What Happened to the Little Red Roadster?
I own no tweed jackets, no flag caps and none of my daytime trousers have creases down the middle. I have very few classic motoring magazines and most of my radio preset channels play electronic music. But I just can’t help but wonder what happened to the little red roadster of yesteryear. Back when I was just a little petrolhead, cars weren’t as abundant as they are today. Most of them were bland, but every neighborhood, every parking lot had one that stood out head above shoulders. Nowadays, that role is taken up by the biggest and most expensive German saloon, SUV or Italian supercar.
If there’s one word that describe the little red roadster I remember, it would have been “better”: better looking, better to drive, better for a man’s soul. Meanwhile, the word best that describes today’s neighborhood hero is “more”: more equipment, more room, more leather, more power, more money.
So what happened to make us forget about wanting to be the guy who ones the coolest little roadster? Well, lots of things. As you all know, the classic British sportscar industry that used to churn them out by the thousands and ship them all over the world is long dead.
Health and safety people also had a lot to do with it, as did the reality of today’s roads. Fear for loss of life and limb has decayed the soul of the man to the point where he thins salads, Brussels sprouts and French wine are what he wants to eat. But do you want to know what my plumber neighbor drives? It’s not red, but it’s a car for people who like red meat, I’ll tell you that much, and he says that SUVs are for girls.
The little red roadster used to be a symbol of man’s freedom from the government, from feminists, from mowing the lawn on a Sunday and from restrictions in general. But today’s big brown SUV owner, well he wants to be restricted. He doesn’t want set off without making sure his software is updated, his shoes match his belt and the destination has been firmly set into the nav computer. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the 1970s Spirit in the Sky?
Last year, I was convinced that sportscars are coming back, but now I’m not so sure. Alfa Romeo was my one biggest hope, but perhaps that was misplaced. Their 4C is reportedly going to be built in limited number for a very high price considering what’s on offer. Instead of a symbol of freedom, the Alfa Brand has come to represent just another sensible German copycat or a toy for the people who want “more”, not “better”.
Toyota was the other big hope for me until I realized something about the GT 86 and its brother the Subaru BRZ. Neither are a little red sportscars because they lack one thing: looks!
Both are among the greatest driving cars in the world. Their powertrain is unique in that it combines a front-mounted flat-four engine and rear drive. They are very free-spirited, but look at the body long enough and you realize there’s nothing special there.
Picture, if you will, an old Triumph Stag or even a classic Ford Mustang. Their chromed out bodies practically refuse to look anything other than cool, forcing you to take a second and a third look. That never happens with the cheap little Toyobaru.
As for the rest of the industry, well, they seem to be doing more of the same things they’re currently doing. The BMW Z4 is good to look at but expensive and disconnected, the Audi TT is soulless and Mercedes’ SLK can’t deliver any thrills for low bucks. I fear that my dream of a little red roadster in every neighborhood is just wishful thinking when all but a few people have forgotten what being a free spirit means. Guess I’ll have to start liking Brussels sprouts too, but I’ll never stop hoping that one day we’ll manage to disconnect from the matrix and get hooked on freedom again.