Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Downright Sublime Driving Experience

1. of high moral, aesthetic, intellectual, or spiritual value; noble; exalted
2. inspiring deep veneration, awe, or uplifting emotion because of its beauty, nobility, grandeur, or immensity
3. unparalleled; supreme: a sublime compliment.
4. poetic of proud bearing or aspect
5. archaic raised up
6. something that is sublime
7. the ultimate degree or perfect example: the sublime of folly.

What is this post about? It's an analysis of how a person relates to their car (or cars), without making any assumptions about what the relationship is 'supposed' to be. What is your car to you? This is not your ordinary car blog post.

A blog like this implies that Porsche cars are being venerated here on some level, or, at least, enthused about on occasion. True. In this blog I do admit to having considerable fun over the years behind the wheel of my 911, when it was running, and for that reason I expressed appreciation for its character and capabilities. That, and the concomitant car-owner camaraderie to be had, especially if you join a Porsche club of some kind.

There are other approaches to this realm of fun, too. I am acquainted with an individual (about whom I will give no identifying information), but I will explore a point of view that this car owner holds. It simply is this: There are a variety of ways in which a car enthusiast can experience a sublime driving experience. True enough, but, it doesn't always have to do with actual driving. [This last sentence involves what I will try to introduce.] (Also, full disclosure, the person who owns these cars is an excellent friend of mine. Many people own multiple vehicles; it's pretty common, but this collection provides a good example for what I want to talk about.) Enough make believe apology.

Okay, Porsche content:  Our hero owns a varied selection of automobiles, and one of them is a Porsche Cayman. The image here isn't that car, but it looks comparable to this, though it is not an 'S' like this one:

A Cayman is not an ultra light and flickable car, like the new, French, Alpine A110, but it is fun, and the ones that I've driven or ridden in oozed Porscheness to the hilt. This was a good thing, mostly.

In several ways, one must pay a multi-faceted price of admission for the experience that this car offers. It costs Porsche $, it's tight inside - to me a bit claustrophobic (I'm long), and it leaves out day-to-day functional practicality - especially compared to my late 911. But, it is a delight to drive and, therefore, it exists and is enjoyed by many. So, you might say that it provides a sublime driving experience, no question. It is, after all, a quick and nimble car. Really, it's über-cool.
To be honest, I wouldn't mind owning a Cayman myself, given the right context.
But then, moving on from this to consider something more practical, something that can brave the elements in this region (blizzards, unpaved roads, subzero temperatures, spring 'mud season', etc.), an all-wheel drive, or four-wheel drive vehicle is the ticket. But it ought to be sublime.

Hummer H-3
So, enter the Hummer. Of course, the 'car person' in question does not want to drive the Cayman in a blizzard, or for some reason in deep mud, and since those are the only environments in which a Hummer makes a lot of sense, an H-3 got added to the fleet.

Now we are getting into the subtle nuances of defining 'sublime'. How can a blunt tool like an H-3 be sublime? If it does what it does with great, bludgeoning effectiveness, doesn't that put this vehicle into a sublime realm (if you sort of ignore the bludgeon part)? After all, you don't have to plow the snow from the drive with this machine, you just stomp on the gas and go through it. That powerful benefit weighs in if you want to vote for this Hummer as being sublime, right? Genteel doesn't fit into the 'sublime' equation in this case, and since nobody confuses this with a sports car, everybody wins.

Well, not quite. Yes, the Hummer is capable in its way, but is it the most comfortable long distance, interstate cruiser? Maybe not so much. A person needs a bit of sumptuousness on occasion, too.

But, there is the occasional slippery road, at the same time. What to do? How about a nice, sleek, luxurious, quiet saloon car? Something with a bit of class, but a car that cannot be upended due to the occasional, pesky snow flurry? Okay, why not a Mercedes-Benz 4Matic, all-wheel drive sedan? Yes, there is one of these in this collection.

I drove this car, and it behaves admirably, handling well in composed quiet, unfettered by rude annoyances that the road throws into the way when you don't expect them. It's quick enough, and you can actually have a civilized conversation with a passenger in the back seat, and the only yelling necessary is at the behest of the editorial point that you are trying to make. I don't know for sure, but this member of this present automotive family might just accumulate the most miles of the bunch.

There is more to the bunch.

Each of these vehicles fits into a certain niche, each excelling in its individual way, but they are almost all one-trick ponies. I don't want to suggest that this is meant as a negative criticism, because the attractiveness of them all is certain, specific, and clear. However, none of them 'does it all'. Well, what does it all? Nothing, probably. That said, the additional machine in this 100% daily-driver collection takes a pretty good stab at doing it all. It's big, it's heavy, it's big, but there is a genuine sophistication about it, and that is why it is the latest addition to this private group.


A Land Rover Range Rover HSE Lux. Quite a name, but you may call it an 'RR' if you like. This creation is larger, so I'm told, than the Hummer, and it has more electronic aids in its drive train than that H-3. Plus, its level of luxury is second to none here, and it's pretty sporting, too. Hmmm. A winner? Hard to say.

The question for me has become; what are the dimensions of 'sublime'? It appears that this does not depend so much on the vehicle itself, nor fully on the driving of it, either. Rather, 'sublime' defines your state of mind while experiencing that which you prefer to experience, as far as motoring is concerned, at least. In other words, for special reasons of your own, riding a bicycle could offer the most sublime experience in your world; ignore the motor part in this case.

Another idea enters. Quality. The author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Persig, almost went insane trying to define quality. He says so in that book, if I remember it properly. Anyway, define 'quality' for yourself, but how can it not be intertwined with 'sublime'? A thing has a certain quality, therefore, it is sublime. And, every automobile being examined here exudes specific quality(ies). It's complicated. 

There is a wonderful quote from Mr. Persig, though: "The only Zen you can find on the top of mountains is the Zen you bring up there." Somehow, Mindfulness, it appears to me, needs to be kept in your back pocket, most of the time.

One concept within Zen is that enlightenment (partly) is reachable via considering paradoxical ideas in order to transcend rational thought. So, possibly, quality + you + sublime + good tires = Porsche(?) You are now enlightened.

So, this opens up a whole new universe. No one can impose sublimeness onto you, because it is not entirely an objective thing, nor quality (by itself). It's personal, and a reflection of your own values, self image, expectations, desires, environment, which is to say; your personality in your world. Sublime car experience does not necessarily mean going fast, nor handling well, nor drowning in opulence, although it could. What do you really enjoy as you move through your life? That's what it means.

Does a Porsche have to do with all of this? Is it sublime? To those who think so, yes, of course. On the other hand, nothing is intrinsically sublime about any car, until the driver's input comes into play to complete the enlightened equation. So the answer is yes, or no.

I owned a Porsche 911 for eight years, and during that time I often skinned my knuckles while 'adjusting' it, but I grinned from ear to ear on those occasions when everything about that car was singing a proper song. At long last the time came for me to let go of it. I miss my 911 on occasion, but I do not regret that I now have new opportunities before me. Happiness is not always having what you want, it is wanting what you have. That is a modest thought, but Porsches don't really involve a lot of modesty. Live in your own moment, not anyone else's

Porsche is known for its sport cars. Keep in mind, though, that Porsche is abandoning what has been nearly its most successful racing enterprise - there will be no more 24 hours of LeMans or top-tier World Endurance Championship (WEC) for Porsche - at least with the high-end cars. It's going electric instead, in specialized competition. In future years you will drive an electric Porsche, or else drive an antique gas powered one, if you can still find gasoline.  Maybe kilowatts can be sublime.

On a somewhat related topic; this is a curious transitional moment right now, because Porsche is caught up in the same quagmire as many other automobile manufacturers, which means making ever more powerful and bleeding-edge fast 'supercars' that can be driven, where? Not on public roads at anywhere near their actual capability. Race tracks? Porsche has begun to go electric, and, anyway, nearly zero percent of Porsches find themselves on actual race tracks. Put another way, ultra high performance will mean, in the not too distant future, things such as hyper efficiency and the like - this is not news. Good thing that 'sublime' is a flexible concept, because supercars are already an anachronism, and near obsolete before they hit the road. Nevertheless, not sublime to me, and there is no future for most of these cars. The 'fun' of such cars, and honestly most super-fast Porsches is, in a palpable way, entirely vicarious.

We need to reconsider what the definition of a sports car actually is, and not only that. A new reality is upon us. But for now, drive what you enjoy, and enjoy what you drive. Nobody can contradict your preferences, because nobody is identical to you. I've been looking at Morgans, and Mahindras (not really seriously), but then, frankly, all such toys are fair game. Anything has the potential to put a smile on your face, Porsche, or not.

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