Remember car phones? You know, the ones that were the size of a small cinder block and were usually hard-wired into the car and screwed into the center console? And don't forget the stick-on curly-Q antenna that went on a random rear window.
At the time, everyone thought they were awesome and an amazing piece of technology. Except for my friend Lisa.
I knew Lisa when I was a teenager. She had a penchant for fast cars, and her toy at the time was a modded C4 Corvette. It was loaded to the hilt with speed and audio equipment. I loved that car, but I once made the mistake of asking her about getting a car phone for it. After all, it had everything else, right? "Hell no," she strongly advised me. "No phones. My car is for driving, and my time in that car is MY time - no one else's." I was blown away, but I really respected her enthusiasm for the sheer pleasure of driving.
As the years went by, car phones evolved to cellular phones, car audio systems went from knobs to tiny buttons on the steering wheel. Some cars can even be spoken to, and might actually give you a response!
But the cars I've driven have always been pretty low on the accessory scale. I'd usually just have the factory radio (usually long blown out) if any radio at all (the Miata's OEM one broke for about two years), roll-up windows, and the only buttons on the steering wheel were for operating the horn. I enjoyed the whole "driving" aspect - hearing the engine rev, the exhaust pop, and tires squeal. I still consider myself a bit of a driving purist, or at least until the other night.
I went out to my car, and clicked the remote lock button on my keychain. I got in the car, turned the key, and watched as the radio flickered to life in nineteen colors. The aftermarket computer scanner started to boot up and illuminate the center console in it's dark green hue. I reached over to the passenger seat, found a loose cable, and plugged it into my iPod. Then I plugged in the GPS unit that I'd borrowed from my wife's car. I put my cell phone in the center console, and clipped the Bluetooth headphone to my ear. From the center console to the top of dashboard, it looked like Mission Control. "Start the countdown, Houston! I'm ready to roll!"
About a mile down the road, I realized what I had done. And I hated myself!
Somehow, I had become a comfortable, spoiled driver. I had been unknowingly seduced by modern conveniences. Gone was my tolerance for uninsulated firewalls, the loud whine of the gearbox, hearing the tread squirm under hard-cornering tires clawing for grip. Where had the "purist" in me gone? I was ready to pull over, strip out the interior, and leave it all on the side of the road.
I sunk down into the cushy, leather seat. "Leather seat?" I thought to myself. "When have I EVER had leather seats?" All I needed now for my transformation was a minivan with a soccer ball magnet stuck to the tail gate.
Disgusted, I came to accept my disposition, but I had to admit I really like how the stereo sounds. I'm able to monitor a number of engine parameters with the scanner. And the friendly Australian woman in our GPS takes me exactly where I need to go. But I'll get my purist fix soon.
In the Spring, construction begins on a friend's '92 Miata. It's getting an extensive lightweight treatment, so no radio, no air conditioning, no power windows. It won't even have a top or a windshield! But while it's main purpose is to go racing, it will be a pure driving machine built for speed and performance. I'll admit I get a bit giddy when I think about strapping on a sub-2100 lb. car that handles on rails and having a front-row seat for every engine revolution, crackle of the exhaust on downshifts, the squealing of the tires.
And under that helmet, I will be grinning from ear to ear.