Are Cars Art?


When you think of movies for car guys, you think of the Fast and Furious series, Smokey and the Bandit, some direct-to-T.V. thing about Steve McQueen. As you think of those movies, you also judge the people they represent. You think about straight-piped Honda Civics, sticker-bombing a minivan, the horsepower wars, your dad explaining in his hand-wavey dad-logic way why traction control is actually a hazard. To someone who doesn’t understand cars or who isn’t involved in the culture of them. These movies depict the reasons why people love cars, their need for speed, for nostalgia, for being free and in control. These are the reasons people like cars. But they aren’t the heart and soul of car culture.

The heart and soul of car culture has been accurately recorded exactly once. The occasion was August 1976, when in the early morning hours Claude Lelouch drove a Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 around Paris with a hard-mounted camera on the hood. This footage was paired with the song of Lelouch’s Ferrari 275GTB. There was no closed course, no permissions. He simply told his girlfriend to meet him at the Sacré Coeur and filmed the drive there. Everyone who enjoys cars wants this experience. Red lights don’t matter here, traffic is a minor concern. People who like cars crackle at the excitement of a yellow light they can make – some even accelerate dangerously, chasing the thrill so completely captured in the eight-minute drive recorded on 1000 feet of 35mm film.

Cars are an extension of your personality and ego. The drive, the speed, the pedestrians who run across the street as they realize you aren’t slowing down, the sound – good God, the sound. It represents you running high. Yes, that barista totally checked you out. Yes, you told your boss you wanted a raise and were just CC’d on an email from the guy above him. Its better than you’d expected, better even than you’d hoped. Yes, you weren’t the problem in the relationship and you are ready to move on. When you drive a car in such a way that you are the only limiting factor, it is exactly like realizing your ego is justified, you are above the crowd.

C’était un rendez-vous. It was a date.

The date being referred to certainly is not with the blonde woman embraced at the end of the drive. The date is with you, your car, your city. A date with success, with being the most important person in the room – while being outside. It is a date free of doubts. A honeymoon with your decisions in life. It is someone way out of your league pulling you close to whisper “oh yes, you’ve made the right decisions, look at this car, this city, look at me. We exist for you, because you matter.” The engine purrs like this hypothetical idealized person. It wants you and only you. You deserve this pleasure. Downshift. Yes, you’ve felt that sound. Your first real kiss, when she puts her tongue in your mouth. That’s the sound. If that feeling had a sound it comes from downshifting a Ferrari 275GTB. The complaints screaming from the tires bring you back there. You know where.