When I was a teenager I loved to drive. Sometimes, I would fill up my tank, and just drive around until I needed to fill up again. Maybe it was because driving seemed like freedom to a teenager. Maybe it was because gas was $0.87 a gallon. Whatever it was, it went away over the years.
Thinking back now, I think I know why my love of driving disappeared. I can remember all the car ads from the past decade now. Promoting features like dual climate control, heated seats, and sound dampening body panels. Suspension so smooth you will feel like you are in your own world… Well I have news for you buddy. You are not in your own world, you are on the road with the rest of us. And we really need you to pay attention to that road… and the rest of us. These advances have turned driving into a confortable ride plagued with the annoyance of driving. They have made the road a place where other drivers don’t exist… just other vehicles. Advances in system monitoring have made it so we no longer drive to the road conditions, but instead drive based on the readout on the dash. We no longer have any situational awareness on the road, and as a result we drive like morons. In the near future, we won’t even drive the cars that take us about on our daily errands. Instead, we will just sit and enjoy the ride. While our automated cars do everything… but what about the joy of driving? The feel of the road, the control? The freedom? Will “driving” become something only for the purists, and enthusiasts? A luxury hobby?
A few years back, I acquired a 1966 Morgan 4/4 with a Formula Atlantic racing engine in under the bonnet. It didn’t run when I got it, and it just sat in my garage for a few years. Recently, I had the funds available to get it fixed. My plan was to get it running and sell it. A little 2 seater convertible with no tech seemed … impractical. Derek Wilburn from Morgan of Santa Monica got the car in great shape for me, and when I picked it up from him, and drove it home, something unexpected happened. I fell in love with driving all over again.
Maybe it is because everything is mechanical in that car. Rack and pinion steering, carbureted fuel system, a clutch, and stick shift that you can feel… Maybe it is because it is so small that I feel infinitely closer to the road, and the world, around me. Whatever the case, driving that little roadster has brought back my love of driving, and reminded me of all the joys that technology had taken away.
The other night, I took my little convertible roadster on a long drive drown a desolate stretch of road along the coast. A true 2 lane blacktop with no street lights and very few other drivers. It was just me, the roadster, and the road. It was 40 degrees out that night, and I had on a coat, an overcoat, a beanie, a scarf, night driving goggles and gloves, and the cold was still biting through. That didn’t matter though. The thrill was unbelievable. I felt like Alex in “Clockwork Orange” tearing down the road in a stolen car without a care in the world. It was magic. You couldn’t wipe the grin of my face if you tried.
As I look forward to a future where the drive to work will be automated, and I can just sit back and get things done as my car takes me to my destination, I wonder if there will still be a place on the road for the driving enthusiast? Will there be special lanes for “human operated vehicles”? When technology makes the road safer for everyone, will insurance for cars without tech skyrocket? Will a fast little convertible with a full tank of gas, and an open road still lay in our future?