Where Are They Now? P.J. O’Rourke
Cars I Love: What he’d do with a free Porsche 918 Spyder
P.J. O'Rourke began writing about cars in 1977 for Car and Driver. He followed founding editor David E. Davis Jr. to Automobile and wrote frequently for the magazine from its inception in 1986 until the early 2000s. O'Rourke is the author of 17 books, including one devoted to vehicular misadventures, "Driving Like Crazy," and most recently a collection, "Thrown Under the Omnibus. "
There's no new car I want.
And I was born to love cars. The O'Rourkes have been in the car business almost as long as the Fords. In 1902 my grandfather J.J. was a buggy mechanic watching Barney Oldfield race "999." Grampa became a horseless buggy mechanic, then a salesman, then a dealer.
Five generations of O'Rourkes have built, sold, written about, and tinkered with cars. But when I open a new car's hood there's nothing to tinker with.
I might as well pry the back off a giant, rolling iPhone.
My wife has a BMW 3 Series wagon. I tried to check the oil. I looked everywhere in that cryptic, mystifying, seemingly machinery-free engine compartment. I couldn't find the dipstick because (I went to extremes to learn this. I was forced to employ the shade-tree mechanic's last resort. I read the owner's manual.) there is no dipstick. The manual, by the way, is organized on the same principles as the federal tax code, but it's longer and translated from German in Taiwan.
To find out if the BMW's oil is low or dirty or, for that matter, on fire, you wait for the BMW to send its dashboard a text message—checking the oil via Twitter.
My love for cars has been fading for a long time. Forty years ago cars began letting me know if I left the lights on, the door open, the keys in the ignition, or if I failed to fasten my seat belt. I have a wife, a mother-in-law, and a teenage daughter. When I want nagging I know where to go.
Then came 5-mph bumpers making the Mercedes 450 SL of my dreams look as if it had visited a Ubangi beauty parlor. And the catalytic converter on a Buick Grand National I was test driving set fire to the pile of leaves at my curb.
Now I hate cars.
I hate that I can't fix them. I hate that I don't need to fix them. Love means wanting to be involved. I have a wife, a mother-in-law, and a teenage daughter. When I want to feel unneeded I know where to go.
The steady, implacable reliability of new cars is sinister, like the IRS enforcement of the federal tax code that inspired the BMW owner's manual.
The steady, implacable handling of a new car is sinister, too. I hate full-time AWD and all-season tires. Cars used to let you know when they were out of control. (Which, above 60 mph, they usually were.) Now people think they can drive at any speed in any condition. Moms in tot-filled SUVs treat 6 inches of slush on the freeway like A.J. Foyt treated the strip of bricks at Indy.
But I also hate safety. Is that a Takata airbag? Even if it isn't, the Goodyear blimp could instantly inflate in my face—just when I'm smoking a cigar.
I hate the way new cars look—aerodynamically correct blobs of phlegm spit out by computers at the command of Hello Kitty draftsmen.
I hate the new car smell—there isn't any. It's been replaced by climate control so complex that my daughter is taking a sauna in the back, my wife is experiencing hypothermia in the front, and my butt's on fire because I've accidently tripped the heated seat switch located who knows where. Roll up the window if you're too cold. Not that you can "roll" any car's window. It's electric.
I hate electric cars. They run on batteries. My house is full of devices that run on batteries. What is every one of those batteries? Dead.
Now I hear of driverless cars. Next, eaterless meals.
Damn the computers. And not just the one that sends Facebook postings to the BMW dashboard about cute stuff the oil is doing. Computers determine fuel mixture, exhaust emissions, suspension settings, braking, shifting, steering—and me. Cars have artificial intelligence. They're smarter than I am.
Not hard. But letting something you're supposed to operate be smarter than the operator is dangerous. That's how Bernie Madoff happened. Bernie was smarter than the people making investments with Bernie. He was so much smarter that he began to hatch evil genius schemes.
There's no new car I want. If a UPS box filled with a free $845,000 Porsche 918 Spyder was delivered to my garage door today, I'd sell it and buy 84½ 1960 MGAs in fair condition.
I used to have a 1960 MGA in fair condition. I could fix it. I needed to. It wouldn't go 25 miles without something busting or falling off. But when the MGA quit, at least it was just sitting there by the side of the road doing nothing. It wasn't hatching evil genius schemes.