Driving Pleasure


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Story by Tim Suddard • Photo by Tom Suddard

Driving Pleasure: Almost every one of us seeks it, but does it mean the same thing to everyone? Sure, there are some cars that are universally acknowledged as pegging the joy meter–no one gets out of a Ford GT or Ferrari 275 GTB and says that driving it wasn’t a great experience–but it gets a bit murky as you move away from universally acknowledged super cars. Driving pleasure can mean different things to different people and on different days.

I realized this earlier this summer as I drove the Tail of the Dragon in a new BMW M2. Margie and I were pre-running our Smoky Mountain Tour route, and although I have difficulty putting true driving happiness into words, I am 100 percent positive we found it that day. Even Margie had a shit-eating grin on her face, demonstrating that there was enough fun to extend into the passenger’s seat. A new M2 offers more driving pleasure than most of us deserve.

The next weekend, we had some friends over and I took them bar-hopping to all our area’s beach bars in our 1959 Edsel Wagon. While I was our designated driver, I still had a hell of a time cruising down the sunny Florida beach roads in that old Edsel full of crazies. I think you could ask anyone who was in the car that day and they would tell you they experienced driving pleasure. I know I sure did, but then, I do every time I get behind of the wheel of that wagon.

Obviously, these are two very different types of experiences. What made them both special?

You could argue that true driving pleasure takes just the right amount of horsepower, howling exhaust and pleasing ergonomics, but I would counter that this is not always true. When my son and I drove our 1971 Alfa across the country last year, I was shocked at how much joy that inexpensive, relatively underpowered, and mechanically tired Alfa offered. We spent almost 3000 miles taking turns saying, “Damn, this thing is nice to drive.”

The Alfa proves that a quality experience is not something only money can buy. Sure, a more expensive car like an E-Type or 289 Cobra is an absolute blast to drive, but so is a Triumph Spitfire or TR3. I would even go so far as to argue that on an autocross course, the Triumphs would best their more expensive brethren.

The Edsel, like my 1967 Shelby Mustang, proves another point: While ergonomics do play a very important part in creating a topnotch driving experience, the very lack of creature comforts can somehow also contribute to joy behind the wheel. While it is tough to enjoy one’s self in a car that is uncomfortable, there is something very pleasing about experiencing the more visceral effects of piloting a vehicle on the road.

One of the best riding cars I have every driven is a Lotus Elan. If “driving pleasure” had an entry in the dictionary, it would be accompanied by a picture of an Elan. The Lotus offers superb ride comfort, more than adequate scoot, and incredible shifting, braking and handling. If it was a smidge bigger and better made, it would be a million-dollar car now.

Naturally age, rarity, pedigree, and a host of other factors weigh in on a car’s value, but if it had a bit more power (which a turbo or supercharger quickly provides), an early Miata would be another million-dollar car thanks to the experience it provides.

Of course, a lot of what each of us perceives as driving pleasure comes from something deep inside us. Our moments on the road are all mixed up with our hopes, desires, neuroses and memories. Our cars call up something deep within our own physical and emotional makeup.

When I was a kid, growing up as a Ford dealer’s son, I often traveled with my dad to deliver new trucks to customers as well as to the custom body maker who turned them into fire trucks, stake bodies, or even haulers like the one I found recently. So it’s probably no surprise that I love our Ford F-350 ramp truck. I love the big-block Ford sound, especially through the Hooker headers and custom exhaust I installed; I love the huge four-speed shifter that sticks up nearly to the roof, like an old Rat Fink cartoon; and I thoroughly enjoy the indestructible, king-of-the-world feeling I get behind the wheel. Most of all, I love the way that memories of how I felt as a young kid getting to hang out with my dad come flooding back to me when I drive this truck.

Okay, enough about me. I want to hear what you think offers the most driving pleasure, and why. If we get some good answers, we might even be able to put together a feature on this concept. Please shoot me your thoughts at tim@ClassicMotorsports.com.


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Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
8/16/18 2:04 p.m.

You described your wife as having a "E36 M3-eating grin on her face" and you have survived.  I salute you, sir.

APEowner
APEowner Dork
8/16/18 4:39 p.m.

I don't have a good way to quantify it or even describe it but I've been thinking about driving pleasure a lot lately.

I used to enjoy driving my '01 F250, 6 speed, PowerStroke.  It was slow, noisy and heavy but something about running it through the gears, heal-toe downshifting for corners, working the throttle and clutch to pull a heavy load smoothly from a start and all the other involvement needed to make it do all the things that was capable of was enjoyable and satisfying.

My new to me 2015 RAM 3500 is by pretty much any metric a better vehicle but driving it is just not a pleasurable experience.  It's not bad.  It's just kind of blah. There's something missing and I don't know what it is.

Lester
Lester New Reader
8/17/18 10:56 a.m.

I totally agree,When i was driving my Elan it always gave me a tingling feeling,just like the first day i put it back on the road after the restoration.I get the same feeling when i drive my 78 F150 with that huge stick shift. The first car i got to steer when i was 2years old was my Gramps 49 Merc Monarch(Canada Car only),and every time i get into a Merc of that era the memories flood back.The Same thing happens when i drive a 66 ford Galaxie 2 dr hardtop. The first car I drove getting my Licence....and on and on!

Lester 64 Lotus Elan S2 

Toebra
Toebra HalfDork
8/17/18 3:19 p.m.

Old air cooled 911 is my idea of driving pleasure.  The sounds, the smells, crazy long throws on the shifter, telepathic steering, ridiculously powerful brakes, surprisingly compliant ride for how stiff it feels.

 

yeah

Jager18
Jager18
8/18/18 6:11 a.m.

In reply to Tim Suddard :Great article, driving pleasure for  me is my new Nissan 370Z that I picked up a few weeks ago. It replaces an 83 Datsun 280zx that I bought new. So far, the 280 was a better  overall experience..probably because of the fact that my wife and I went on our honeymoon in that car. It had better visability and the tranny was slicker plus I totally loved the looks. On the other hand, my 68 mustang fastback was a hoot to drive even though once you got into the corners we have here in Nova Scotia it became very challenging. Drove with a club, great experiences. I had a 70 mustang convertible before that, different feeling but still great. For me it's what experiences come with the car though there is a basic level of  visceral driving pleasure and overall visual appeal of the car that I s necessary. My 370z just needs the experiences which my wife and are working on.

jdoc90
jdoc90 New Reader
8/19/18 4:02 p.m.

I took my new wife to her first car show .She was not married to a gear head guy the first time ,so it is all foreign to her .My son ,who is an auto body paint and fabricatror guy was visiting with our new grandson . We walked around , chatting, messing with the grandkids, and occasionally looking at  the cars .We saw a black 63 avanti for sale , my son says , hey dad it's  like your avanti . My wife liked it . I remember my car ,It was a very american muscle car feel , hefty ,torquey, noisy , .I loved it .It was a hammer in a fancy loewy suit lol. She would not love it as it was, she wants comfort , quiet , smoothness.I can do that now with the modern options we can add .I will miss the hammer when i get one , but a smooth quiet comfy faster hammer is ok too .  Now my 87 alfa is a hoot .Immediate , direct , tactile , very Italiano,with comfortable seats , nice stereo , power windows, 4 wheel discs and the exhaust note a 2.0 alfa is famous for .It does need some suspension help. bushings, shocks ,limit straps , decent tires, but it is fun and frugal .i picked it up for 800$ in a won't start state ,with burned clear coat on a black car  ,and dirty torn seats , easily fixed, except the 4th time i have had to buff the hood is making me sick of that part lol. Think light , small, responsive , it all works better than a rocket that only goes straight to gas stations ...

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
8/19/18 6:22 p.m.

Thanks everyone for your great comments. Nice to hit a nerve and get people thinking about what really gives them driving pleasure.

I am pleasantly surprised that that you don't want to hang me for suggesting that the old F-350 is cool to drive.

And someone asked about the Volvo I dragged home for my son. We have a few of them now we are going to write about in our sister magazine; Grassroots Motorsports.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn UltimaDork
8/19/18 8:14 p.m.

I have a '66 F-100 with the heavy duty four speed transmission, manual brakes and manual steering.  It's just as much fun to drive (I love that big tall shift lever and how it goes click-click when changing gears) as my BMW, just in a different way.

sjtm
sjtm New Reader
8/27/18 1:57 p.m.

After 21 years and 187K miles together, I still love to grab the keys of my 97 BMW M3.  It has seen many mods over the years, most of which have contributed to making it a bit less comfortable ( track suspension, fixed Recaros, etc) but has made the driving experience exponentially better.  I have a 7 cars to pick from in the fleet these days, but my M3 is always the one true love.  Never selling.

vwcorvette
vwcorvette SuperDork
8/28/18 6:49 p.m.

Before third gear gave out in my SBC powered Safari minivan I thoroughly  enjoyed driving it. I'd make excuses just to. Despite its thirst for gas I didn't care. Brought a smile to my face every time. I get it. My 88 Alfa Spider Veloce was the same. And I hope it's replacement, my 75 Vette with LT1 from a 9C1 Caprice, will too once running.

Mike924
Mike924 Reader
8/29/18 8:09 a.m.

Continuing on Tim's original path as well as Jager, Comparing the feeling of vintage to modern cars always makes me feel each nuance.  From the '76 924 that squeaks, creaks and just makes a great sound both on and off the track, it never disappoints.  Plus when you are running down the highway in it, people still look over and smile.  It gives that feeling of being in tune with the car.  The 924, to me is a real handling car.  Plus my wife and I have taken it thousands of miles, driven it on the track and have just enjoyed it for the past 7 years.   Then I get in the '07 Cooper S and it is quick, quiet but handles just as well.  We bought the MINI so my wife could learn to drive a manual, but we have come to love it for similar and yet different reasons.  It is comfortable, and when you hit the gas, quiet, you don't realize how fast you are actually going.  

Driving experience and enjoyment, both cars give me the pure pleasure of driving.  

Donatello
Donatello New Reader
3/15/19 5:25 p.m.

Integra Type-R is at the top of my list. Direct enough to convey the whole driving experience, and modern enough to make you not hate it. This car felt like it was always baiting me to try and drive it faster. In V-tec the B18c5 engine howled like something angry and italian. Perfect seats and shifter. Practical enough size to live with for nearly any purpose and (unlike some classics) honda enough to get you there without worry. On the track it didn't dissapoint either.

Runners up: warmed over miata or 5.0 mustang, some M cars or JCW Cooper, the early CRX or MR2 or GTI. These are all involving to drive and had their own unique personality. Apologies in advance for my bias towards cars that are reasonably attainable and practical to own, even if they wouldn't quite be the dictionary definition of driving pleasure in some minds. But with limited resources and limited patience avoiding the worst pains of owning a classic does count for something too.

I get your comments about the F350. I suppose that the king of the road experience comes from the novelty of driving something that large after mostly driving small cars. But I wouldn't want to drive one of those F350s every day.

Good article!

 

secretariata
secretariata SuperDork
3/15/19 7:00 p.m.

I had an entire post written about my plans for "deriving pleasure" this evening but had to delete as this must be the wrong forum.  Damn that "e"... :)

mrblimp
mrblimp New Reader
3/15/19 9:42 p.m.

My driving pleasure

In a discussion on driving pleasure I can only comment on cars I have driven and roads I have driven them on, which is all I think any of us can do with any real integrity. For me that would be a '69 Volvo P-1800S that I owned in the mid to late ‘70s and drove throughout New York State and New England. The neighborhood I lived in during the time I drove that car, and still do to this day, is a part of Long Island south of Kennedy airport near the ocean that has a very English country side feel to it with lots of twisty narrow roads running through neighborhoods of streets lined with secluded ma,nsions. Though the P-1800 isn't a true sports car it provided me with the feel and excitement of driving one. Since then I've owned a few other cars and live in both that neighborhood as well as the Catskill Mountains of NY.

 

I presently own a few cars two of which being a '70 MGB and a '69 Spitfire. Both are unique in their driving experience. The MGB is a roomier car with a very solid feel and a real road presence whereas, even though the Spitfire is smaller, it has more of a race car feel to it and is much more nimble and exciting to drive. Between the two I've had some real pleasurable drives in the MG, but I've had many more in the Spitfire as the Spitfire ride is much more exciting.

 

I also own a '78 Fiat 124 Spider and a '92 Mustang two cars that start progressing beyond the sports car definition. All my driving experiences with the Fiat have been on mountain roads in New York's Catskill Mountains at truly pleasurable area to drive in. Generally, I put 80 miles on the clock in any given weekend day of pleasurable driving up and down mountains on twisty roads, many of which have some nicely banked curves.

 

Although I have a hardtop for the Spitfire I never drive with it on and as I don’t have a convertible top for it, or the MG nor the Fiat, though I do have a hard top for the latter, the drives are usually open to the air and I’ve even gotten caught out in the rain a few time on which occasions I just think of the YouTube videos I have seen of Brits out in the rain with their tops down just facing the elements. During those occasions I’ve just smiled and realized that sort of driving without any care of the weather is just another kind of driving pleasure.

 

That brings up a specific point: what is the criteria that one should use in determining driving pleasure. I've often thought that driving pleasure can only be derived from the ride experience, but it can also be derived from the interactions one has with other people and other drivers while driving. A MGB owning buddy of mine and I often calculate our driving interactions designating a monetary value to each, racking up the figures to identify added driving value and pleasure of ownership, which is one more criteria in determining driving pleasure. Like the time my wife and I were driving in the MG and someone pulled alongside us and said watching us was like watching an old Italian movie or the time I pulled alongside an old caddy and said "nice ride" to which I got a kick out of how the driver had to lift himself up in the air in order to see me sort of hidden alongside his car. There is even the time I was driving in my Mustang when a guy coming from the opposite direction driving a big Healy gave me a thumbs up or the time one of my Catskill neighbors from down the valley told me he had seen my wife and I driving the Fiat and it made him very jealous. I have countless stories like these. They go to show that there are many criteria by which one can judge driving pleasure.

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