Thursday, May 19, 2011
More of what we're losing, day by day. And don't forget the big ass-end.
NO ACCOUNTING FOR WHERE IDEAS COME FROM. I have no real good reason for this post. Like so many things, it was a weird process of association. Mrs. CP was wondering what people really think of my deerhound posts, and I said I thought they found them entertaining without necessarily wanting the dog. Because they're too much to handle, too high maintenance, though spectacular. I thought it was like the way I feel about Ferraris, exotic and cool as hell but, you know, no way for me.
So I wallowed this morning in more deerhound videos, which was fun, of course:
None of it works without the big ass-end.
But I also realized I'd picked the wrong point of comparison. Deerhounds aren't Ferraris. Ferraris are refined and smooth and upper class to the point of snootiness. Deerhounds aren't that at all. Borzois are. Afghans are. Greyhounds are. Not deerhounds. Deerhounds are rude and crude and loud and obnoxious, over the top and frequently vulgar. Which is when I remembered the AC Cobra and started looking at Cobra videos. Which led me to a whole new line of thinking.
Something about atavism. Like the way if there had ever been any dogs in the Lord of the Rings movies, the only ones who would have fit in would be deerhounds and wolfhounds. And as I looked at the Cobra videos, I realized that they too have become ancient, a throwback to a more primitive, more vital time. In some ways even more so than the much older Bugattis and Duesenbergs. We can still find the fashion line of the sleek and the opulently stately in the automobiles of today. But there is really nothing to compare to the height of automotive madness that was the Cobra. Not even the obviously imitative Viper, which is an all too quiet parade machine.
Several other things are notable and perversely relevant to our current state of affairs. The Cobra may have been the last truly gestalt collaboration between the Brits and the Americans in technology. Its basis was a typically tiny Brit sportscar called the AC Bristol. American Carroll Shelby figured out that he could shoehorn a small-block Ford V-8 into the engine bay, which was the birth of the original 289 Cobra, a beast that slew Corvettes by the hundreds in SCCA racing in the mid 1960s. Then came the typically American upping of the ante. Shelby figured out how to jam a NASCAR-quality big block Ford engine with four Weber carburetors producing more than 500 horsepower into a slightly modified AC chassis with an ass-end swollen to accommodate much bigger, grippier tires, and an ultra-legend was born. The 427 Cobra weighed next to nothing, had an automatic transmission because no one could manually shift fast enough to maximize its acceleration, and it could go from zero to sixty in 3.9 seconds and zero to a hundred in well under 10 seconds. Depending on the gear ratios selected, it could reach 200 mph with virtually linear acceleration. It cost about $8,000.
It was also, for all its British roots, loud, flashy, and so instantly and terrifyingly fast that you couldn't be a silver-haired banker looking for young tail and safely own it. You had to know how to drive it or the car would flat kill you. The suspension was good, but with almost unlimited power under the throttle, you can get sideways and off the road in a heartbeat. The Cobra was no rich Casanova's rolling bedroom.
The engine was so highly tuned that it could only operate on Sunoco 260 megatane gasoline, no longer available today (sigh). It was so radically configured that the engine roughness you hear in the videos is a function of a racing cam that barely runs at idle; it wants you to stamp on the throttle and hit a sweet spot of 7,000 rpm -- in other words, it's junk around town; no environment for sweet-talking 18-year-old girls into your clutches.
It has become one of the rarest of all automotive legends. Only 200 of the 427 Cobras were ever made. Most of them still survive, having come gradually into the hands of those who know how to drive them and care for them. At the same time, no car in history has ever inspired such a vigorous replica industry. Obviously, the thing speaks to individual souls in a way few cars ever have,
Here's the rub. The Cobra is clearly an archetype of the fossil fuel evil liberals want to remove from our lives. Yeah, it got crappy gas mileage. But it was also an apex of the automotive esthetic. While they piddle around in their Priuses, I can't help thinking that we're losing something important about ourselves.
Is this how you want so see yourselves in the more responsible progressive age? Or do you dream in your deepest hearts of something more like this?
He's babying it, because the car is worth a gazillion dollars. But it's a taste.
Sorry for interrupting your New Age meditations...