Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Conflicted Love

I’ve always been a car nut. In fact, I could say “car” before I mastered the two-syllable complexities of “mama”. Fortunately, I was born to a mother who, gracious by nature, forgave my misaligned priorities.

Obviously, something about the rolling sculpture of metal, glass, chrome and rubber fascinated me.

The day I discovered I didn’t possess the math and engineering skills necessary to be a car designer was probably the worst of my youth. Then why had I endured the classroom ridicule of so many teachers as I resolutely attempted to translate the cars in my imagination to paper?

This infatuation subsequently ebbed and flowed over the years, as I (in turn) discovered pop music, sports and girls. But it was never far from the surface, and reemerged in my late-twenties as strong as ever. It became conflicted as I gradually became aware of the degree to which the automobile shaped and influenced the twentieth century.

Yet my love is an egalitarian one. It encompasses everything, from old to new and up market on down. From 1929 Duesenbergs to the new three-cylinder Ford Fiesta. To my way of thinking, the Honda Accord is every bit the marvel a dazzling, futuristic concept car is. This because the Accord fulfills its purpose in a way few things in life ever do.

But despite the perfection of its utility, there aren’t very many people who lust for the Accord. It isn’t sexy. There is no exotic racing lineage. No cache. No status. It is merely the preferred appliance of the American soccer mom. For high-status sexy, you must look to Europe. England, Germany and Italy.

BMW, Bentley, Mercedes, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Porsche and Ferrari offer status and exclusivity to their owners. Attention. Sex appeal. Validation. Ownership inspires an I-have-one-and-you-don’t sense of superiority.

But it isn’t all hand-stitched leather and finely-calibrated engines.

While the rest of us look on longingly, the owner of a Porsche 911 must cough up three-hundred-dollars per oil change. The eager buyer of the new Porsche 918 will lay out 6K for the extravagance of a heater. 26K for “upgraded” leather. And 63K for something called liquid metal paint.

Porsche extends to prospective buyers an additional opportunity to boost its year-end earnings via the Weissach Package. What the buyer gets for a jaw-dropping 84K is the deletion of three components from the car.

That’s right. Stuff is taken off the car. For eighty-four thousand dollars.

Check-off the Weissach Package box on your order form and your sound insulation, leather upholstery and a portion of the passenger-side cooling infrastructure is removed in the interest of reducing mass.

I have just one question: is it more to remove the “upgraded” leather?

The total weight loss amounts to 90 pounds. I hope Weight Watchers is taking note. You seeing this, Slim-Fast? That’s nine-hundred and thirty-three dollars a pound.

But when you’re dropping $845,000 on a car, what’s another 84 thou? Percentage-wise, it’s like adding a GPS unit and upgraded sound to your Camry or Jeep Grand Cherokee. No biggie. Right?

Manufacturers like Porsche know intimately how desperate the well-heeled are to display their well-heeledness. The well-to-do require ever more exclusive and outrageous product, the better to stay one step ahead of the Joneses. And brands like Porsche and Bentley and Ferrari are only too happy to charge them for it.

For those of us on the other side of the glass, we can only laugh at their desperation. While many of us would like to give it to the one-percent, it is ironic that we have Porsche to do it for us.

In this, the Age of Diminished Expectations, it’s something.

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