Skewed Perspective

On the way home from work today I got to hear what the V12 Mercedes SL 65 AMG sounds like. It’s a quarter-million dollar car that, despite impressive numbers for power and whatnot, and an equally impressive string of unnecessary letters and numbers in its name, “only” goes 155 mph. (The sound: imagine a hive of bees, except instead of bees it’s full of bears who don’t want to wake up but have to.)

The Santa Clara Valley (aka Silicon Valley) is not the place to get a good cross-section of what America’s driving. Based on a survey here, you might think that Tesla is preparing to challenge Volvo. (Tesla is the government-subsidized overpowered electric vehicle that allows wealthy people to be profligate while fooling themselves into believing they are environmentalists. I call it a watt-guzzler — but I wouldn’t turn one down). Tesla’s sound at a traffic light: sweet blissful silence.

In my time commuting in this area, I’ve stopped saying “Hey! a Maserati!” or “Holy Shit! A Lamborghini!” Top-end BMW’s and Audis are a dime a dozen. I got to check out the new Jaguar F-Type because there’s one that parks at my building. (It sounds… magnificent.) Other Jags, a Lotus or two… you know, the usual.

I’ve only seen one of those million-buck-and-then-some Bugattis, in stop-and-go traffic on the freeway. It wasn’t that impressive.

Not a single damn Viper. Other modern muscle is represented, but not the top shark in the tank. The lack of creature comforts doesn’t play well here, I suppose — although a brief look at the Viper Web site indicates that the interior has been upgraded quite a bit from the old days. Race-inspired my ass. (Although, of the sites I flitted past for ‘research’ on this episode, give Viper credit for having a section dedicated to braking. That’s a huge part of performance.)

Which brings me to wonder: How much of the awesome of these cars is ever experienced? How often are drivers inconvenienced because their V12 wonder-engine can only get their buggy up to 155 mph? I haven’t even taken my Miata up to top speed. In everyday driving, what benefit is that massive motor?

Answer: the sound. Once, walking down the street in a quiet Prague suburb, I heard the unmistakeable sound of an American muscle car, purring like a tiger kitten choking on shots of testosterone. Rubmble-rumble chaka-huh rumble… I turned to see a Coke-bottle Corvette with a vent in the hood, idling down the main street of Strašnice. The driver gently stroked the accelerator and the neighborhood shook with a sound not often heard in Europe. There’s anger in that sound. In Europe they ask “why?” “Because fuck you,” this car answered. I love that sound.

Jaguar has mastered a more civilized version of that sound, and the twelve cylinders under the hood of the Mercedes SL 65 AMG PDQ BYPFD 0I812 produce a pretty satisfying note. You may never drive 160 mph, but your car will tell the rabble around you that you could if you wanted to.

Unless, of course, you’re trapped in traffic with a Bugatti.

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6 thoughts on “Skewed Perspective

  1. Well, I have to say that expensive cars are the norm in our ‘hood in So. Cal. as well. Viper…kills rich people fast. They look cool, but…
    So yea, we can’t REALLY drive fast, but we really shouldn’t, which leads me to the question:
    What is wrong with you, men?
    As a man, Jerry, inform me! xoxo
    If you don’t, I’ll post some really silly pics of you from high school :O)

    • Saw a lot of fancy cars during my time in Southern California. Silicon Valley is a different level.

      I believe the exhaust systems of these cars are tuned to vibrate our groins at a carefully-calculated frequency. There’s no other sensible explanation.

  2. a couple of years ago, i got to meet the man who drove the car that then held the land speed record (a racecar, driven on the flats, etc etc). my question to him: “sooo… what is the practical application of this?” and he stared at me like i had two heads.

    iunno, i thought it was a valid question.

  3. I would be happy to own of the above mentioned except the Bugatti. I just find it ugly. In my area there is a surprising number of Teslas. I wonder if they are transplants or if folks actually bought them here. I’ve only seen one of the new corvettes and photos do not do it justice – it is amazingly sexy in real life. Which is high praise because I am not a corvette fan at all.

    • If we’re both surprised by the number of Teslas, maybe they have more market traction than I assumed. Or maybe your area is also filled with people of money who style themselves hippies.

      • There is a Tesla in my neighborhood. But my neighborhood is kind of hippie and also next to the Spokane river.

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