I was listening to Olivier Renaud-Clément talk about his four-car garage on the New York Times and something that he said stood out to me.
I do get comments on the cars all the time. Nothing nasty, there is a sense of respect, “oh my god it’s a car from the 70s or the 60s, it’s amazing!”
Why do people stop and look at his cars, be amazed at his cars, laugh around them? It is a Ferrari Dino GT4 from 1979. It is expensive to buy and maintain, both in fuel consumption and in mechanical upkeep – a loud, brash, thirsty shout of wealth and upper class, but everyone seems to enjoy it. A sign of taste? Few who stopped knew exactly what it was, when it was made, but they all knew somehow that it was fast, expensive and Italian.
No one thought of it as ostentatious or crude to leave an Italian sports car on the edge of Chinatown with the sunroof open. One hundred and ten years ago, here in Manhattan, one couldn’t drive a car in certain neighborhoods for fear of local kids running onto the street to pelt rocks at the motoring plutocrats. Another example: in the California Auto Museum there sits a coachbuilt 1937 Cunningham Town Car. Built on the platform of a pedestrian Ford, the Cunningham coachbuilders added a luxurious interior and separated the driver and passenger compartments, so that the owner need not associate with the chauffeur. However the front of the car was left completely untouched, and the explanation you would get at the museum is that the owner of the car wanted to trick the average passers-by into thinking that the car was just an ordinary Ford. Presumably the owner feared that driving an obviously expensive car during the Depression years would provoke poor pedestrians to attack the car, a symbol of excessive wealth. In street riots, the first things that get overturned and burned are cars. Today, standing in front of this sports car, everyone was fascinated by this symbol of conspicuous consumption.
When M. Renaud-Clément drove away, the two men in the picture above spoke of the car’s strength. Not like the new car that was parked next to it, that would fall apart, they said, poorly built, not like sports car driving away. Do people not hate this Ferrari Dino because people now see conspicuous consumption differently than in years before, or is there something about this car itself that elevates it above other expensive cars? Do people just love the loud, hotheaded Italian firebrands of the car world, forgiving them of their faults? Why then does every Western elected government tax and regulate high fuel consumption, exhaust pollution, and noise?
I love that it is the world’s forgotten Ferrari, that it is full of top-design 1970s angularity, struggling with regulation and fuel prices. I love its sound, its style, and as M. Renaud-Clément put it, “what I look for in a car…is a look”. There is certainly something immediately visual about this car that draws in the eye and turns people into spectators. I still wonder what it is about cars that makes people think the way they do about them. What sort of spark within an automobile that stirs certain thoughts and emotions. What it is in people that makes cars expressive. The something in the world around us that changes how we perceive cars and how cars stand out to us. A private art dealer, M. Renaud-Clément certainly has an eye for the wonderful and evocative in automobiles.