For anyone who has been driving a number of years, the act of getting in a vehicle and transporting yourself to a new destination is probably taken for granted. For those who have no real interest in cars, the journey can only really be endured until the target is reached. For those who are fascinated by cars, the journey can only add to enjoyment of the day and, in some cases, the travelling can lift the drudgery of the task to be carried out at the other end.
I suppose I have, in a rather cavalier fashion, separated the driving public into two camps: the Lovers and the Haters, the Montagues and the Capulets, the North and the South. Call them what you will, there must surely be two factions in the motoring world. Since we’re considering two sides of the motoring coin, I’ll call the car fans “Heads” and the car agnostics “Tails”.
Since I’m not a trained psychologist, there is a grave danger of me dropping myself in a large beaker of hot water but, when considering what makes a car nut or “Head”, I wonder whether nature takes a hand in this. Since my father is an engineer and seems to have passed on his enquiring technical mind to me, I’m considering that it would be a forgone conclusion that I would be drawn to playing with toy cars on the floor for hours through my childhood. The fact that we had an array of the rather more interesting Citroen cars parked on our drive during my formative years can only serve to explain my curiosity and fascination for anything with wheels attached.
Whilst our neighbours had Ford Fiesta and Escorts, Morris 1300s and Marinas, Vauxhall Vivas and Cavaliers, we had a Citroën GS and a Fiat 500 Giardiniera called Buttercup (because she was yellow). Subsequently, we had an ‘78 Citroën CX Estate called a Safari (in the UK and Break in France) which had a dashboard and cockpit that Captain James T Kirk would have felt entirely at home in. From the comfort of the enormous vinyl-covered rear bench, I could watch Dad (and sometimes Mum) command the passage of the vast vehicle that was probably the same size as one of the nacelles on the USS Enterprise. Where the driver of most cars would reach for a Bakelite wand to indicate the direction of travel, the Captain of the USS Safari would deftly reach out the fingers of the left hand to the rocker switch mounted on the binnacle. The speed of the liner was read out on a revolving drum and all other lights and switches were clearly visible past the single spoke of the steering wheel. All fascinating stuff for a child who loved cars. I, however, digress.
The point of all this reminiscing is that I am wondering “out loud” what on earth did anyone else do during long journeys – if they weren’t interested in the conveyance? I suppose, when young, time would be spent arguing with any nearby siblings on the rear seat or calling out that they needed to stop as they felt sick, again. This was in the days before the advent of the electronic nanny that is the Apple iPad or Samsung tablet.
Nowadays, as I drive to the next client site, I find myself considering all aspects of the motoring experience: I unlock and climb aboard the vehicle. Seat belt engaged. iPhone placed in holder and connected to dangling lightning cable. Car started, start/stop button depressed (controversial), gear engaged and we have forward motion. As I roll down the suburban street, I consider the conditions of the road surface, the lightness of the steering and whether there is any pull to either side.
Once out onto the main roads, I am always considering the positioning of the next 20 cars ahead and judging the relative speeds of the lanes of traffic. In times of sparser traffic, I am considering the “racing line” within my lane, not because it’s quicker (which it is) but because it gives a smoother flow through the corners. The challenge of making “good progress” through London traffic without overly speeding is always there.
Since I have firmly placed myself in the “Heads” camp, I have to pose the question: What the hell do “Tails” do whilst driving?
I fully expect that some “Tails” will retort that they are making the same continuous judgements as me, but unless you are a “Head” that must be questionned. Most drivers have the basic mechanics of controlling a vehicle but unless you are truly interested in cars, or worse you are obsessed by them, I don’t see how that can be the case. The bored driver won’t be listening to the tune of the engine, the differing thumps of the suspension and wheels over the road surfaces or considering the best line through the approaching corner.
At this point, it should be stressed that being a “Tail” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but given I am firmly and worryingly entrenched as a car fan, I wonder how others maintain their sanity doing something they have no interest in. Will it be the case that the advent of driverless cars will see a seismic shift in the “Tails” marching towards conveyances that have no steering wheel and leaving the “Heads” with something circular to play with during the journey? Will this lead to some treating cars as no different to any other domestic white good? I suspect Tesla and others will allow this perception. However, from an entirely selfish standpoint, as long as there are vehicles to keep the “Heads” entertained, all will be well.