Why the old car rule
Don’t get me wrong: I love new cars. Over the years, I’ve been asked many times what was the best car I’ve ever driven, and my answer has always been, “Next”. The ability of the automotive industry to recreate, reinvent and reinvent the automobile, while working under the most demanding regulatory framework applied to any mainstream consumer product, has never failed to fascinate me.
But if you want to make a visceral connection with the art of driving, to really experience the human-machine interface, you have to get behind the wheel of an old car. An old car will teach you things that you can never learn from behind the wheel of a modern car. There are no electronic layers between you and the hardware, tweaking and taming the laws of physics. An old car is elementary mechanical; Archimedes meets Isaac Newton.
Of course, modern cars like a Porsche 911 GT2 RS or a McLaren Senna are very complicated to drive, especially when you start to tease the edges of their stupendous performance envelopes. Electronics always generate interference, of course, but the power and grip of these cars, the speed they can go through any bend, demands your absolute attention. And, like the car designers who learned to draw on the computer, we have become digitally calibrated pilots; we can feel and work with the modern car neural network.
But just as car designers still love the analog experience of sketching with pencil and paper, the analog driving experience of an old car is just as interesting, and at a fraction of the speeds that a modern supercar has. need to capture your attention. James Hunt got it right. Yes, this James Hunt. The 1976 Formula 1 world champion. Girl on each arm, cigarette in one hand, bottle of champagne in the other. Badge “Sex, the Breakfast of Champions” sewn on his racing suit.
When Hunt went bankrupt in the early 1980s, his Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 was often on blocks in the driveway because he couldn’t afford to run it. Instead, he drove an Austin A35 pickup, a pint-sized panel truck that you could pretty much park in the bed of an F250.
The little Austin had 34 horsepower – a good day – but Hunt felt that its rear-wheel drive, lean tires, and light rear made it more fun at real speeds than many modern cars. One of his sleight of hand was passing Ferraris through a roundabout near his London home, the wet A35 road late at night, maximum drifting chops reinforced by his rear tires bald.
Hunt loved the car, and he still owned it when he died in 1993. Take it from James: Old cars rule.