I’ve got something that I need to get off my chest.
This is much of a stream of consciousness rather than any structured objective description, so I apologise in advance if this seems to head off on a tangent.
At the start of the year, Paddy wrote an excellent piece articulating pretty much exactly how I’d imagine most members of the Speedhunters team have felt at one point or another. Actually, I can only really speak for myself with any real authority, but I’d imagine that the Irishman and myself aren’t the only ones who have had this sense of aloof deja vu creep over us when eyeing up a new build, potential feature car, or something we stumble across at an event.
As Speedhunters we spend many of our working days absorbing a continuous stream of car culture from all corners of the globe. If we’re at a meet or event then it’s there in front of us; when we’re chatting amongst each other the theme is almost always cars and car culture – what’s happening, who’s building what, what’s next, and what do we need to stay ahead of. If we’re in our respective offices we’re either editing images of cars, writing about them, or researching them.
When I pick up my phone my social media streams are pretty much entirely populated by people who I know through car culture, or people who I follow because I have an interest in their chosen mode of transport. My emails? You guessed it – littered with conversations about upcoming events, potential leads, and builds that I’m keeping a check on for first dibs as soon as they’re unleashed.
When you consider all that then it’s easy to see how one could become temperate towards things which, just a few years ago, might have completely blown me away.
I don’t think this phenomenon is unique to working in the industry either. Something that Paddy also touched on in his piece was the prominent rise of social media. If you’re reading this then your social feeds are just as likely to be rammed to the gunwales with people you know or follow through car culture. Each and every one of us, in 2017, has a gigantic wealth of scrollable, flickable, and double-tappable visual automotive stimulation at our fingertips. It’s a fantastic time to be a petrolhead.
Yet I feel it’s a double-edged sword too.
You see, in my opinion, the online world and real life are two very different, but parallel, universes. A build you stumble across online that, by all rights, should stop you in your tracks and elicit a more in depth investigation, is highly likely to be surrounded by a feed of similarly exaggerated attention-grabbing machines. There’s a strong chance that it’ll be mildly admired, absorbed and forgotten in an instant. Only the truly craziest, biggest budget, most imaginative, controversial, or headline-grabbing cars end up standing out above the rest, and not always for the right reasons.
Now imagine that any one of those impressive builds drove past you in the street in a sea of unnoteworthy and monotonous pedestrian machines. It’s very likely to have a more profound effect on you, and invoke a much more positive, or at least a more lengthy contemplation and considered reaction.
This is something I’ve experienced myself. For example, I’d admired countless RWB Porsche builds online, pretty much to the point where they stopped becoming particularly interesting to me. A wild, wide, race-inspired, GT-winged, classic Porsche that would’ve once been a poster car when I was growing up (if RWB had been around way back then) had become something that made my thumb hover momentarily before swiping up.
But then I saw my first RWB in the flesh last year and the effect it had one me was very different. It wasn’t my favourite RWB; in the scale of RWB builds it didn’t even register in the top 10, but it was there, in front of me. And even surrounded by hundreds of equally high-level show cars, it made me stop and appreciate it for far longer than had I seen it on a computer screen.
Just imagine if it’d been driving towards me on the street in everyday traffic. That effect would no doubt be further amplified.
I think this, in part, is why it can be sometimes frustrating when we bring you stories of some of these builds and the response from some in the comments section is somewhat dismissive. Don’t take this the wrong way; opinions are fantastic things, and they’re the entirety of what makes human interactions interesting. I don’t think any of us are asking for an army of sycophants to praise our every move, but at the same time I think we’re all guilty in one way or another in forgetting that the context in which we’re absorbing this information and these images is very different to the context in which the subjects are enjoyed, and where we might have encountered them – i.e out on the roads, being driven, in the real world.
I digress, because online versus real life wasn’t the discussion here, although it’s relevant to my point.
The risk is that when you start to feel nonchalant about the impressive then you enter a spiral of failed one upmanship on behalf of car culture as a whole. The mentality that if someone’s done something before then you can’t do the same thing again if you want to stand out. You have to do it again as a minimum, but then you need to build upon it with something bigger, and better. This leads to the ‘recipe’ that Paddy spoke of – the basic ingredients that you need to use to even be considered a worthy feature car.
Paddy asked the question ‘have we seen it all before’? If by ‘it’ he’s referring to the big, headline-grabbing features of builds and car culture then my answer is, probably yes. People have put huge, wide wheels and overfenders on almost every car you can think of. The craziest engine swaps we can think of have already been done. We’ve torn apart the rarest cars and rebuilt them in the most controversial ways we can imagine. And we’ve pushed the envelope with big power to the point where 1,000bhp in a street car sounds like a lot, but it’s no longer an unimaginable feat.
However, I don’t think we should necessarily continue to consider the ‘it’ to be the big, headline-grabbing features. I think the ‘it’ should more prominently take into account a measure of quality and innovation, and things done with thought, reason and consideration. A car shouldn’t need lairy paint, huge fenders, wheel dish you could get lost in, and a bonkers 1,000bhp quad-rotor engine swap to be considered ground-breaking. If we could adjust our measures of appreciation to take in those builds that maybe aren’t the fastest, biggest and loudest, then I think we’re a long way from having seen it all.
Individualism is a truly fascinating part of car culture, and it’s something that’s being overshadowed by a fear of what you ‘should’ be doing and, in turn, what other people think.
In my opinion, there’s a lot to be said from learning to appreciate the nuances in everything.