How many times has your pride and joy been up on jack stands this year? If, like me, you persist with questionable life choices when it comes to where your money gets flushed, it’s likely the answer to my question was ‘more than three times’.
But don’t fret, it turns out there’s psychological reasoning behind our blind love for those unreliable, yet somehow alluring masterpieces of error. It’s completely normal to cheer for the losing team, shout for the last horse, and sing praise for the underdog.
In psychology, the word schadenfreude is used to describe the experience of joy derived from others’ troubles and failures, fuelled by our own feelings of aggression, rivalry and justice. In other words, broken cars and losing teams actually make us feel good.
Whether or not a team wins or loses can have a really personal effect on their supporters. A test conducted by Edward Hirt in 1992 showed that the results of a basketball game on fans influenced self-confidence, academic ability and even affected motor skills.
Another experiment conducted in 1991 showed that, given the choice between two hypothetical teams, 81% of students in the experiment chose team B, the underdog. But when the students were told that the underdog had won the previous three games, half of the participants switched their support to the A team.
It was hypothesised that sports fans may well switch to the losing team purely for the rush, because there’s nothing more exciting than a close game. If the underdogs win, there’s more to be gained and the feeling is pure euphoria. If they lose, there’s no harm done because it was inevitable.
Here’s where it starts getting weird… One study presented a basketball game and subjects were to rate the players’ ability and effort. Even with the jerseys switched between teams, subjects always rated the underdogs as having more heart and spirit than the victors.
It seems that we actually appreciate it more when teams put their guts into the game, rather than teams made up of unbeatable stars.
Being an underdog is not just about being least likely to win, but also being the team who has nothing to lose. What I mean is, supporters tend not to support the losing team if the losing team is being bankrolled by multinational corporations, or backed by billionaire business moguls. Having nothing adds to the support and admiration of a true underdog.
This concept of rooting for the underdog runs through all walks of life, from politics to motorsports.
These are the automakers that came from nothing and won the hearts of many. The cars that defied all odds, who won some and lost many.
In motorsports, the Lancia Delta Integrale, Alfa Romeo 75 and Subaru Impreza WRX immediately spring to mind, but the list overflows into consumer cars which perhaps suffered from poor workmanship and a lack of funding. These were the cars that were always broken, on fire or crumbling away into colourful piles of overpriced rust.
While these cars may have been troublesome in the hands of the general population, they became heroes on the gravel stages of Portugal or the tarmac of Acropolis. Dave from accounting may have thought you were mad to be driving an unreliable Italian rust bucket, but you knew that deep down it was something special. You knew there was a chance it could be great.
To be fair, this whole underdog analogy is probably a little outdated. It comes from a time when small companies like Alfa Romeo, Lotus and Subaru were taking on the big dogs like BMW and Toyota.
Back in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, manufacturers were all competing for market shares and many cut corners, made bad decisions or just plain made mistakes. Alfa Romeo was once a company people loved to hate for unreliability issues, mostly electronic and rust-based, but today their cars are some of the finest in the world.
Lotus is probably one of the best examples of the underdog spirit, or at least it was. Starting out as a garage-built kit car, drivers like Sir Stirling Moss catapulted them to stardom against all odds. Now, they’re rubbing shoulders with the likes of McLaren and Porsche.
Other brands haven’t been so lucky, and underdog charm and character haven’t been enough to save them from demise. Lancia, for example, had huge success in rallying, winning more titles than any other maker ever. But the Lancia name became tarnished when Fiat let quality fall to the wayside and their Lancia models all but rusted away.
Subaru took the rally world by storm in the early ’90s, with a fraction of the financial support as their competitors. Taking into account that in 2007 they produced 400,000 vehicles to Toyotas 3 million, it makes their efforts – good and bad – all the more remarkable. Proper underdogs of rally.
So, I say hail the underdog. It doesn’t matter if there’s rust eating through 45% of the body. It doesn’t matter if the electric windows never work. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the fastest, most beautiful or most well-equipped.
What matters is heart, soul and boxed wheel arches.