Friday, January 28, 2005

What does fast look like?

The Lancer EVO and the Subaru WRX STi are certainly fast cars. Astonishingly fast cars. Cars that redefine fast as only four-wheel drive can. But they don't look particularly fast. They look peculiar. They look Japanese in an iconic way that is appealing in its oddity, like a Japanese love hotel used panty machine. Quirky but not badass. It doesn't look like a felony. The Renault R5 Turbo, that is a fast looking car. An SCCA racing Datsun 510. An early BMW 3-series with spoilers and fender flares. Trans-Am cars of the late '60s. Nothing looks faster than headlights covered with masking tape, functional spoilers and, most importantly, tires that extend beyond the traditional fender lines.

A few years ago I was invited to a market research effort on behalf of a big Detroit manufacturer. Admittedly, it was not my considerable automotive knowledge that drew the invitation, but rather that I was local and had recently bought a new car. I was thrilled to go. I had a lot to say. Instead, I sat in an Orange County industrial park and answered a browser-based questionaire that asked how much extra I would pay for a Tommy Hilfiger appearance package. Naturally, I was furious and kicked everybody in the shins on my way out.

A retainer and a piece of the back end means multinational corporations can spend a day in the Hooptyrides Shops to find out just how fast should look. So confident are we, the backend percentage is not as onerous as it sounds.