaintance I knew many years ago was killed by a drunk driver while bike commuting;  it is hazardous in the city.

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