Objects of Desire November 2012

Old School Rules

By Emily Atkins

I haven’t owned a new car since 1992. And even that one was a demo model. So it’s a great deal of fun to do the job I have recently taken on—test driving new cars and writing reviews.

My 944 is as low tech as it gets. Almost none of the electrics work, the sunroof is manual (meaning I would have to stop, get out, remove it, stow it in the hatch and then resume my trip), the radio is defunct, and the racing seats don’t recline. I’m used to work-arounds, doing without, and a rough ride.

So it’s a real treat to ride in brand-new comfort, with automatic transmission, fast-moving windows, Sirius, iPod connectivity, internet, touch screen nav and Bluetooth, heated seats, air conditioning, power hatch controls and even back-up cameras. New cars are amazing. You’re insulated from the outside world, riding smoothly on a smart suspension, kept awake by lane departure warnings, and protected by dozens of airbags.

People love this stuff. Car makers seem to have it figured out. But they haven’t got it all. My recent experience with a new car will illustrate.
As a responsible citizen and driver, I picked up a six-pack of near beer to drink at a dinner party. It was lunchtime when I made my purchase, so I stowed the beers in the trunk of the press fleet car I was reviewing. Didn’t want them getting baked in the back seat.

At the end of the work day, I didn’t even think about my cargo in the trunk until the first quick corner. I heard a distinct clank from the rear of the car. Picture a large trunk, empty of any personal detritus, sterile and spotless, save for the six pack. Now picture what happens in that trunk when it belongs to a small, quick coupe driven by a someone who enjoys feeling Gs at every opportunity.

I thought to myself, “Emily, you should pull over and put those beers in the back seat where they won’t roll around.”

I should listen to myself.

At my destination, I went back to retrieve my beverages. Wedged against the trunk latch was the cardboard carrying case with five bottles of near beer in it. The remaining bottle had been reduced to glistening shards. The sweet smell of brewery wafted up from the previously pristine carpeting.

My very first press fleet car, and I was facing having to return it stinking of beer. Can you say career-limiting move? So I started cleaning. But I soon noticed the trunk floor carpeting was pretty dry. Where was all the beer? I lifted the carpet to reveal the spare. Aha. A beer tire. Every last drop of the stuff had seeped down through the spare and into the well that cradles it.

After vainly swiping at the puddle with a sponge through the wheel’s spokes, I gave up and fought with the spare’s plastic locking nut for a good ten minutes. (This might be worth another article: If I had been stranded roadside with a flat, I would probably have cried in frustration. The spare in this car was a bear to remove.) With the tire finally out, I stared at my sad reflection in a deep, wide pool of beer. Every last drop had to be removed with a sponge. Did you know it takes longer to sop up a bottle of beer than it does to drink one?

So, what’s the point of my story, other than to amuse you with my tale of beer soaked woe?

Photo by Will C.
It made me love my 944 even more. This would never have happened in my old, low-tech car. In addition to the wonderful compartments behind the wheel wells, where I would have stowed the beer to prevent breakage, my car has drain holes! It makes sense: put an opening in the low lying areas. Just in case.

Maybe those famous German designers and engineers had their own broken beer bottles (real beer for them, no doubt) to contend with, but whatever the reason, their design can teach new car makers a lesson. Sometimes, old school practicality beats high tech. I can drink to that.

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