Spannerhead Dot

On Car Contentment

August 6, 2012 by Matt

Curvy Road

How can a sports car driver ever be happy with their car?

Sports cars, by and large, are about speed. Speed in the twisties, or speed down the strip on a Saturday night, even speed to a halt (braking). But here’s the thing many of us realize, especially after embarking on our car’s modification program: There will always be someone faster. There will always be cars that cling to the corners more tenaciously, are more direct in their responses, and hook up better off the line. How does one reach automotive contentment, then? How can you be really happy with your car when you’re annihilated at a stoplight race or humiliated around the road course? Can you be?

The key I think is to own a car that is special to you for reasons unrelated to pure speed. A car that agrees with you. A car that feels like home when you sit in it and lets you breathe more deeply when you sink into the seat after a hard day at work. A car that makes you smile just tooling around town at 25 mph. A car that is your car.

I used to ponder the owner loyalty of cars I was familiar with—the FB RX-7, the Z-car, FD RX-7, the Mark 4 Supra, etc… and why for example many, many first-gen RX-7 owners will hang onto their cars through thick and thin, whereas more than a few Mark 4 drivers go through a couple of cars in a year, and I think there’s more at work than simply the financial ability to buy and sell cars frequently. For a lot of owners, there’s something the FB has that the Mark 4 doesn’t (and vice-versa, of course), counterintuitive to many of us who are acquainted with the latter car’s prowess, and I think those subtler qualities are lost on a lot of the performance-fixated automotive community.

We’re all addicted to speed, sure, but that intangible special quality of a car we’re really attached to is beneficial in more than one way, I think. It’s that knowledge, that feeling, that promotes a sense of contentment when we’re approached a light and revved on and we decline to go, just knowing that we don’t have anything to prove. It’s that knowledge that makes us humble about our cars, and fosters an atmosphere in which we can genuinely appreciate others’ cars without getting defensive. We see our car’s flaws, to be sure, but somehow they’re okay; they’re inconveniences cheerfully borne.

And that’s what made me keep the Supra. With the addition of a few mods, I felt myself getting caught up in the Great Speed Race™, uncomfortably so, and wanted an “out,” another car where it might be easier to sense its other endearing qualities upon an initial drive, and I immediately gravitated towards my first automotive love (the FB). But then I realized I could have that with the Supra too. All I had to do was to re-experience what made the car special to me.

It was a cold night when I slipped into the perfectly contoured seat, surveyed the dash, with all the controls and switches ideally placed. I turned the key, the car started with an elastic smoothness and settled down to a rock-solid 700 rpm idle. I flipped the lights on; the headlights popped up and the gorgeous analog gauges were lit up with a pleasingly pale green. I gripped the thick steering wheel and rested my hand on the shifter. Everything felt substantial, solid. The car just fit me. I thought about the way the car looked and the image that projected—not the flashiest, most curvaceous body style, but understated, well-proportioned, and attractive—and I thought about my own self-image. My impression of the car and my concept of what I wanted to project lined up perfectly. It agreed with me; it was home—and I wasn’t even moving. After that moment even the metallic rip of the inline-six up to redline and the whistle of the turbo on the way home were just fluff—the car and I shared a bond deeper than raw speed, and any thoughts of parting with it were pushed from my mind.

What makes your car your car?

Editor’s note: This post was originally written in November 2003 and published in a LiveJournal automotive community. Ironically, I would unload the car within a year, but that was more due to shifting priorities in general rather than any dissatisfaction with the car itself.

Filed under: Car Stories


  1. John D says:

    I think for one to truly be content with their car, one first be content with (and know) one’s self. Cliche, I know…but true. I really believe that it takes most people a few years to come to understand what it is they really value in a car. I mean, take my first project car. I didn’t mess around. I went straight for my dream car: a ’69 Camaro SS. This was the car that I admired above all other cars and, once obtained, I would keep forever. It was the ultimate (to me) of everything I thought I wanted. It had the looks, the sound, the speed, the rarity that I loved. But as time went by I realized that even though my love for what the car was never waned (in fact I spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears making it even better, strengthening my bond with the car), it was the realization that there were aspects of a car that I desired that this amazing car would never have or be. After a while I was no longer willing to sacrifice reliability or willing to smell like gas fumes or willing to go without A/C or a host of other things that are inherent to owning and driving this unique car. Which is why I sold it in favor of driving the FD (which did have everything that I came to cherish in a car). I could go on, but my point is that it was a journey of self-discovery. I continued that journey as I continued to modify and ‘improve’ the FD to make it more of what I thought I wanted. But after a few years I settled down and was happy just driving the dang thing. I no longer had to take it out on a track or flog it on the backroads to enjoy it. But then life changed…family…work…and I no longer had a place in my life for it. Other priorities superceded it and I moved on. But I have learned that you can’t have everything and you can’t really care what others think. Take the time to know what you want and what fits you…and don’t expect your car to be something it’s not. You must love it for what it is and that should be enough. It’s not only an automotive journey, but a personal one.

    • Matt says:

      I think that’s a good way of looking at it. It’s definitely a two-way street; I think owning a particular car can define you (in a narrow sense) as much as you discover yourself through the ownership experience. The flip side, of course, is that the decision to purchase a car is kind of a reflection, a snapshot of you at one particular point in time. I’ve found that it’s like a relationship as much as anything else, as I have to apply effort from time to time to keep my motivation and interest levels up. I have to “rekindle the romance,” as is were, so my interest doesn’t wander to other cars and I don’t drive Diane crazy. :)

  2. Luke E says:

    This is a great site, although I would like to see more on Ford trucks. Perhaps you and your son could add something for Ford truck enthusiasts.

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