Slow Cars - The Joy of Slow

Tim Marrs

Slow is the new fast, and there's a growing Movement-with-a-capital-M to prove it. In 1989, Italian journalist Carlo Petrini - who'd come to prominence leading a protest against a McDonald's outpost in Rome - founded a nonprofit organization by the name of Slow Food. Its goal, according to its Web site, is "to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people's dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." Today, Slow Food has more than 85,000 members in 132 countries. It's also spawned the development of a larger Slow Movement that includes Slow Living, Slow Travel, and Slow Cities. I think it's high time we added Slow Cars to the list. Not because they're politically correct, but because in our rush to drive from point A to point B, we all too often forget to have fun along the way.

West Coast editor Jason Cammisa tells a great story: "I drove up Mount Tamalpais with a friend a few months back. He was in his 1993 BMW 325is (stock, on all-season tires) and I was in a brand-new Audi TT 2.0T Quattro with magnetic dampers. I was bored out of my mind following him, and when we reached the top, just as I was about to tease him for driving so slowly, he got out of his car smiling, covered in sweat. His lifters were tapping, his brakes were smoking, and his exhaust was clanging like a trolley car. The TT felt like it was at two-tenths. Yawn. I love power, and a few seconds of wide-open-throttle Corvette ZR1 is easily the most captivating automotive experience in the world. But for real enjoyment, I'd rather have mile after mile of full-throttle shifts, 0.75-g sideways action, and an at-the-redline sound track."

Slow Cars are all about connections - between car and driver and between road and car. Steering that provides genuine feedback. An H-pattern shifter to keep the driver's head in the game. Brakes that have to be modulated at the threshold of lock. Springs that take a reassuring set under hard cornering. An engine with a sweet spot. An exhaust that makes the right noises. All of these qualities are showcased in the 1984 Mazda RX-7 GSL that my friend Joni Gang uses as her daily driver in Redondo Beach. There's no power-assist to help turn the steering wheel. The rear suspension features a live axle. ABS? Traction control? Adjustable damper settings? Hell, it doesn't even have fuel injection. The car shudders over bumps and wheezes at the top end. You have to try really hard to go fast, and you can't go really fast no matter how hard you try. But that's part of the RX-7's appeal.

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