What kind of driver comes to mind when someone mentions a car by name?
Say, a little sporty run about, a 4WD monster truck, or maybe a fuel saving
hybrid? Most people will have their own subconscious picture of what the
driver may look or act like. Of course, the mechanics who service these
fuel sucking pavement pounders have their own opinions of the various
styles and configurations of cars, as well as their drivers. In some cases,
a completely different view than the average guy on the street, and not
necessarily for styling or mechanical reasons, either.
Ask an owner of a Jaguar what they think of their car, and they’ll likely tell you how smooth it handles, or how it rides down the road, or the purr of the motor. One customer told me what he loved the most about his XJ6 was the sound the door latch made. But, ask any mechanic with an RO handed to him that says, “Replace both rear in-board rotors”, and I’m pretty sure you’ll see an Elvis lip snarl start to curl, and probably a few indignant words for the engineers who designed it. Whether or not the impressions of the styling or the mechanicals is your bag, somebody else may have a different opinion than you.
Of course, there are the ever present egotistical impressions the mechanic and the consumer will have for certain breeds of cars and their owners. For example, “What is your first impression of the vehicle and its driver when someone mentions an air cooled VW bus from the 60’s or 70’s?” Did you think bank president or perhaps a police officer? Probably not. More than likely you had visions of tie dyed t-shirts, Woodstock, and some odd smelling smoke billowing out of the driver’s window. Now, ask the same question to a mechanic. Most mechanics will probably think of all the typical types of repairs needed. Some may think of how the engine comes out, others may recall how ridiculously underpowered these rolling billboards were, and how most of them needed a good downhill run (without any cross winds) to get up to speed. (Disclaimer: I used to own a ’74 VW camper van, affectionately named “Pumpkin”. Yeah, it was orange).
No doubt there are a lot of cars out there that have their own quirks and guffaws, but have truly become a part of our cultural history. The Yugo for one (and a few others) has such a line of baggage associated with it that it’s hard for anyone to think there might still be something good to say about them. Of course opinions vary, but the Yugo jokes seem to last longer than the car did. One of my favorites: A Yugo owner walks up to the parts counter and asked, “I’d like to get a new starter for my Yugo.” The parts guy says, “Sounds like a fair trade to me.”
Sometimes that extra baggage or quirky impression associated with a certain model or car can have a lasting effect on your childhood as well. The old “punch bug” game for example, made a lot of our family trips rather entertaining. Well, maybe not so much for my little brother. Ah yes, out on the open highway in the family car bashing your little brother in the arm. I’m sure that left an impression.
Advertising and public opinion have just as much to do with all of this, as well as the actual manufacturing and longevity of some of these cars. If you drive a hybrid or electric car you’re more than likely labeled as a “tree hugger” or, if you drive an SUV you must be one of those “soccer moms”. It’s all a matter of how or what is associated with the various models. However, some of these associated baggage guffaws started before the first car ever rolled off the assembly line. You have to wonder sometimes what those executives were thinking to even consider putting some of these cars together. And, for some cars, it earmarked them for eternity. Think “Edsel”, and what comes to mind?
Several years ago I had a regular customer who dreamed of someday owning a new Cadillac. Well, he did it. He bought a brand new… Cimarron. From a mechanic’s stand point they were about the worst excuse for a luxury car ever made. Talk about a car that carried baggage! This was one car that reeked of bad manufacturing decisions. His dream car had so many problems it wasn’t long before he traded it in on a “real” Cadillac.
The impressions and baggage some of these models carry is well deserved, while others just got a bad reputation from bad publicity or rumor control central. The Corvair had its issues, but was it all that bad for the technology of the day? It’s surprising to think a car that was supposed to be so bad and so poorly designed, was still on the assembly line for over 10 years of production. Some people hated them, some scorn their very existence, while others collected them, drove them everywhere, and still do. In fact one aircraft engineer took the concept to the extreme. He designed a full size motor home with a Corvair powerplant. Not my idea of camping. Who would want to sleep on top of the gas and oil fumes coming from an overworked 6 cyl. air cooled engine. Baggage? I’m sure there are more than a few stories to tell about family vacations in that all aluminum house on wheels. Google it, you’ll be surprised.
For some people their car is an extension of their personality. Porsche and Corvette owners are typically associated with some sort of egotistical baggage when they get behind the wheel. I find that not always true, but at times even the most prudent owner of any car can show up at the repair shop with a chip on their shoulder. But, let’s turn this around a bit. Let’s say you drive a Rolls Royce and you pull alongside a rat rod lowered to the pavement with an overly aggressive exhaust blaring out the “pop-it-a-pop” cadence of a finely tuned small block. Would you roll down the window when the driver of the rat rod asks if you’ve got any Grey Poupon? The driver of the rat rod might be your new next door neighbor…ya just never know.
We all have some sort of baggage we carry around, and it seems some of the cars we drive have their own fair share of baggage, too. Right or wrong, everybody will have their opinion, and as we head deeper into the electronically controlled vehicle age, I’m sure they’ll be even more associated baggage attached to a car, or two. Good or bad, somebody will always have an opinion.