Many men look back on bygone eras of motoring and proclaim that they were “the golden age of cars.” But there is no universal agreement on when that golden age existed.
I say we’re in it now.
Like a lot of nostalgic perceptions, seeing the golden age of cars as occurring 50 to 100 years ago doesn’t hold much water when considered objectively. Though cars such as the 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster, the 1922 Duesenberg Model J, the 1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, and even the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro evoke passionate feelings of romantic and adventurous motoring, the fact is that these cars, while attractive and powerful in their day, cannot hold a candle to today’s automobiles when it comes to performance, comfort, safety, and efficiency.
While those classic car designs were able to get the pulse of red-blooded men racing at that time, car design has continually evolved higher standards of beauty, aesthetic appeal, and quality since.
The romantic and nostalgic definition of “golden age” is: an idyllic, often mythical time of well-being and contentment.
For this article, I prefer to go with a more objective definition of “Golden Age”:
Golden Age: The period when a specified art, skill, or activity is at its peak.
In other words, I’m going with qualitative superiority over romantic, gauzy images of bygone automotive glory.
And I’m saying this as someone who’s owned some cool cars in the past. My very first car was a 1966 Jaguar E-Type coupe. The second car I bought was a 1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400. They were fun cars and I had a blast with them. But, from an engineering and design standpoint, cars as a whole are cooler today in all respects.
There is no doubt that car design and manufacture is at a peak of art, skill, and activity right now.
Who knows how long this current golden age of cars will last? Many pessimists predict that our oil-based technological society is headed for an inevitable decline and that automobiles based on the reciprocating engine will be an unfortunate casualty of the depletion of petroleum.
Aside from the disappearance of oil, there are technological and societal trends that suggest that cars will become primarily automated transportation appliances, ferrying us via hands-free GPS and computer-aided guidance systems from point A to B. Some think the visceral experience of driving will become a thing of the past. Though we’ll be able to multi-task while our cars drive themselves, getting one’s pulse racing by driving a car on the open road will become a rare experience.
Cars will be no more exciting than a microwave oven, as opposed to lust-inducing mechanical steeds enhancing personal freedom, prestige, prowess, and adventure.
But that hasn’t happened yet and, given the definition above, I maintain that we are in the golden age of cars right now.
Or are you one of those who think that past makes and models of cars truly epitomized automotive excellence, that they stand head and shoulders above today’s pale excuses for automobiles?
Fair enough. But allow me to offer a few examples to counter that viewpoint. Below I’ve listed some cars that support the notion that cars have never been built better, have never been more fun, have never been more interesting, and certainly have never been more useful than they are now.
There are upwards of 500 models of cars available in today’s global marketplace. (That is one reason why cars have improved so much — relentless competition.) Consumers shopping for cars have never had more choice than they do right now. All models of cars last longer, warranties are more comprehensive, maintenance has become easier, fatalities from traffic accidents are at a record low, and standard amenities on cars are at levels of luxury and convenience unheard-of even as recently as the 1980s.
Out of all the cars you might want to own and drive — or simply lust after — here are 7 models that I think bolster the case for this being a golden age for cars.
Ferrari F12 berlinetta
With a V-12 engine that puts out 730 horsepower and a top speed of 211 mph, the Ferrari F12 berlinetta is the fastest Ferrari ever. Road and Track called it “mind-meltingly potent.” It is akin to a missile on wheels. Yet it can be driven every day.
The Pagani Huayra (pronounced “why’-ra”) is Top Gear magazine’s Hypercar of the Year for 2012. It is EVO magazine’s 2012 Car of the Year. About this singular beast of a car, with its cutting-edge, intricate engineering — including mechanical aero-stabilization — the Wall Street Journal wrote: “If Da Vinci made a sports car, this would be it.” Da Vinci, in this case, is Horacio Pagani, the Argentine designer (now based in Italy), who has built perhaps the most radical supercar ever. And it works. The reviewers at EVO called it “pretty bloody wonderful.”
Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
The most badass station wagon ever built, with a 556-hp supercharged engine, 6-speed manual transmission, and a top speed of 190 mph. Being a wagon, it’s also got 58 cubic feet of cargo space. The Cadillac CTS-V Wagon was developed and tested on the Nürburgring. Its magnetorheological shock technology was pioneered for the Corvette. It does 0-60 in about 4 seconds. It has been one of Car and Driver’s 10Best Cars 3 years in a row. Those who enjoy driving tend to fall in love with this improbable car.
Since this is the golden age of cars, you can buy good looks, superior performance, and practicality for about $25,000 when you opt for the Ford Mustang (V-6 version). This useful, enjoyable car produces .91 g on a skidpad, accelerates to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, and gets north of 25 mpg on the highway. Who needs a BMW 3-series? Of course, given the extensive line of Mustang models, you can always opt for the BMW-slaying Shelby GT500 ($54k). The thing is, there’s so much competition that you can now find several other makes that are approaching the Mustang’s blend of value and performance.
Mini Cooper S
With the hundreds of car models now available, there is a car to fit virtually any personality. Of course, cars are not just about transportation, they are indicative of personal values and a means of self-expression. From the Fiat Abarth to the Volvo XC, there’s an automotive statement for everybody (and if you want a bespoke car, try Wiesmann). Case in point: the Mini Cooper S. Here’s a unique little car with an English lineage that received a dose of automotive steroids from BMW in 2001 and starred in its own movie in 2003 (The Italian Job). Beyond the iconic styling, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a compact car that handles like a go-cart, gets combined city/highway gas mileage of 29 mpg, has a top speed of 140 mph, and offers useful cargo space (with the rear seat down). What kind of person is drawn to the Mini? Steve McQueen owned one. So did James Garner. It was also selected as the second most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Model T. So the answer is, it seems, lots.
Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S incorporates some of the most advanced technology on the planet. It is a car that blasts the notion that electric cars are nerdy and too limited out of the water. Seating for 5 adults plus 2 children. 0-100 mph faster than a BMW M5. Supple ride and handling. A range of 265 miles. You can surf the Internet on the dashboard’s 17-inch touchscreen (but don’t do it while driving). Oh… the BMW M5 gets 15 mpg. The Tesla Model S, 89 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). This is a cool car. Hopefully, Tesla Motors will survive to keep building them.
In essence, the very first car was a roadster — i.e., topless. Some still feel that the purest motoring experience is to be had in a car with no roof. In fact, most of the car models pictured above — the Pagani, the Mustang, the Cadillac, etc. — are available as convertibles. So we’ll end this brief survey of the current state of automotive technology with a roadster — the Porsche Boxter. It is the consensus of automotive journalists, car testers and reviewers that the Porsche Boxter is the best roadster in the world. Which makes it (since this is the golden age of cars) the best roadster of all time.
How to Get the Best Car for Yourself
When you decide you want to get your own slice of automotive goodness, start by visiting CarsDirect. You can get detailed specifications for hundreds of models of cars (including Ferrari and Tesla) and use their free quote system to find the best price. They offer convenient financing. You can even sell your current car on their site.
The customer service at CarsDirect is top-rated and they offer many detailed reports and features that their competitors do not (they wouldn’t have been named by Time Magazine as one of the “50 Best” websites in the world otherwise). They are rated the #1 site for buying a new car online by PC World, Forbes, PC Magazine, and others.
Enjoy it while it lasts…