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Thoughts On Cars Without Research
I am not a car guy, that should be stated up front.
Whatever you want to call it, I am not that: I enjoy cars for their aesthetics and history and interaction with society, but if you ask me to explain how the things work, I will invoke magic.
I know how internal combustion works, kinda, but “headers” or “overhead cams” sound like magic spells and I will treat them thusly.
The fuel and the air mix in the pressurized cylinders, causing an explosion which powers a piston; piston is connected to a shaft that spins, which is connected to the tires.
You aim with the steering wheel.
Go pedal on the right, stop pedal on the left.
Some people choose to involve a third pedal, and I do not understand these people.
Life isn’t difficult enough?
Why shift your own gears?
Let the car do everything: the dawn of the fully-autonomous car cannot come quickly enough.
I have made my decision, and now reality needs to catch up with me: I choose fucking around on my phone over driving.
When I’m at red lights, I fuck around on my phone; there’s nothing new there since the last red light, but I don’t care.
Please, science, give me a robot car so I can lounge in the back like a Roman Senator looking at fitness models on Instagram as I travel.
That’s the American dream.
The robot cars will be here, and maybe sooner than you think: it will take a brave or publicity-hungry insurance company to cover the first car, and then the flood gates will open.
The automobile might be reduced to a hobbyist’s diversion, and a cast-off tool for the global poor, much like the horse.
People rode horses forever, and still do for some reason, but they had inherent problems: for example, a horse has one horsepower.
Even a small car has more than that.
If a car gets a flat, you change the tire; if a horse breaks a leg, you shoot it.
Car is better.
And though people rode horses for millennia, the horse never reshaped its environment the way the car has in around a century: horses and people walked on the same paths, and they lived more or less peacefully among us.
Not the car: it demands a road.
The car helped create the modern world, but it was not altruistic; this world is built expressly for its use.
Other inventions are arguably more important–the gun, the Sham-Wow, even agriculture itself–but none changed the world both so thoroughly and so quickly.
There are still human beings on this planet who have not adopted agriculture, and we know that because an anthropologist drove a car out to where they lived and bothered them about it.
The gun is also very important, but most gun stores are in places you need to drive to, so again I am right.
Car is king.
Anyway, the first “car” was built in Germany by Karl Benz late in the 19th century.
Before that, others had cobbled together self-propelling carriages before that ran on steam or electricity or patent medicine, but Benz’ was the first recognizable car with an internal combustion engine and gearbox and all.
(There were actually a bunch of early electric cars, going back to the mid-1800’s, and I cannot imagine how dangerous is was to plug those things in. What kind of sockets did they have back then? I would assume it would be just be bare wires.)
At first, cars were toys for rich folks: there was no road system, and refueling was something you had to plan, and the vehicles were unreliable, hand-built death traps.
Most folks still walked, or took the trolley, or the subway.
You will not be startled to hear of my distaste for the Great Man theory, but that Nazi fuck Henry Ford altered the face of the planet.
He introduced the assembly line to car production (it had been in use in other industries) and slashed both his costs and the consumer’s: unlike the coach-built cars rich people ordered, the Model T came in one version and it came in black.
The more widgets you build, the cheaper you can build widgets; the T began life at $850 and that price fell: in 1925, it bottomed out at $300.
In today’s dollars, that’s $22,000 to $4,000.
(I may have done the tiniest bit of research, but I did it for you.)
And while the Model T had no production variants, it was endlessly modifiable and could be turned into a truck or an ambulance or hauler.
Cars were not only now affordable, but they were useful.
They also did not leave giant steaming piles in the street constantly.
Do not underestimate the influence that horse shit had in the horse/car changeover; I can imagine people were awfully tired of it.
“Street was well and truly full of it this morning, sir.”
“Horse shit, Jenkins?”
“Well and truly, sir.”
“Yes. That’s what horses do. Also, race.”
“Sir, can’t they be taught where to go. A dog can learn that.”
“Horse is dumber than a dog, Jenkins.”
“Far dumber. Horses are grazers. Don’t have to hunt grass. No need for brains. Just like your mother, Jenkins.”
“That’s terrible, sir.”
And so on.
The idea of personal, affordable, reliable transportation spread the world quickly and soon many countries had adopted and adapted Ford’s methods.
The reliable part would have to wait a good, long time: until around 1983, every car was terrible.
Everything else was terrible, but cars, too.
The Second World War Two interrupted both the nascent and burgeoning car industries of Europe, but America did fine, mostly due to our decision to not have the war at our place.
Wars are like parties: they’re much more fun at someone else’s house.
Because of this, among other reasons, the US built the world’s cars for a little while, and scoffed at the Japanese and German imports that began arriving in the 1970’s.
There was also scoffing at the Korean entry into the American market in the 80’s.
These were silly scoffs.
The Yugo was a good scoff: car from Yugoslavia is scoff-worthy.
I’m ahead of myself: cars used to work less than they do now, and require more fixing.
There was oil pressure to worry about, and they would overheat, or the spark plugs would go; vapor lock was a worry of all; tune-ups were involved.
And they were dangerous as shit: no crumple zones, or roll cages; hell, the three-point seatbelt was only invented in the sixties(?), but that didn’t matter because no one wore their seatbelts back then, anyway.
My father once owned a Nash Rambler that tried to stab him.
As beautiful as the cars of yesterday were, they were lethal pains-in-the-ass.
Blood ran red on the highway.
The first company to use safety as both a selling point and a focal point was Volvo from Sweden.
Scandinavians are pragmatic people, and I think they started with the assumption that people were going to slide off the snowy roads and worked from there.
Until they were forced to by the government, American carmakers treated accidents as things that happened to people who drove their rival’s cars.
In the past, you could die in a car that wasn’t moving.
Fuckers would just blow up.
Today’s automobiles are drab trudgewagons, but they start and stop at your command and might keep your own stupidity from killing you one day.
I still don’t know if that’s a fair exchange.
Anyway, after the world war that I mentioned (the good one, not the prequel) a whole bunch of countries got into the car industry. (Or, back into it: no one was making new hot rods during the war.)
When the Germans took France, Renault hid the plans and prototypes for the 2CV in different farms around the country; after the war, he started production on his people’s car and began a long tradition of French cars that Americans will not buy.
Italy’s automobile industry also boomed, despite their cars not working.
The Germans were given back the car plants and, crucially, ownership of the Beetle; they quickly began to make cars that were expensive to buy and far, far more expensive to fix.
Spain makes cars, and isn’t that adorable?
Japan, and lately Korea, seems to have hit on the best strategy.
“Jenkins-san, I’m the head of a car company: would I be a ‘sensei?'”
“Just trying to keep to the theme, sir.”
“Stop trying so much.”
“I figured out how we’re going to build cars.”
“Oh, so we’re going to make our cars pricey like the Germans.”
“No. Affordable and reliable, just boring as shit.”
“Who will buy that?”
“People who have to get to work.”
Communists tried to build cars, but Communists tried to build a lot of things; it went as well as expected.
No Commie ever managed the 1970 Plymouth Superbird, and that is why they lost.