Carman III-Easy driver

Chess is a very interesting game... to say the least. It is deep-going as only few, and is based on the concept of war maneuvers. When I first learned the basic moves by a student of mine, he would set me up for a trap that is well known as “The Spanish retreat”.
For those unfamiliar, the idea is to lure your game partner into an attack at the very beginning of the game, and before he knows it, make him fall into a well set retreat, that is actually neutralizing the entire game against him… Check mate! Game over! Kaput…

In driving I use the term “Spanish retreat” when I find the least amount of horsepower in a car, that will be just right in order to “beat” its more powerful “brothers” while driven in real circumstances and in real life…

If “Carman” is our icon of what the perfect driver would be… then for sure I will have to find a sidekick nickname, too. In looking back at my own history so far as a driver “Car-Kidnaper” should suit me just fine… To meet me in person means, still to this day, to hide your car keys. Because if your car is a model that I haven’t driven yet… I won’t ask twice. And the spinning-at-the-corner fool will not be a car that looks like yours, but definitely yours, with me in it… Most of the time people give up their keys sooner than this, probably because of that desperate begging look on my face: “Can I drive your car for a mile or two, pleeeeease!” I gave that phrase a lot of practice, too.
At this point, and in order to be honest with my readers, I must admit and confess the following. I am an egomaniac when it comes to my own car and I don’t feel guilty in hijacking other people’s car either. If there is a worse term than egomaniac please be my guest… but nobody gets to drive my baby, never did never will…

This year, among many other cars, I drove (shall I say kidnapped?) two cars that find themselves at the top of line of production cars…
I will not give you their full… resume, or dazzle you with many details. A simple outline will do… I would hate it to be a bore for my female readers.
The first car was given to me with full consent.

  1. The BMW Z coupe M class with manual 6gear transmission. Its 3.2liter engine produces 343 of horse power and
  2. The Porsche Carrera 911 S with 7gear semi automatic (PDK) transmission. Its 3.8liter engine produces 385 of horse power. Especially this Porsche was, absolutely shamelessly equipped, with just about everything… there is. Its total price went well beyond the 200.000 Euros. It was like driving a small… bank, somebody else’s bank, to be exact.  

The BMW was smooth (as all BMW’s are) well balanced, even when taken off balance, and a sledgehammer when you would put your foot down. It was a true “bat-mobile” for everyday use. I got to drive this black beauty twice and did put it to its limits only for short (if the owner is reading this… to its limit but like a gentleman)

The Porsche was a car screaming for a race track right from the start. The engine produces massive noise and the balance is not that fun getting back once lost. Performance stands above anything else, with the top speed (302km or 187+miles per hour) coming without effort. I could not believe how comfortable its interior was for a sports car. I got to drive it (don’t ask how) for three days, and nights!

Comparisons and conclusion:
Both cars are performance cars and each of them has its own way of doing things. The more you drive them and discover them, the more you feel that they do go apart… So, comparison is out the window here (this being my opinion). For the record, my significant other fell in love with the Porsche and at the end of the long weekend I had to drag her out of the co-drivers seat… One of the highlight of moments we had was when she asked of me “can you go any faster?” My jaw dropped to my chest but I recovered fast screaming above the engine’s howl “yes it can, but I don’t remember where the… warp speed button is!”

A cavalry of horses
I know that every kid (and I mean the grown up ones) dreams of a car that has excessive power… Usually more power than… the next man has. The motto was and remains “the more the better” And I also realize that if you have the money to buy starting from the top of the price list, and not from the bottom of it, who would go for the “lesser” car?

BUT in order for a car to produce the power for achieving performance and speeds that go beyond a certain point, they are obliged to overtake the “fun to drive” factor.
A “fun to drive” car even when pushed beyond its limits leaves a smile on your face (needless to remind that this applies to the experienced driver)
When on the other hand, a pure sports car designed for performance, will pass beyond that point and lead you to a driving that will make you sweat…
My main argument (with just about everybody) is that “a cavalry of horses” built into a car, is a needless show-off power, that produces nothing but trouble. Too much power from an engine, will take to adjust the entire car towards being able to put that power on the street and control it. The body-frame, the transmission, the suspension, the tires… all mechanical parts must be reinforced, made heavier and  above all have a tuning that accords to handle this force. Okay, you will reach 300+ kilometers per hour in no time, but in order to do that you will have to “kill” the feeling of the car which exists at a level bellow that point.     

It’s a question of choice of what you really want. Personally I never had doubts on this, but this last test-drives where a reminder that I thought of sharing. I would gladly trade “a cavalry of horses” of any performance car, with the free, relaxed, playful feeling, of a drive offered by a humble roadster. And make no mistake! On certain tight mountain roads the agility and handling of such a “lesser” car can be unbeatable, too.

All our Martial Arts training, and the concept of applying martial principles into everyday life… has to do with doing something more with something less. In the great Japanese tradition of Yabusame (horse riding combined with archery) the rider is to bring in harmony himself, the horse, the bow and his target.
“Jinba Ittai” translates from the Japanese as “Horse and Rider as One” And a Japanese car manufacturer uses this motto for its latest marvelous roadster (Mazda Miata MX-5). This beauty costs half the price of the… interior extras that I rode the other day. It also has about two thirds less horses… to feed. But if someone could invent the “fun meter” to this car and put up a price for it, then it would cost a fortune. “Jinba Ittai” is of importance here and not… Napoleon’s cavalry!

The entire sum of everything I ever mentioned and wrote so far, on the subject of cars, goes into a single direction: To approach the car with the attitude of a horse ride, rather than a coach ride.

A sentimental tribute to my cars
Not everybody has the chance to own a car, nothing to speak about owning a car of his choice. Some people are so poor, they have to struggle for years, just to be in a position to have one. From that point of view… any car is good as long as it becomes yours! It is good to remember that…

It is a fact that my… Hippy approach towards life (when it came to money) left me crawling for the biggest part of it. Especially when Hippy times were over but I would nevertheless continue the Hippy act! Don’t take this wrong, I don’t make any complains… but I think that this is a good way of introduction, in offering a few lines to the cars I owned so far. 
All my cars had names… that they got according to their character!

“Christine” At the beginning there was a light! No, forget that… wrong start. At the beginning there was darkness. Because long before I owned my first car, I knew well how “the right car” should be… and I also knew that I would never get to own it.
In the spring of 1988 I gathered a ridiculous sum of money by the method of… working. I will not say by working hard, since this term is terribly overused these days… After a long search and discussions with friends and car mechanics, I ended up specifically looking for an Opel Kadett. This car was a genuine rear wheels drive… the last of its kind in its class, and as it proved later on, for many decades to come. Its more powerful versions were winning in Rallies, and that did mean a lot, because at the time they would race most cars just as they would come out from production!!! No modifications, no super-cars.
With the little money in my pocket I started to look for my car… and there she was, staring back at me, built in 1977 and despite the terrible open green color it whispered “buy me” And I did… only to discover a few days later, while thoroughly washing her by hand, that she was a taxi cab for her entire life, then painted and sold to any stupid sucker that would fall for it… Stupid spelled as in me!
The biggest school of my life, as a car connoisseur, was about to begin. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong, my car was a piece of junk, but I was… in love with it, and on the top of it I tried the impossible journey of fixing her… Junk yards became my second home. Of course I had no choice but name her Christine, after the film by John Carpenter. There is no way of telling how this car even moved after so much mileage it had on it. I even had discovered how to “dry-clean” it, because any other way of washing would allow the water getting through, from everywhere. I was heartbroken when I had to give her away 7 years later and people around me did not believe their ears on how affectionate I was about this car.     

“Dolly” In the spring of 1994 I gathered a ridiculous sum of money, again, by the method of working, again! Feeling like a traitor I gave along with the money my Christine, but I was comforted by the fact that she was going to the hands of a friend. Unbelievable as it may sound my next car was still an Opel Kadett… Born in 1986 she was two generations further down and was in a very good shape, too.
This car was a large leap ahead in comparison with Christine… The old German Adam Opel Company had changed hands now and General Motors tried to do its best for its new pride. My new car was light, fast and she could travel at the top of its speed with comfort. On a bumpy road she would jump up and down like a happy horse, absorbing everything. Jolly was Lucky Luke’s faithful horse, but in some translations from the original French this would appear as Dolly. In this funny way my new car maintained its female character. Dolly had a terrible color of dark green, which looked even more terrible than Christine’s light green. And she was a front wheel drive, a characteristic that I was destined to find… in front of me.   

Both of my cars, so far, had one thing in common. They were at the bottom of the price list and “extras” was an unknown word to them. Also there was a total absence of any kind of “technology” as we know it today… or yesterday… or the day before…
No air conditioner, no electric windows, no injection, no hydraulic steering, no air-bags, no anti-break system, shortly put… no nothing!
Last but not least, driving Christine to its limits in the wet, did mean that you could actually see from in the rear mirror a black shadow approaching holding a reap…

“Blondie” The proverb “they don’t make them like they use to” is said mostly for cars. And I used it a lot in what I call “The dark ages for cars” Because I saw three decades parading in front of me, without even the slightest attempt of producing a rear wheel drive car, in the segment that I loved the most. The C segment… (where C stands for Compact) All manufacturers had gradually turned to front wheel drive. Only BMW used a modification of its 3 Series, by cutting it short, and naming it (what else?) “Compact” The only problem was that this car was not built from scratch in the category, and above all, it was far too expensive for a guy like me.  

My Dolly was an old horse now, gradually falling apart. And due to its more industrialized build, compared to Christine, she was becoming impossible to repair and maintain… Ironically, for once my economics were becoming better (I did send the Hippy on a long vacation!) but I could not see to which car I could turn to.
We live in the times of information and one day, totally out of the blue, info was starting to pour like rain. BMW was announcing the creation of a hatchback in the C segment, which would be a genuine rear wheel drive, with a price that would start at 16.000 Euros… This was more of a promise than a price, but finally it did not go much higher than this. The auto-press went wild, the internet went wild… I went wild! There was a long wait of post production talk, and I was hanging on every piece of information coming in, thanks to the internet. A student of mine… inherited Dolly and she still runs to this day, and in the fall of 2004 I placed the order for a fully personalized 1 Series. To the amazement of some sales people I did so the very first day that was possible, and that means, long before that model was anywhere to see on the market or streets… When my ride finally came in, for a while I was something like the king of the road. Believe it or not, people from other cars, pedestrians, bikers, were smiling at me, waving and giving me the thumbs up…

Journalist Stuart Birch of The Times called the 1 Series “…first cousin to a roadster…” pleasing me no end.
I will forever love Christine and Dolly and the journeys we made, but beyond that, I felt like going from a horse to a starship.

I left the best for last. The name…
Everyone assumes, when I call out… my car, that I mean it’s a girl and it’s blonde. But no! I mean Blondie as Tuco means it (Eli Wallach) when calling out Clint Eastwood in the all time classic “The Good the Bad and the Ugly”.  
Behind the nickname of a girl lies a cool fast draw…

August 28, 2009