Michael Knight had the kind of relationship with his car that every man dreams of. It wasn’t simply that KITT, the iconic Trans Am from Knight Rider, had an array of special features like voice activated controls, amphibious mode and …er… a fax machine, it was that KITT had empathy. The car talked to him, offered counsel, listened to Michael’s woes and, when required, spray an oil slick to repel an enemy vehicle. It’s little wonder I used to talk to my bicycle after watching an episode of Knight Rider. It was tedious having to also play the part of the bike, but it was my own fantasy world and I was happy there.
But not much has changed in thirty years; the Irish man is defined by the car he imagines he’s driving, and we still yearn for an imaginary car like KITT. The top three car makes in Ireland are Toyota, Volkswagon and Ford. They’re safe, reliable and boring; they’re the vehicular equivalent of Coldplay. You won’t find an amphibious mode switch, a flame thrower or a fax machine between them. The majority of us would much rather be driving a Trans Am or a Ferrari, but our lot is middle of the road saloon cars.
The Irish man spends his teenage years staring slack-jawed at old men driving Porsches, bitter and envious and fully believing that expensive cars are wasted on ‘auld lads’. We can’t comprehend why they’re not driving faster and we sneer at their middle-aged, desperately uncool clothes. Then we reach our twenties and we begin to understand why it’s only ‘auld lads’ that can afford Porsches. To our disappointment our get-rich-quick schemes haven’t panned out and we just can’t seem to win the national lottery no matter how often we play it. The realisation dawns slowly: maybe a man needs to work for a long time, in a well-paid job, before he can go zooming around in a car that costs four times the average industrial wage.
There’s nothing as sobering as having to compromise heavily on your automobile dreams. Ten years previously you imagined sitting in the plush, leather upholstery of a Lamborghini, or at worst a BMW seven series, now you’re grimly kicking the tyres of a ten year old Nissan hatchback that needs a bit of body work, a new timing belt and smells of dog. Ah well.
In our thirties we resign to being the driver of a people carrier. We will have fought a good fight by this stage, but the writing was on the wall the minute we got married and had children. As we walk around the garage forecourt we feel like we’re choosing a hearse for our funeral rather than picking out a seven-seater for our family. We feel emasculated and stripped of our dignity. Think of the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation in which Chevy Chase’s family-packed station wagon is overtaken by Christie Brinkley in a red Ferrari. That’s who we’ve become. (Clark Griswald, not the girl in the Ferrari.)
In our forties we’ll buy a two-door cabriolet because we still can’t afford the expensive Porsche convertible. We’ll have discovered it on the internet and even though it’s not taxed, has no NCT and needs four new tyres, we’ll still convince ourselves it’s a bargain. But our wives will give out to us for wasting the eight hundred euro and we’ll be forced to keep it in the garage until eventually, realising we have no spare time to drive it because of all the after-school activities with the kids, we’ll sell it for half of what we paid for it.
As we approach old age we gradually care less about looking cool in fast cars and, being more concerned about not dying and keeping our teeth, we’ll drive any old thing. Slowly and badly. Maybe the cheaper alternative is to buy a Harley Davidson early on and live in one big long midlife crisis. The thing is, can you strap a baby seat to a motorbike? And where do you put the buggy?