Baby, You Can Drive My Car (Or Maybe Not)

JANE: So, Alan, last time we were discussing the psychological oddities involved in the fact that you and I each drive on the wrong side of the road, at least from each other’s point of view. I bet that if we looked, we’d find a lot of other interesting oddities regarding our attitudes toward driving and cars.

All Backwards -- To Me

All Backwards — To Me

ALAN: Because the Japanese drive on the left just like we do, we have a huge number of imported second-hand Japanese cars on our roads. I own one myself. It has a switch on the dashboard whose function is utterly mysterious to me. And since the owner’s manual is in Japanese, I’ll probably never find out what it does.

JANE: If you want to scan the page and e-mail it to me, I’ll see if my friend, Cale, can translate it for you.  It would be a pity if you didn’t realize that you had missile launchers or laser beams…  Or even the hover vents that would let you rise about traffic.

ALAN: Gosh!  That would be impressive…

My car has all the original factory fixtures and fittings. That includes a radio, of course, which also leads to problems since Japanese radio stations broadcast on a different range of frequencies than the ones we use. So the unmodified Japanese radios can’t actually pick up stations that I like to listen to. There is a gadget which can be fitted to address this problem, but it isn’t very satisfactory…

JANE: If you don’t want to fix it, you can simply listen to recorded music.  I gave up on radio a while back.  Now I have a selection of CDs I keep in the car.  My current favorite is a David Bowie compilation.

Jim’s vehicle is new enough that it came with a jack for a data stick.  I encouraged him to record a bunch of “his” music, so I can learn more about bands he likes.  It’s been a lot of fun.  I have a lot more appreciation for Jimi Hendricks, Cream, The Who, and Led Zeppelin than I did.  I mean, I’d heard the hits, but now I’ve listened to entire albums.

But I am straying from cars…

ALAN: We have a CD player as well and so we keep a lot of music in the car for long journeys. Robin and I have eclectic tastes (we like everything except country and western), but our major tastes were formed in the sixties and seventies and most of our music dates from that time. We’d both agree happily with Jim’s selections.

JANE: One of these days we should discuss music.  I just realized that most of the bands I listed were British and we certainly don’t only listen to Brits!  But back to cars…

ALAN: Yes, but let’s resist the lures of that tangent for the moment. The Japanese cars have an undeserved reputation for being of poor quality. The phrase “jap crap” is sometimes used. There was a huge scandal a few years back when it emerged that the majority of the used imports had had their odometers spun back so that the cars appeared to have done very low mileage. We have much stricter laws now and that scandal appears to have gone away.

JANE: That’s interesting.  In the United States, Japanese cars, overall, have a very high reputation.  I don’t think we’re part of their used car market, though, which may account for the difference.

ALAN: Actually, I’ve always found Japanese cars to be manufactured to a very high standard as well. Of course, we don’t have an indigenous car manufacturing industry so all our cars are imports, both new and used. There was a time when we assembled cars under license from overseas manufacturers, but we don’t even do that anymore.

However I’m not in the least bit surprised that you don’t have Japanese imports. After all, you’d have to swap the steering wheel round before you could drive them.

JANE: Funny man…

I am not an expert on cars by any means, but I do know that many “foreign” cars sold in the U.S. are actually manufactured here.  And many “American” cars are wholly or partly manufactured elsewhere.

At one point in his life, Jim made a great effort to “buy American.”  He bought a Ford truck, only to find out it had been built in Japan.  His next vehicle was a Ford Festiva, which had been built in Korea.  His next vehicle was a Nissan truck, which he learned had been built in Tennessee.  The truck lasted him for something like nineteen years.  It was still running when he traded it in, but he decided he’d really like to have air conditioning.

This time he didn’t bother to check who made what where and bought based on the reputation of the vehicle.  So we now have a Subaru Forester and he likes it very much, especially the air conditioning and the ability to play his entire music collection.

ALAN: We have a Subaru as well. It’s a Subaru Legacy – just a car though. Not a truck.

The British have always enjoyed eccentric motor cars. The Reliant Robin which had three wheels and a fibreglass body, and the Austin A30 which, as an economy measure, had only one windscreen wiper (a passenger side wiper was available as an optional extra).

But the most famous was the Mini which was designed by Alec Issigonis. He got a knighthood for it. It first appeared in 1959 and it was the best-selling British car in history – the production run exceeded 5 million, and a mini-derived design is still being manufactured today. It had a very small 800cc engine, front wheel drive, and 10 inch wheels. The car was so tiny, that there used to be a joke in England that a pedestrian once got hit by a mini as they were crossing the road and they had to be taken to hospital to have it removed…

JANE: <laughing>

ALAN: In another life, Robin was once a car mechanic in a garage. She specialised in minis because she was the only person in the garage whose hands were small enough to get into all those awkward places. There was so little space under the bonnet that other garages had to dismantle and then remantle the entire engine to do even the simplest maintenance jobs. But with Robin on the job, that wasn’t necessary.

JANE: I’ve seen minis here occasionally.  They look like toys and always seem to be driven by very large men…

I wonder what that means?

ALAN: Speaking as a man, I have to say that I think Freud was perfectly correct. Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.

Because minis are so small, it is natural to try and get as many people as possible into one. According to the Guinness Book Of Records, the world record for cramming people into a mini is 27. This amazing feat was achieved on 18th May 2014 during the annual London to Brighton Mini Run. The 27 people were all female and included a mother and daughter and a pair of twins. The Guinness Book Of Records remains silent on the question of whether or not the mini could actually move with all those people in it…

JANE: Bet it couldn’t!  Now, I need to go write, but I don’t think we’ve exhausted (get it, “exhausted”?) the topic of cars quite yet!


8 Responses to “Baby, You Can Drive My Car (Or Maybe Not)”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Yeah, I suppose you can’t simply make mirror image blueprints when you want to manufacture cars with the steering wheel on the wrong side. I suppose you Kiwis have the accelerator on the right and the brake on the left, as we do?

    Probably the greatest perturbation in the Force was an old Range Rover I drove at work a while back (this was on a private nature conservancy, and the place was pretty rugged). Her name was Thelma, which fitted her personality perfectly, but Thelma’s steering wheel was very properly on the left. How the British could stoop so low I have no idea, but there you have it.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      Yes — the accelerator is on the right and in cars with an automatic gearbox the brake is on the left. In cars with a manual gearbox the brake is in the middle and the clutch is on the left. My current car is only the second automatic I’ve ever owned and my left foot really doesn’t know what to do with itself. It keeps trying to go for the clutch and gets very frustrated when it doesn’t find one…

      Driving instincts are strange things. For many years I owned a car where the gear lever was on the steering column. The car I bought after that one had the gear lever on the floor, where it should more properly be, of course. Nevertheless, for months I kept trying to change gear with the windscreen wiper control. Trust me — that doesn’t work!


      • Jane Lindskold Says:

        Oh… I’m laughing so hard tears are coming into my eyes.

        That said, my mom tried to teach me to drive in a car with a manual transmission and the gear lever on the steering column. She kept insisting I’d “feel” the right positions.

        I kept swearing I couldn’t. This cured me of any desire for a manual transmission and I have always driven automatics.

      • louis robinson Says:

        After, mmm…. 18 years, I’ve reached the point where I only go tor the clutch in emergencies. You have to go out of your way to buy a standard around here now.

        One of my high-school teachers had a mini. One day a bunch of us got together, picked it up and deposited it neatly between 2 trees on the boulevard across to the school. It was the perfect space for it – just about 6 inches clearance front and back 🙂

  2. Sally Says:

    Had a friend who was nuts over Morris Minors, the old ones that had little metal flags that popped out of the side just behind the front doors to serve as turn signals. Very cute car, though not as small as a Mini. She never had one that actually worked, so I never got to ride in one.

    These were all adjusted for the States, though: steering wheel on the left side.

  3. Chad Merkley Says:

    Okay, I have to jump in and say something about music…Alan, you say you don’t like country and western–fair enough. There’s a lot of it I really don’t like, especially the newer commercial releases. But I have to recommend the album Heirloom Music by Jimmy Dale Gilmore and the Wronglers, released in 2011. The songs are all depression-era or older, done in a traditional old-time style. The musicianship is incredible, and you can tell that they all just had a blast recording this. In my opinion, this album represents some of the best of American traditional music.

    So, cars…My 1995 Ford Taurus is currently stuck in my driveway with a dead battery. I should be able to fix that this weekend.

  4. Paul Says:

    I’ve found audiobooks great entertainment while driving, although some find them distracting. Another even better one is old radio shows on CDs or satellite radio (or cassettes if any cars still have tape players).

    • janelindskold Says:

      You can get adapters to play cassette tapes via car radio, I think.

      Better would be to get a deck that plays both cassettes and burns CDs and dub over. I’m assuming these exist, just as you can get machines that burn vinyl to computer files or CDs.

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