Living In The Moment, Is Driving The Past

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing all the things I don’t like about cars and tuning right now. I still think there’s more to dislike than ever before and the scene needs a change pretty badly. But amidst all the shitty trends, something has started to happen. We’re tracing back to the roots of our cars, to the origins of modern tuning. Japanese classics have always been there. They’ve occupied a small niche of our small niche, but lately that’s beginning to change. They’re beginning to grow in popularity and I think it’s fantastic.

I got to thinking about this trend and why all of a sudden? A few things came to mind about why many of us are taking a few steps backwards.

Let’s face it, the environmentalists are becoming the majority. They have many things to say about pollution and how it relates to cars. Many people believe that cars are one of the biggest contributors to “global warming”. While I think the effects of “global warming” are highly debatable and more a result of changing climates the planet has experience since the beginning of time, other’s are looking for a more concrete answer. It’s always easier for people to understand, when a term is applied to describe something. We’ve chosen to apply “global warming” to most of our unanswered questions on climate change. Al Gore believes the planet is melting and everyone will eventually die as a result of this. Given the terrible news, people need someone or something to blame. Naturally, the car was the obvious choice in taking on the burden of being known as the destroyer of the world.

Since the car is now considered “evil”, manufacturers are in a scramble to create new, energy efficient, green cars, that are better for the environment. Thus our beloved sports cars are being shelved at an alarming rate. You may not care about this. Maybe you think that all the best cars have already been built and there’s plenty to go around. Maybe you’re thinking “go head, build your hybrids, I’ve already got my STi.” Well that’s great, but here’s the thing you may not have considered. Along with the rise in fuel efficient, environmentally  conscious cars, we’re seeing a major push to increase the emissions requirements for all cars. Someday, you may not even be able to get that STi on the road because it won’t jump through hoops to save the deer.

So really what we’re talking about here is the death of sports cars and possibly the death of driving as we know it. Lets be honest, in another 10-20 years time you’ll be hard pressed to find any new car with a proper manual transmission. Our kids will probably never even learn to drive stick. It’s a grim thought and a definite reality, we’re already beginning to see in current cars. With the roads full of electric cars that drive themselves and a population that doesn’t know what a manual transmission is, what will happen to the art of driving? I’ll admit, that question takes things to a bit of an extreme, but it is something to think about. Most of us can agree that Japanese cars are our favorites. It’s what brought most of us into this community in the first place. But the reality is that Japan is one of the more forward-thinking countries of the world. They’re always at the cutting edge of technology and look towards what’s next. What’s next is environmental preservation and reduced emissions. What we’ve already seen, are many of our favorite cars being scrapped for increased focus on green projects. Even the things I’ve been reading about the Evo this past weak, present a grim future for sports cars.

All of these ideas and potential realities are happening now. The wheels are in motion. So what can we do? We can enjoy the moment while we still have it. I think it’s one of the reason why classic cars have made such a comeback. They’re everything that current cars are not. They’re easy to maintain and understand. Driving them is an involved experience that allows the user to have nearly complete control over the machine. Classics can’t think for themselves, they can’t stop for you or tell you when to turn right or left. Their simplicity is also their greatest achievement.

For Californians it means being able to drive a car that doesn’t need to pass emissions testing. It means being able to run virtually limitless performance setups with no consequences. The nostalgia of driving these cars represents the very things that we all hold so sacred in our own cars. They represent the outlaw roots of tuning in Japan and how they achieved legendary status. Driving a Japanese classic ultimately represents living in the moment. Yes, the car is from the past, but the ideals with which we drive these cars couldn’t be closer to what we all cherish in the present. It’s being a true enthusiast, no strings attached.

A few years ago I realized my dream of owning an R34 GT-R, in California and driving it on the street was as good as dead. It’s basically impossible. Even if you could somehow get one on the street you’d probably make it a block or two before having to present your case to a cop. The current GT-R came along and yeah, it’s pretty nice. They look “decent” and they’re quick. But somehow they still represent where cars are going. Computers on wheels that make the tough decisions for you. With a classic though, I could still live out my dream of owning a genuine Skyline.

The original Skyline GT-R, the Hakosuka represents everything that makes Japanese classics great. Like the Silvia represents drifting, the KPGC10 represents nostalgia. Owning an actual Hakosuka is something of a rarity, but building up a 2000GT is something that’s a lot more likely and what many are doing now.

Mine would have to be red. It’s a glorious looking thing under the lights of the Daikoku parking area.

The S20 is a different sort of beast. One that, in it’s own right, is just as brilliant as the engines we all cherish in our own cars.

So despite beating the dead horse of environmental malarky we’ve all grown too accustomed to hearing, there’s a lot to savor. It’s a message to anyone who loves cars and loves driving. Just enjoy it. Spend as much time on it as possible. Buy that car of your dreams and raise hell in it. To live in the moment is the best way to live because you don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone.

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18 comments

  1. I agree with this. I drive a 2002 WRX, which has no drive by wire, a manual trans, no crazy electronic diffs. Its a much better driving experience compared to 2012 cars. 10 years…Even still, I’m craving an AE86 or a hako or kenmeri or Celica from JDM Legends. Lightweight, nimble, high revving engines, very mechanical experience. Plus the exterior design of todays cars are too much, they’re overly done, plastic. I want chrome bumpers, 15 inch wide wheels, fender mirrors, beautiful surflines, etc. All of these new cars are heavy and boring to drive. Look at the FT86 concept with the AE86. 30 years tells the story when you look at the difference.

  2. This is what I’ve been saying. New cars are technological marvels, but they have no character. Why I want a Datsun Fairlady Roadster.

    But honestly, good luck finding a S20 motor. You’d be better off casting a new motor out of solid gold, as it’d be easier and cheaper lol. Maybe we need to join a Datsun club…

    Plus environmentalists and politicians are stupid. Car emissions make up 10% of the total CO2 emissions. The auto industry has become a martyr. No one wants to give up the convenience the industrial industry gives us, therefore their 40% of all emissions is allowed to continue with little in the way of improvement without regulation changes.

    1. I agree with you on all points Earl. We probably should join a Datsun club. I have no plans to get rid of the WRX, but the Subaru community really isn’t doing it for me lately. I haven’t seen you on the forums in ages!

  3. It’s a shame that automobiles by the way of internal combustion are the ones taken under the knife. Whether or not you believe global warming is fact or fiction, cars are at best third or fourth in line in terms of emissions; behind coal-power plants and aerobic organisms like ourselves, and by a long shot. However it is easiest to target motorists and their habits simply because we are the most vulnerable; cheap electricity makes the world go around, and we can’t stop breathing, no?

    I once told myself if I had a 100,000 to blow with no remorse, that I’d import a late-model Skyline here to the Golden State. Not even out out of college yet, and the crackdowns are happening all around us; the Feds have started and won the fight before we could do anything. The case for GTRs are beyond the emissions scapegoating – It’s like genocide.

    Keep the cars we drive now, and keep them good, so we can show our kids how to hoon with engines that make noise and three pedals to stomp on.

  4. Agreed on many points, though I offer a slightly different outlook. As our favorite fascinating yet boring automotive guru Jay Leno said before, the appeal of internal combustion will never truly be legislated away. Perhaps it may be relegated to a weekend pleasure but the fear that it would be outlawed like asbestos or leaded fuel is a bit much.

    Moreover, don’t discount the potential for electric or alternative fuel vehicles to find their own niches in the adrenaline seeking publics eyes. Coming from personal experience in riding an electric motorcycle, there is no lack of thrill to be sought in the alternative power realm. Sure, it might not be the same thrill you’re used to, in fact I’d be inclined to argue that it’s a superior one at that. These are new ways of moving that we’re only beginning to discover. To disregard them out of a stagnant predisposition to what we already know is a bit unfair. Torque is torque, power emits sounds, transfers G’s, throws us in the back of our seats and let’s us play with it to produce newer better thrills. We’re really on the verge of an entirely new horizon in human transportation and who knows what kind of excitement it could hold. The stick shift will always be a stick shift, just as the heartbeat of a horse will always be there too. Appreciate what’s here now, experience it to the fullest, and take that thrill seeking attitude into the future to foster an ideal which rips these new technologies out of the hands of nanny-state health and safety conscious early adopters and let it all loose. Let’s be the hot rodders of 21st century technology. Take that mundane electric Buick equivalent and tear it down, find some veins and shoot some pure adrenaline into them. Drain batteries faster, burn ethanol at a rate worthy of our thirst. The notion of a petrol head is not relegated to internal combustion, it’s something more, and to outright reject the automobiles own jet age because you still want to use propellers will only mean missing out on some really awesome things to come.

  5. There are a few things that I’d like to point out, or possibly blog about because this post has pretty much said a lot of what I’ve had in mind.

    The cars of today have so many things that rely on computers that the driver cannot be one with their car. It’s fine for electronics to help out with diagnostic purposes, but when you’re relying on a computer to do the driving for you, then what’s the point of driving? Pretty soon, if technology permits, our cars will be like the cars in “I, Robot.” Cars on auto-pilot are really no fun (maybe unless you’re falling asleep, but it’ll just be a convenience. This is why the 90’s were great. The introducing of OBD-II allowed mechanics to figure out what was wrong with a car without the hassle of trial and error and always having to “guess” what was wrong. The on-board computer almost always knew what was wrong. That’s all a computer should do: help. It shouldn’t be everything the car is. You want a computer, buy a computer, and leave it at home. I guess it’s better than Brian’s computer setup from “The Fast and the Furious” in his Eclipse.

    I never had the opportunity to drive manual because a certain someone (my dad) says that if I learn how to drive manual, I’m going to end up buying a car with manual and modify the hell out of it. He’s right…. to an extent. For me, a great driving experience is being “one with the car” and not “one with the steering wheel.” I want to do what you’ve suggested: buy the car of my dreams and raise hell in it. I’ll be sure to do that in the near-future, but in the proper environment (a track).

    Great write-up Chris!

  6. Great post… I really like that the car I have (02 WRX) is the last few non-technology-laden cars. I can add an exhaust without screwing up the ECU map. It’s pre-drive-by-wire so my foot actually connects to the throttle via all only mechanical intermediaries. Easy enough to work on.

    I don’t know if green cars will mean the demise of the sports car — especially when companies like Mercedes are almost haphazardly throwing more and more HP/Tq into their cars. And racing will always impel the production of cars that can be raced.

    But definitely a solid point that the drive to find a few more MPG here and there and lower carbon footprint creates higher technology expectations in cars. If you don’t have the next “SI drive” or sequential transmission the idea Auto Industry execs probably have is that consumers will go to the manufacturers that do. Why drive a fred flintstone car when you can drive a spaceship (the new GTR)

    I dream to visit Daikoku Futo some day!

    1. Thanks John! I remember reading a post on your blog discussing why the older WRX’s are better than the current ones. I agree with you on that…and I’d also love to visit Daikoku Futo.

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone. I’m always happy to see people taking the time to respond, even if we don’t share the exact same opinion. 😉

  8. Ya, as Subies get older and more affordable (shoot, that’s why I have one now), I see more people with weird tastes (that’s being nice) modding their WRX’s… there are those that get it, but they’re harder to find. I think I’ll be keeping mine as well, but saving up for a fun little classic car project to do with my boys. Something from a simpler time, a Dat’ 510, AE86, TE72 or something light, FR and fun to driver.

  9. I’ve been in the “small niche” for quite a while now…longer than a decade. I’ve witnessed first hand the crackdown on modifying imports in the early 2000s and, thank god, I was immune from that because I owned a “classic”

    What scares me about the rise in popularity of the Japanese classics, is that there will be a shift in focus by the environmentalists. With the rise in popularity will come the crackdown. People forget that all because your classic does not need to be smogged past a certain manufacture date does not mean that it is exempt from smog regulations. No matter how old, you can be asked to open your hood AND you must have the original smog equipment still on your engine. Even in 1972, Datsun had a california only 240z model equipped with smog provisions.

    I don’t want the attention. I liked it when it was a small niche. The only comfort I have, is the classics are not readily available. Bah hum bug.

  10. Nice writeup man, I couldn’t have said it any better myself and you already know how I feel about the matter 😉

    Unfortunately for some of us the sentiment is also the same in Japan which is driving up the prices for the nostalgics even more. It’s pretty crazy when you can pick up a nicely modified BNR34 for less than a middle of the road hakosuka.

  11. I’m probably a bit older than most readers here, but I own an ’04 STi and a vintage Porsche. I’ve always said that the 00’s were a rare time for car enthusiasts. When I turned 16 in 1990, a 200 horsepower 911 was considered a super car. My first car had 60 horsepower.

    In the 00’s the technology final caught up with the emissions regulations and we had a renaissance in sports cars. Not just imports, but also beasts like the ZR1.

    But those days are over. Subaru has hasn’t made any significant leaps in performance in 8 years. A 6 cylinder twin turbo STi will never happen.

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