The War For Enthusiast's Cars Is Over

I had the opportunity a few weeks back to drive a beautifully restored, 1964 Porsche 356SC. It’s one of those cars that pounds all of your senses—the tingling directness of its steering, the hoarse wail of its flat-four engine, and the twitch of the chassis when you lift off the throttle. What strikes me most about that Porsche, though, is just how superior it is to other cars I’ve driven from the same era. Its steering, handling, body control, and overall precision aren’t just better than, say, a 1959 Pontiac Bonneville’s; they’re in a different stratosphere.

Fast-forward a week and fifty years, and I’m tearing around southern Sweden in a 2015 Volvo S60 Polestar. It has 345 hp, all-wheel drive, Brembo brakes, launch control, and adjustable Öhlins dampers. I am moderately impressed. I mean, it’s nice, but I’m not sure the brake pedal feel is as confidence inspiring as that in, say, the Audi S4, or that the steering is as communicative as in a Cadillac CTS.

This is the blessing and the curse of an era in which everything is good to drive. It’s not just that the cars have become quicker and more powerful (although they certainly have). It’s the way in which nearly every automaker has embraced the very German notion that all cars need to ride, steer, and handle sportily. Consider, for instance, that the latest Chrysler 200 rides on a platform developed in Europe and handles supremely well, as do both of its Domestic competitors, the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion. Or consider that brands like Buick, Cadillac, Lexus, and Volvo all offer sport sedans. Or that the 2015 Hyundai Genesis has a chassis tuned by Lotus and has been to the Nürburgring. Or that the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, which used to go unchanged for decades, are now engaged in a yearly game of one-upmanship that involves chassis tuning as much as horsepower gains.

What are we to do with this windfall? Complain, of course. We loudly wonder if cars like the Porsche 911 and BMW 3-series have "lost their edge." We fret about how electric power steering feels. We ask, as we did in our May issue, “Was it really better then?”

Of course it wasn’t better then. I think one reason it’s hard for us to recognize this is because our frame of reference has changed so dramatically and so quickly. The 2015 Volvo S60 Polestar is fantastic to drive, but how fantastic can it be if there are other cars that drive just as well?

Driving an enthusiast car used to mean you belonged to a special, discerning club. “…People with the sense of humor to enjoy its giant-killing performance and the taste to appreciate its mechanical excellence,” wrote Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis, Jr., in his 1968 review of the BMW 2002. People who buy a 2014 BMW 3-series have, let’s face it, pretty much the same humor and taste as those who buy an Audi A4, a Cadillac ATS, or a Lexus IS.

That doesn’t mean certain cars can’t stand out, or that greatness can’t exist among the goodness. It just means we have to look harder.

I think if great marques want awesome driving cars that stand out, they should focus less on making cars that are loaded with computers that drive like arcade games.  Spend the r&d on simple power to weight, balanced/stiff chassis, and efficient engines...leave out the dimming electric mirrors, land departure warnings, tire pressure monitoring, super fancy climate controls, electric massaging a/c seats.  Performance cars these days are heavy and complicated...they're a fortune to maintain, and depreciate faster than anything else.  By the time they're affordable for most, it's reached the point where servicing and keeping on the road is too expensive/they get sent to the crusher a lot faster than classics from yesteryear.  I admire companies like Singer, who know how to keep things simple and pure...but also obsess over bringing small details to high standard.  If only BMW used r&d to make a coupe and sedan that weighed the same as an FRS, with an efficient high revving could justify going old school/less efficient, with the legendary feel of their hydraulic steering.  Manual adjusting seats, with sunroof, radio, and a/c as options.  Just saying cars can stand out from the crowd by using only the most minimum/essential/reliable electronics, by being more analog, and focusing on advanced materials with solid build quality (like pre-95 Mercedes engineering), instead of a 3-4 year disposable Sharper Image on wheels.
Sergey Popov
Germans are the best since 60s. screw lexuses, cadillacs, etc. Buy any German car from top-3 and you'll be smarter than others. It's a fact.
Or... greatness has begot more greatness in this current generation. Turn left to see an FRS right before you got into your Miata in addition to the GT-R racing an R8 on the freeway while you get cut off by the new GS F-Sport. 
In other words, we DON'T have to look harder. The greats have multiplied and they have arrived. 
i almost bought your argument... but then i looked closer at your premise. 
you argue that in 1964 a new porsche 356sc was in a different stratosphere than a 5-year older 1959 pontiac bonneville convertible...
well, i don't see how that has changed much. 
if you were to compare a brand new 2014 porsche boxster to a 5-year older 2009 pontiac g6 convertible i think the premise still holds. they are in completely different stratospheres.
i am pretty sure porsche would agree with me. and pontiac? well, they were so bad they don't even exist anymore to argue.
Sergey Popov
@S197GT you didn't ger the points of the article. whic is: Germans owns you all, americans just as like as europeans and asiats. so be quit and buy real cars.

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