From Peter Schindler, On the Road: Driving Adventures, Pleasures and Discoveries (On the Road Editions, 2005) pp. 3-5
I have never once failed to enjoy myself driving, at any time of day, in any season, on any kind of surface – hot or wet tarmac, gravel, and especially snow – and in any country. In fact, I’ve had some of the best times of my life on the road. Some pleasures have gone, others may have changed, yet others I’ve discovered along the way. My passion for driving is as hot as ever.
Driving has made me feel free and relaxed, and able to live life to the fullest. When I drive an open road toward the horizon, I quickly forget my daily worries; the distance beckons me with the promise of something new, different and previously unexplored. By giving me the choice to turn left or right, to go straight or to stop for a rest, driving puts me in control, as I rarely am, it makes me unencumbered and adventurous.
Driving quenches my thirst for motion, no less than when I ski, skate, or surf and my body leans and bends to maintain balance – but in far more comfortable, safe and indulgent surroundings. This gets to the heart of my driving pleasure: I can observe life and participate in it, both at the same time.
The driving experience also stimulates my senses. The touch of wind as it tousles and whips my hair, the sense of romance as I curve along an ocean road and the nervous excitement as I twist along narrow Alpine roads, the sight of magnificent vistas and amazing cloud formations, the smell of pastures, meadows and forests as I drive by. Not to mention the in-car experience of a stylish cabriolet redolent with the smell of its interior trimmings, embraced by curvaceous seats and the rich sounds of my favourite on-the-road music. All these combine to make me feel special and indulged, and I’ve not changed an iota since I first hit the road.
The obsession with speed and the search for a perfect car have come and gone, now well replaced by new pleasures discovered along the way. Through driving, I’ve even found myself; I’ve learned what makes me tick, what fills me with bliss. Not only that, I now know that I can bring about this state of bliss at just about any time. So long as there is a car and an open road, I can be at one with myself. I’ve turned strangers into friends on the road and had the pleasure meeting people who know how to make much of little. Conversely, because of my encounters with people on the road, I’ve realized that the smaller the differences among us, the larger they tend to loom. I’ve learned about the cultures of other countries, merely by virtue of driving there. Driving for thousands of miles with my future wife also proved an invaluable test of our suitability for marriage. Now, when we have a disagreement , we know that all we need to do to put things right is either get on the road, or get naked. Neither is a disagreeable choice.
Being on the road has been an adventure and the source of immense pleasure, again and again. First, when I was in my late teens, there was my relentless pursuit of acrobatics on snow and my lusting after sheer speed; then, my infatuation with cars; my love affair with roads; the realization that fulfilment in life depends on what we make out of it; the making of friends; the making of a shared life; discoveries of foreign cultures; and, at last, the celebration of how lovely it is to feel free and unencumbered. All this merely by spending a lot of time on the road. Not bad, especially since it also is a fair approximation to my progression in life.
The most beautiful works of art of the twentieth century are cars and jets. A Maserati, a Bugatti or a Ferrari are infinitely more beautiful, to my eyes, than a Rothko, a Basquiat or a Picasso. To these painters I far prefer the works of a great designer—a Jaguar Type D, for example, is a marvel. And look at the 2011 exhibition, ‘Speed, Style, and Beauty: Cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection’—you see cars that are clearly works of art; there is a blend of technique and beauty, of elegance and efficiency, that is exceptional.
The great adventure of motoring belongs to the twentieth-century. It will never again have the same charm, the same signification of technological innovation, risk-taking and aesthetic achievement. It’s an adventure which is over. We no longer have cars, we have vehicles. Little islands will remain, but motoring won’t be a great adventure as it was until the 1970s.
A car is the crystallization of intelligence, the quintessence of mankind’s genius. It’s hard to beat the intelligence of a well-made engine and a beautifully-designed car. I can spend an hour looking at a Maserati. It’s a grandiose object of contemplation.
The Ferraris, Jaguars and Bugattis of the 1950s were conceived as integral objects, in the way a work of art is, by men who were passionate about beauty, who strove for performance, who exalted values such as courage.
There are still magnificent cars today, but I think technology has put an end to the adventure of motoring. The ineluctable advent of driverless cars means that safety concerns will override the taste for adventure, passion and beauty.
Teardrop sunglasses, a blonde ponytail, a Triumph TR6 with its soft-top down: At the wheel she sits, a girl with a glowing smile, as russet leaves filter golden light and vines slope down to a lake.
̶ That’s near Neuchâtel again. It was the day I got my driving licence.
̶ You learned to drive in a TR6?
̶ Yes. My Dad’s always had sports cars.
̶ No wonder you thread your way through traffic like you do! I bet you were playing with plastic cars in your crib!
̶ Not quite that early! But as a kid my favorite toys were free rollers—you know, Hot Wheels—Mustangs and Camaros.
̶ So you were never into Barbie dolls?
̶ Never. Loop-the-loop and racing, that was my thing!
Gravity and speed, the slope of the free fall: The physics of danger.
̶ Just looking at this picture, Sprague, I can feel the warmth in my legs.
̶ The warmth in your legs?
̶ Yes. In the TR6 your legs are right behind the engine. You feel the heat.
̶ So that’s where you got your hot legs!
̶ Yeah, and learned to do a lube job.
̶ And how about bodywork?
̶ On the TR-6 you learn everything. That’s why I liked it, last week, when you said you don’t like perfection…
Instantly the gears engage as you ride the lever through the ratios, leaving the péage behind. A smile lights up your face as the highway opens out.
̶ You like your new car, don’t you?
The silence resounds in affirmation as you cast your glow upon me.
̶ Can’t you just feel it, Sprague—how creamy the engine is? And so torquey!
̶ Yeah, high torque at low RPM. That’s why she’s so nippy coming out of the gate!
OPEN QUESTION 1: It’s not a Flight de Ville. What is it?
Vroom, vroom! Did you hear that? I’ve got a bright yellow sports car, bright as the one in Written on the Wind. Can you guess what it is? I’ll give you a clue: It’s Japanese. Another clue: It’s a throwback to the British and Italian sports cars of the sixties…
Well, did you guess? I’ve got a Mazda MX-5, and what joy it is driving it around Otago! The little beast handles brilliantly, changes direction like a go-kart. Her touch is divine—just a nudge on the stick and she shifts. And what a looker! Lean and petite and sexy as hell. Vroom, vroom! You can’t catch me!
Forest trail, blanket of snow; bare trees, druid stone: Forests are sweet when the world does not enter them; there the saint may find his rest. Soft, soft, the back of my fingers along your cheek; subtle, subtle, your lips on my fingertips.
̶ I like your new baby.
̶ Well, if you like this one, you’d love Matteo’s.
̶ What does he have?
̶ An Alfa Romeo Spider!
̶ Did you drive it?
̶ Of course.
̶ And what’s it like?
̶ Pure pleasure!
And thus you came to tell me of how, driving that classic Italian droptop through the twisting roads of the Tuscan countryside, you felt imbued with its power, your double-clutch shifting making its twin-cams purr, your body and its chassis in ecstatic communion. And when you’d had enough of riding through the gently rolling landscape, you’d return winter to its quiescence and enter Matteo’s family hearth.
̶ I’m looking forward to Reykjavik, Sprague.
̶ Me too! But won’t you miss driving the Saab?
̶ No. I love my MX-5. But I’ll probably miss the Saab’s backwards-sliding bonnet, the key in the floor, the crazy sweep of the windshield-wipers.
̶ You’re a funny woman, Marietta.
̶ Am I? I’ve grown fond of all that. Not to mention how everything behind us gets small very quickly when I shift into high gear!