I love to know how stuff works. New stuff intrigues me. Change doesn’t bother me. Stuff not working does.
In the February 2011 issue of Top Gear magazine, Richard Hammond talks about how his love is greatest for those cars that cause him the most grief. It is an interesting article in which he is simply saying that, despite their clear drawbacks, he will purchase an electrically driven car the moment they create one that would get him to work without running out of juice.
I, too, am rather interested in the electric car. I am, admittedly, rather more interested in that Victorian lump that currently sits beneath the bonnet of most of today’s cars. However this is not the part of the article that really struck a cord with me. Through getting to know Hammond over the years as I’ve read his articles and watched him bumble about on television, he is clearly one of those people that likes to know how stuff works and likes to get his hands dirty. I am massively similar in the first part; massively different in the latter.
I love to know how stuff works. New stuff intrigues me. Change doesn’t bother me. Stuff not working does. I don’t care how you fix it, as long as I don’t have to. For this reason, I am similarly intrigued by the electric car. It is a completely different animal to the combustion engine as we know it, and instead of shaking our fists at its inadequacies we should instead marvel at its positives. For example, I would love to experience the acceleration in a Tesla Roadster as all that torque is available from a standstill. I’d revel in adapting my driving skills for a single geared car and then judge it on its own merits.
The point is, Hammond describes how, when his old classics go wrong, he simply grows fonder. When his new 911 would not start, he felt nothing. He believes that the reason behind this is that “its little frailties, vulnerabilities and quirks [render] it more alive, more human than machine.” Bollocks. Okay, so maybe the fact that his old cars are incredibly more desirable than any of the aging bangers I’ve driven may have something to do with it, but when my car goes wrong I just get angry. I’d take the new 911 any day, and if it didn’t work I’d still be annoyed, but at least I would be safe in the knowledge that this is probably a one off.
Mr Hammond would probably get on very well with my father. He actually loves when something goes wrong, because then he can fix it. And when he can’t fix it he’s even happier, as this means he gets to figure out why it isn’t working. And then he gets to fix it. I literally could not be more different to him if I walked in the garage wearing a tutu and a tiara and claimed a new found love of ballet. My old Ford Probe, as much as I loved it, went wrong all the time. But Darren! I hear you cry, are you not backing up Richard’s point? No. No I’m not. Because I only loved it when it worked. Whenever something went wrong I hated it. I hated it with a passion because I knew that I would probably have to sit and watch my Dad out in the cold, scratching his chin and getting greasy under the bonnet. I knew I’d probably have to walk to the train station and wait for the inevitably delayed service to work the next day. And I knew that it would probably cost a fortune to fix it. For this reason, I cannot wait for the day when I can finally afford a new car. In fact, I’d kill for something on a new style plate!
I don’t want to figure out why it went wrong, I just want it fixed again. And, due to my inability to concentrate on the rare occasions I do try to learn something, I know that when it does go wrong I won’t be able to do anything about it. Unless I get a puncture. I know how to change a tyre. And I hate doing it. The beauty of an electric car is the fact that it only has one moving part. Apparently. Whatever that means…
For me, a car is an object to be loved. A car is a big investment, and therefore it should bring nothing but joy to your life. It should be aesthetically pleasing so that you can take pictures and show your friends and just be proud to be seen in it. It should be a nice to place to sit, as you will spend the majority of your time inside it, one would hope. And finally it should be fun to drive so that whenever you see it parked on your drive you smile, knowing the next time you get to park your cheeks behind the wheel it will be a pleasurable experience, and that all the money you’ve thrown at it – fuel, insurance, depreciation and a myriad of other things – was worth it.
This is why, like Hammond, I’m biding my time before embracing electric power. For him, it is purely range. I, on the other hand, will not purchase an electric car until we have the infrastructure. Until we have the proof that the cars are reliable. Unlike him, I think the fact that being an early adopter means you get “an engagingly shite, flawed and silly car into which to pour [your] love” is about as appealing as Katie Price spread eagle on the bonnet of a Nissan Micra.
Getting stuck down a remote countryside lane waiting for the AA to bring a generator to spark me back into life will not endear me to my car. It will, in fact, make me hanker for old gas guzzlers to return to me. Fuck the melting polar ice caps, I quite like driving. And I actually quite like the reassuring knowledge that my car will get me to my destination…