The other night I was lounging on my sofa watching Two-Lane Blacktop: an existential road movie starring musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson. It’s kind of like Easy Rider but with cars instead of bikes and an ending wrapped in a different kind of heartache.
The Internet calls it a time capsule and for once I think it’s right. For within its frames lies an ossification of automotive culture in its most golden hour: that high-water mark of mobile Americana in which Detroit muscle cars and homegrown ‘gassers’ romped down drag strips (or airport roads) for money or pink slips. Sometimes both.
The world, the machines depicted in Two-Lane Blacktop may be 41-years-old but they still hold massive appeal today. And I’ll bet you everything that in another two decades this spool of celluloid will stir-up even more yearning. Why? Because the future of the automobile is going to suck.
Cruise the Internet, observe what’s happening at all those glitzy auto shows and you’ll see that the world’s car manufacturers are falling over themselves to develop electric cars that will, in the very near future, start becoming the everyday transport staple.
Now I don’t mind electric cars. I think they’re pretty good at dispatching with the daily drudgery. Outside of sitting in the drive-thru queue and dithering in traffic jams, however, they’re pretty uninspiring: soundless entities with about as much character as the Dremel or Dustbuster charging on your kitchen counter.
They break or get too old and you simply trade them in on a new model, never to be seen again. There will be no legacy. No history. No soul. Making matters worse is the fact that manufacturers are also looking at splicing autonomous driving technology into these amp-sucking appliances.
So instead of actually piloting them we can just lurk on the back seat, all hunched and drooling over our smartphones. In 2037 it’s not about the destination or the journey but rather all the 10G data you can devour en route.
And don’t for one minute think that you’ll escape all this hideousness by hanging onto that classic: your old air-cooled Porsche 911 or Nissan Skyline or Mercedes-Benz 190E Evo. To force you into electrified hell, the evil powers that be will tax the shit out of anything running on dinosaur juice and huffing out CO2.
Sin tax. Congestion tax. Fun tax. Noise tax. Pollution tax. Yep, in order to enjoy the weekend fix of pumping cylinders, the rush of changing your own gears not to mention that sweet smell of hot engine oil, you’ll have to remortgage your house. Which, if you manage to get right, will just lead to a public lambasting by annoying new age Earth liberals. In 2037 the old school, fun-loving car enthusiast will be a most abhorred species.
Fortunately it’s 2017 and by my calculations that means that we still have some time left. So fill up your tank with some good old-fashioned petrol and attack the asphalt for all that it’s worth. Go on that December road trip, attend that Sunday afternoon trackday and destroy that Friday night drag strip.
Because if you don’t films like Two-Lane Blacktop and Easy Rider and Vanishing Point won’t be nostalgic reveries but rather painful eulogies to a glorious, bygone era in which the automobile transcended faceless, disposable transport. The future sure is going to suck, brother, so best you and your car make the most of what the present offers while you still can. – Thomas Falkiner