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Opinion: why I’ll never buy another internal-combustion car
TG staffer takes a brave pill and draws a line in the sand. This ought to go well
I’ll never buy another combustion-powered car. But it’s more – or perhaps less – than conscience. My motivations are selfish. This is the air that I breathe and the world that I live in. And I don’t want either ruined.
We’ve had more than a century of mass-produced, petrol and diesel-powered cars, each emitting compounds that inflict harm on the world and every living thing it supports. Or, to put it another way, that’s more than a century of excreting where we’re eating.
Here’s a quick thought experiment: can you imagine being okay with swimming in a public pool where the standard operating procedure is to pee where you float? And yet we’ve been happy to choke the very air we breathe with noxious chemicals.
I’ll miss petrol engines, very deeply. The 3.2-litre Busso V6 of my old 147 GTA in particular. I also miss going out four nights a week, like I did during my university days, and drinking enough to kill Rasputin – or at least Boris Yeltsin. But the fact is that neither of these lifestyles is sustainable.
In both cases, we’ve more than had our fun, and we’ve also done some real damage. It’s time to let go and move on. We’ve lived through the golden age, the halcyon days; it’s time to bow out with some grace, exactly the way that Led Zeppelin did and Deep Purple didn’t.
And what about the future generation – do they just have to miss out? Well, any number of reports (usually prefaced by the phrase ‘Millennials have ruined’) point to a generation that, by and large, doesn’t give half a toss about cars – or any of the received wisdom that we’ve been relying on for decades. No, the person you like won’t confuse your car with Cupid’s arrow. No, most of us don’t equate your car size and the size of what’s in your Y-fronts. To be honest, we’ll more likely judge you for still wearing Y-fronts than anything you’re driving.
So, does this spell the end of classic cars and mind-bending hypercars? Of course not. Think back to when James May talked to Jay Leno on Top Gear TV a decade ago – Leno said that the end of horses as basic transportation freed them up for a very different use. Unshackled from quotidian drudgery, horses hardly disappeared, did they? And neither will true enthusiast cars. When you think about the comparative pipette of petrol needed to preserve just the very best of the breed – and avoid the Red Barchetta scenario that Rush warned us about all those years ago – it’s such a negligible impact. Besides, it’s entirely possible to make petrol by combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere, so every drive could merely return CO2 to the atmosphere, instead of adding more.
You might wonder where that leaves the hundreds of millions of commuter cars that create the bulk of pollution, if not per capita, but certainly in the strength of their numbers. Well, I vote for a crash course in automotive Darwinism, where only the very best survive. Think of it as automotive Kondoism: if it doesn’t spark joy, it’s not worthy of a spark plug.
With the dregs of the automotive world sloughed off, we’re free to embrace a future where gears aren’t crunched, clutches aren’t ridden, time isn’t wasted waiting for the oil to warm up and taxi ranks don’t give off the same dose of pollution you’d normally expect from a fleet of Concordes. Hearing an engine would be a reason to stop and look, because you can guarantee that whatever’s coming is a cherished classic, not a busted-up POS. Those who don’t care about cars beyond transport can tool around in comfort and near-silence; those who do – like me, I should point out – can breathe a little bit easier, knowing that our driving pleasure doesn’t have to mean a world of pain.