To many of us, a car is more than just a “thing”. Yes, it’s a machine, a mass of metal, plastic and glass. There is no rational reason to build an attachment. You wouldn’t get attached to your washing machine, or your lawnmower, would you? Yet with cars, we do.
This, I feel, is partly down to how much faith we put in them. If your washing machine or lawnmower gives up, it’s annoying but you can deal with it. If the car fails, it can knock so very much into a cocked hat.
But that’s only part of it. The other machines in our lives are there to be called on as and when, but cars exist on a higher plain. Cars become our companions, they become a trusty slice of familiarity no matter where we go.
And you need not be a Top Gear presenter to develop that. I know people who know nothing about cars, but they’ll tell you what car they passed their test in, what their first car was, what their wedding car was. This is because, unlike the other machines we need, cars weave themselves into our story. They become integral to it. They become a part of us.
Looking to see if this rang true, I spoke to Adam Prosser, a friend who is by his own admission no kind of petrolhead. He likes cars, but only from an aesthetic standpoint. He drives a new BMW 1-Series, a company car for his job as a quantity surveyor. By his own admission, he doesn’t really like the car and he’s confused by people who do. “I’ve had people comment on how nice this car is, but I don’t see it. I think people are blinded by branding.” He explains.
Despite having little interest in cars, what I learned was that Adam has indeed built relationships with cars. “My first car,” explains Adam, “was a red Suzuki Alto. Ugly, small, not very powerful. But because it’s not super common, and because it’s not what most people would want and because I eventually named him ‘Alby’, not only did I get attached to it, but so did my housemates at the time. I even have a framed photo of it!”
He went on to give me more proof of the way cars can get under our skin and become part of our story. “We spent two weeks driving an auto-rickshaw from the north to the south of India, about 3,000km. Rickshaws have seven horsepower and break down, a lot! Ours was called ‘Tiny Rick’ and I think the reason we bonded with it was because of the character, because when it wasn’t broken down, we appreciated it so much more. It also made us rock stars with the locals!”
Again, the car, if you can call ‘Tiny Rick’ a car, weaves its way into the affections of someone with little interest in cars as a whole. And it’s interesting to me to hear Adam use a word like ‘character’. A word I can’t ever imagine him uttering in relation to his BMW.
I also wanted to explore the other side of the argument. That of the devout petrolhead. As one myself, I know I love my current Rover because it’s the car I have put the most work into and it is also a car that marked a crucial personal point of my life. Again, it has weaved itself into my story without being an even remotely remarkable as a car. Instead, it’s a friend.
And when I think about it, of the hundred or so cars I have had, the ones I remember fondest are not dynamic, exciting machines. They’re the cars that were there for me at crucial times. Cars that, without them, I wouldn’t have all I needed to tell my story. They’re the supporting cast, not background extras.
I don’t want to rely on my own cars though. As such, I asked another friend, Rich Scott, why he bonds with cars. He, like many of us, is dyed in the wool petrolhead. A passion inherited from his father at an early age. But why do cars get under his skin? Specifically, his most treasured car – an unassuming Volvo 240.
“I went through a major life change a couple of years ago and decided that I was going to buy and experience classic iconic cars for myself. So, on one hand it represents a new chapter in my life,” explains Rich. “I knew exactly what I wanted. A 240 GLT 2.3L manual estate.
“What did I get? A 240 GL 2.0L auto saloon! A friend had it for sale, and even though it wasn’t what I was looking for, it just felt ‘right’.”
And then Scott dropped something really interesting. “I think some cars have a ‘soul’ and others don’t. It’s a bizarre concept for people who don’t care about cars and just see them as a machine. Some cars come with a soul already installed and others acquire parts of their owner’s souls as they spend more time together over long periods of time.”
Once again, the machine becomes part of a flesh and blood story. The lawnmower looks on with jealous eyes. “Cars reflect our individual personalities. They are an extension of who we are,” adds Scott. “I have met people at car shows and on Twitter that I now consider some of my closest friends. We gravitate to those that share our passions.” And that is a wonderful way of looking at it.
As well as being machines of necessity for many, their unique position despite being ‘just’ machines means they are elevated in how we see them, how we interact with them. They become a part of our story, a part of our family. There is, of course, the argument of charm, and classic cars and so on.
But as we’ve seen here, a car doesn’t need to be a classic to embed itself in our memories. It just needs to be there, present and ready. And that’s not something the washing machine can claim.