Tuesday, December 17, 2013

History

I know it's been a long time since I have posted here but whatever.

I've been thinking a lot about something that I write from time to time saying that classic cars are inferior to today's vehicles and the vehicles from recent history.  From a performance standpoint, that's completely true.  Today's cars have the power, they have handling, they even have efficiency.  So, they're better.  However, then I encountered something that changed my mind, somewhat.
I've been playing a game called War Thunder.  Essentially, it's a game where you fly around in pre-WWII, WWII and post WWII airplanes.  It's fun, dogfighting with people even if it isn't real.  It's the first plane game in a long time that I've enjoyed.  The weird thing is that if the game was with modern jets instead of propeller fighters it would be boring.  Despite what the movie Top Gun would want you to believe, modern fighter jets are quite boring.  It's tech versus tech, not person vs person.  Thus I've never enjoyed any fighter jet game.  But, the fighter jets are infinitely better.  They're faster, more manuverable, can take more punishment...  So why in this case is the better performing vehicle less interesting?
My passion for avionics is just about as great as my passion for automobiles.  Perhaps it's my father's fault, he watched a lot of specials about American fighter planes of World War 2 and so I got to know the Mustang, Lightning and Corsair like they were my family.  Of course, one cannot simply look at just one side.  So I got to know the British planes, the Japanese planes, even the German planes.  They were beautiful, designed for their own purposes and in different ways.  There wasn't just one way to do things, so each plane was a bit different.  You could instantly tell what type of plane one was simply by looking at it.  Well, except for the Soviets.  Those communists, they build everything to look the same.  Which brings me to the planes of the Korean war.  At this point in history, designers started to figure out what worked and what didn't.  In fact, only those that knew what they were looking at could tell a MiG-15 and a F-86 Sabre apart if both vehicles were unmarked.  In fact, those that did know what they were looking at would likely only tell because of the armament.
You may understand where I am going with this already, but hear me out.  In the 50s and 60s, there wasn't just one way to do things, nobody knew the 'best' way to make an automobile so designers were willing to try all sorts of different things.  Heck, they even tried to put turbine engines into cars.  Sure, a lot of their ideas were junk.  The boat car for instance, the fore-mentioned turbine car, the Chevrolet Camaro...  But people were still willing to take risks, to build things that weren't guaranteed to sell.  The result was that vehicles were vastly different and sometimes really interesting, but at many times didn't work or sell very well.  Studebaker Avanti.
Fast forward to today.  Automakers have figured out what works and what doesn't.  They have market research, design tools, they can make the perfect vehicle now.  And thus, everything is the same.  Vehicles are only different in the ways they need to be as a result of patents and copyrights.  Everyone is chasing the margins and every vehicle is so close to the other in performance that we can only compare the very miniscule differences between vehicles that are a result of manufacturing mistakes or strides toward perfection that landed in a bog.  This is why people from generations before mine think that everything looks the same these days.  They can't tell the difference between vehicles because there actually is very little difference.  This is hard for a die-hard motorhead like myself to understand because I can tell every difference between vehicles today.  But when I look for differences, I'm looking at tiny design cues: headlight shapes, exhaust positioning, grille shapes...  Very subtle differences that are actually very large to me.  It's becoming increasingly obvious in sports cars and also in economy cars.  The vehicles are built with extremely similar aerodynamics, similar dimensions.  Economy cars are even built with very similar engine displacements and horsepower.  Because we know what 'works' now, and therefore we build everything to 'work'.
But look what building everything to work has done to the music industry.  Studies have shown what 'perfection' is, and therefore everything should be perfect.  But I submit that perfection is actually the lack of perfection.  But really, how do you quantify the lack of perfection?  As we established before, that which is different will not always be good and therefore is a risk.  Businesses don't like risks and auto makers are businesses.  It's hard to ask for things to be different.  But sometimes, a product that's different will hit the market, and it will be special simply because it is different and not because it is good.  Scion FR-S.  I'm not sure where I am going with this, I guess it's to show that I understand why we collect the cars of the 50s and 60s and simply use the cars of today.  It's the same reason that we collect the fighter aircraft of WWII and just use the fighter aircraft of today.  The old ones are art, the new ones are appliances.

1 comment:

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