The replacement for displacement
Electric cars may be lightening fast but displacement has long been a muted argument for speed. However, it has always chimed with our hearts.
The door handle is usually the first touchpoint as we approach a new car. That sudden connection, steel to skin, hinged in a thousand different ways. It transmits a signal to our brains and demands a response. Where in the grey matter does this car exist to us, those delicate door handles that could break in your hand pull forward thoughts of exotica that won't be tamed. The stiff bulky straight cut rod takes a different avenue, a truck or maybe a muscle car. Experiences build with time, but none of us is foolish enough to believe a surprise can't be hidden behind a first handshake.
When approaching a late model Jaguar XJS and pulling the lightly sprung - and thin by today's standards - slither of chrome I'm reminded of a V12. A rumble, a threatening beast that won't be tamed until you earn the respect of every cylinder. My brain has been fooled. After sweeping down and settling in seats that can only have come from an era that believed cushioning was the cornerstone of luxury the display is unfamiliar. Jaguar had reworked the dashboard in late XJS models, a refresh that brought them into the '90s from the '70s as the disco king lumbered forward into a new decade. The Jaguar XJS wouldn't just get a hopeful nip and tuck before its last party, it would also take moment to showcase to the world a new trick. Power without the excess.
Jaguar's six-cylinder was lighter and more reliable, but it could also drive from London to Monte Carlo with fewer fuel stops than the brawnier twelve-cylinder. Not only that but a lighter nose introduced a more playful attitude. Here was grandpa, accepting a new way of thinking and bouncing the grandchildren on his knee. The marketing team knew the XJS customer of twenty years ago couldn't be the only target, and despite cutting the cylinder count in half Jaguar delivered a powerful edge to its straight-six replacement.
So what of the replacement for displacement, today a Golf GTI may punch its way out of a corner with the scolded tail of a sports car, but hearts are still taken by the warble when a fifteen year old MK5 Golf R32 cruises by. A Holden Monaro scoops up camera phones quicker than any Hyundai I30N, but that hot hatch would chase the back wheels off the LS2 equipped Aussie anywhere but a long straight. Not forgetting that the Monaro was no meandering muscle car.
Line up the new Hummer EV - a four tonne pickup truck - against a 5.0 litre Supercharged Range Rover that is a tonne and a half lighter and equipped with a 510bhp V8, and watch physics bend. The Range Rover would catch up, but only after been smoked to sixty. A Mustang Mach-E, lined up against its sibling, the Mustang Mach-1, again sporting a 5.0 litre V8 - sans supercharger - would hold neck and neck to sixty with a matching 4.4 seconds time (automatic 5.0 litre Mach 1). A bulky heavy small SUV keeping up with a snarling V8 Mustang, the universe must be spinning backwards!
The truth is displacement has been replaced, but not completely. Humans, for all our foibles, are not led by numbers alone. Ask an economist about our race and you will get a simple one-line response "people are irrational."
Call us wasteful, call us ignorant, or just call us human, an imperfect species that is the best the world has. Let's face it, I don't see a Golden Retriever figuring out how to build the Golden Gate Bridge or send a message to Mars, as adorable and loyal as they may be. A human is flawed, we buy shiny things even though we shouldn't, we eat food that we know is bad for us, we spend money we don't have because we think tomorrow will be better than today. If you're a car enthusiast that final point will undoubtedly resonate a little hard.
For all that makes us great, we also must accept that the creativity that drives us forward is realised through our irrational thought. Go to the moon, why? Build a plane that flies faster than a bullet, why? Build a tunnel when a boat works just fine, why? There is always another answer, but it isn't the human answer. Displacement can't be replaced in our souls, the animalistic growl when a giant resource loving engine ignites and stirs to life makes our hairs stand on end. Fast is relative, my first car was the fastest car on earth, that faded red car with 150,000 miles on the odometer that had previously lived as a taxi and was filled with cigarette butts was my Bugatti Chiron. Followed quickly by my second car, which had ten horsepower more and so was worthy of lining up at next year's Silverstone Grand Prix (in my eyes and my eyes only).
The truth, there is no replacement for displacement, not where it really matters. The future of a world obsessed with numbers, efficiency, and targets is noble, but it doesn't have the aspiration of a world that simply wants to better the human experience. I can't tell you why I would drive out of my way to take the bridge home, the view, perhaps, but you can't see much unless you are in a tall SUV. Neither can I explain poking a throttle when a car is stationary, it achieves nothing but there is something to it. Many will choose to concentrate on the answers rather than the solution, an answer can be wrong, a solution moves us on from where we were to where we are going. The answer for replacing big engines doesn't really feel like a solution, more efficient, more powerful, and yet soulless. It is the person that runs into a room and mildly asks to be followed vs the charismatic leader that screams 'C.mon everyone!' and cluelessly leads them on. A short look at our political landscape is a sour satire of this. Little about life really makes sense, from our inception to our end, answers placate us, but much like a quick burger from a fast food joint, they don't nourish us. A solution is much more difficult, it is that finely cooked meal by a loved one who knows just what to serve.
The next time you look at a car, remember, you will spend hours with this moulded piece of metal, plastic and rubber. It can either placate you or enliven you. Turn the key on a few cars, forget the numbers, which one do you really want in your life, the fact is you're human, that wasteful V12 will call you louder. How do you stop it from leading you to a lost end in a world begging us to change our ways? A solution? That's an answer for someone far more qualified than a glorified button pusher masquerading as an author. But I'm sure it is out there.
My two cents for what they are worth, forget the numbers, remember the problem, it isn't what that orchestra of machinery can sing for you, but how you can make it pull a tune on a more refined diet. We have a hungry planet, desperate for energy. Fuel has long existed as a hydrocarbon, but it doesn't mean it must do so forever more. Steam isn't only created from coal after all. We have solutions to our problems, and a world that would surely be a happier place if everyone could have a 'V8 under the hood'. Our future is an open book waiting to be written, let's hope that when we look back on these pages in the years to come, it isn't an unreadable algorithm or dull diatribe. We may not yet know our meaning, but, in our own small ways, we know our hearts. Long live the V12.