Endangered species: PH Blog


The other week I went directly from a weekend watching livestreamed Goodwood Revival racing with my four-year-old to attending the Frankfurt motor show. Two more contrasting visions of modern attitudes to motor cars you couldn't really imagine but I know which one says more about their future, at least for the likes of us. And it wasn't Frankfurt.


How can carefully-packaged nostalgia really be more relevant than an expo with all the latest cars and tech? Put simply I reckon it's because events like Goodwood represent how we will get to use and enjoy our cars in the future, given we're the last generation likely to have an appreciation of driving internal combustion powered vehicles. And the freedom to drive them when, where and how we want.

Sure, there were plenty of cars to get excited about at Frankfurt. A new Renaultsport Megane, Hyundai's entry to the hot hatch market, a wingless 911 GT3, a 600hp BMW M5 and rear-wheel drive Audi R8 all indicate a steady supply of exciting petrol-powered cars for the near future. And those of the last 20 years or so will doubtless keep the PH classifieds humming for a good time yet. Nor do I think we'll be stuck for conversation about them in the forums.


But I was at the show with Mercedes and throughout the various press conferences, interviews and other presentations it's clear we have officially entered the age of managed decline for the internal combustion engine. Nothing new here of course, it's tacitly been going on for a while. But the sense of massive brands like Mercedes-Benz finally acknowledging it was clear. Even the Project One hypercar - an F1 engined road car for crying out loud! - was on-message with the electrically powered future. The whoops and cheers when it arrived on stage were heartfelt but the real corporate fuss was directed at the Smart Vision EQ ForTwo concept, which was basically Tinder and Uber combined in one autonomously driven package. I think the musical theatre used to present it was inspired by La La Land's sense of joyous escapism but, for me, it looked more like something out of Black Mirror's terrifying near-future dystopia. I doubt Charlie Brooker is lacking inspiration for the next series. But he might want to check out the press presentation anyway.


Bringing me back to the Revival. My dad saw the steam engines he spotted as a kid steadily phased out and replaced by diesels and electrics. The love of steam has stayed with him and one of his retirement 'jobs' is volunteering on the North York Moors Railway. Like many of his generation he will of course have realised that steam trains were noisy, polluting, outdated and inefficient compared with the modern replacements. And even at the time their days were numbered. They've since disappeared from mainstream life but his passion for them remains as strong as it always was.

And I reckon we're there, or thereabouts, with cars. By the time my lad grows up the likes of us will appear like those oily, coal-dust stained chaps who drive old trains up and down branch lines, our only chance to really enjoy our cars likely to be Goodwood style events run like the air shows at which we now glimpse Spitfires, Hurricanes and the odd Cold War jet strutting their stuff.

Am I right though? Or do I just need to stop moping and go for a drive? Before it's too late and all that.

Dan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Goodwood Revival photos by Goodwood]

Comments (42) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Lowtimer 20 Sep 2017

    Yep, that's about where we are (and not just for cars, speaking as someone who mucks about in the air as well as on the roads). We're in the decline-and-fall phase of this being a large scale cultural obsession. 20 years from now an interest in cars as playthings, and in driving as an exercise of kinetic skill, will be in the same category as horse riding today.

  • MDMetal 20 Sep 2017

    Although it's worth remembering few people owned their own steam engine or prop plane! I think it'll be around a lot longer but it'll be phased out. The first big change will be when they decide non autonomous cars can't use motorways anymore. That will be truly the start of the end.

  • Turbobanana 20 Sep 2017

    Dan, I fear there is much truth in what you say.

    I am a petrolhead but work in the rail industry - so I can identify with a lot in your article.

    As you say, there's no rational explanation for a steam train (or "kettle", as we know them), but still they make people happy. They're difficult to drive, slow, noisy, smelly and usually leak various fluids. They require specialist planning to run on our network and cause traffic congestion wherever they go (on rail and road, usually). But they're great, aren't they?

    Modern cars have been engineered to remove as much of the driver input as possible: sat nav means we don't need to read maps; driver aids mean we don't have to think too much; auto / semi-auto gearboxes mean we don't have to be aware of engine or road speeds etc, etc... Don't get me wrong: technological development is essential, but we need to maintain a basic understanding of what cars are about.

    The other day I was travelling along a single carriageway A road of a decent width when an ambulance appeared in my rear view mirror. I moved into the kerbside slightly, as I was taught to do, in order to allow it to pass. I nearly rear-ended the car in front who immediately stopped when he saw the ambulance, as if in a trance. The car coming the other way did exactly the same thing - stopped on the spot. Trouble was, they were opposite each other so the ambulance was unable to pass even if it tried. Two drivers with very little road awareness - both isolated from their surroundings and in new cars stuffed full of driver aids to make driving "easier".

    I'm not suggesting we all go back to driving Morris Minors, but it's been 32 years since I passed my driving test and I'd be interested to do it again, to see what the current generation of drivers has to contend with.

  • ZOLLAR 20 Sep 2017

    Turbobanana said:
    The other day I was travelling along a single carriageway A road of a decent width when an ambulance appeared in my rear view mirror. I moved into the kerbside slightly, as I was taught to do, in order to allow it to pass. I nearly rear-ended the car in front who immediately stopped when he saw the ambulance, as if in a trance. The car coming the other way did exactly the same thing - stopped on the spot. Trouble was, they were opposite each other so the ambulance was unable to pass even if it tried. Two drivers with very little road awareness - both isolated from their surroundings and in new cars stuffed full of driver aids to make driving "easier".
    This exact thing happened to me this morning!
    Long straight carriage way and the driver in front stopped dead, the ambulance was a good 500 yards away!

    if they had pulled to the left slightly as did the oncoming car to the right then the ambulance would have breezed past whilst we continued on our journey.

  • yonex 20 Sep 2017

    Absolutely. Even on PH it seems some are obsessed with all the things that the marketing types dream up. The fancy cup holders, integration with various apps, all seem to be very appealing but talk about power to weight, performance and you may as well be chatting to your goldfish. What chance then do the manufacturers have with those that talk about cars as 'transport' as 'red or green things', I tell you, it's a dying trend. It all starts with the kids, I spent hours as a child reading Autocar and getting brochures from the local car and motorcycle dealers, the modern 8 year old is more likely playing Minecraft. The general lack of interest in how anything actually works and the disposable society we live in fuels this need for generic boxes. How many people even work on a car, you used to have to do it, and frequently as they were rubbish biggrin Over the weekend I was at a car show. Not knocking the modern cars but they all sounded so daft, the engineered parps and bangs, it's just leaving me cold. In and around this examples of innovation from every era. Steam, aero engined and everything in between. The age of the car enthusiast is in decline.

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