The most exclusive and most expensive watches aren’t digital. They are meticulously hand-assembled mechanical things, with intricate wheels and mechanisms–the workings usually partially visible, so you can see and admire the workings and the workmanship.
People pay huge money for them–in some cases, more than $50,000–even though they don’t keep time any better than a $5 Dollar Store digital watch.
Because they aren’t cheap throwaways. Because they aren’t common.
Because it took great craftsmanship to put them together. As opposed to automated machines extruding plastic and stamping them out, all the same, in the millions.
Luxury cars were once like that–like the hand-made watch.
Exclusive, but not just because they were expensive; that was part of it. The essential part was that you got what you paid for. Mile-deep chrome plating rather than extruded “chromed” plastic. Real wood, sometimes hand-fitted, the individual pieces specific to that car and unlike the pieces installed in any other car. Machine-turned metal facings; mechanical gauges with the same workings of a fine, hand-made watch.
Luxury cars have become very much like the $5 Dollar Store watch. Plasticized, baubled and just as disposable as common cars, only a lot more expensive.
You pay for what you don’t get.
This may well prove to be the undoing of luxury cars as people with money begin to realize that.
What is exclusive or uncommon about an LCD touchscreen or a digitized dashboard? Almost every new car has them now precisely because electronics and plastic are cheap. There is nothing special about them. But you can charge a lot for them.
Especially when they stop working.
Air conditioning? Climate controlled air conditioning? Every new car, literally, every new car comes standard with AC. Most have climate-controlled AC or at least, offer it. It is no longer exclusive or special. Same goes for power windows and locks, cruise control and (usually) a pretty good stereo.
It’s all good for the average car, which is now much more luxurious than the luxury cars of the past were. In terms of amenities.
Today’s luxury cars are less special though more expensive. All of them being equally ephemeral, disposable, and the same.
Luxury cars could be made something special again as opposed to something just expensive. It could be done by undoing what has made them cheap.
Instead of garish plastic “clips” front and rear that are literally clipped in place, like the cheap plastic crap they are or how about the elegance and exclusivity of real chrome bumpers and metal exterior trim? It would cost money, obviously, but isn’t that the point? To get something more for your money than the same cheap plastic crap used to garishly wrap the noses and tails of every other car?
Aren’t luxury cars supposed to stand out?
How about cold air conditioning? All new cars have AC, but the coolant they use just barely cools. It is cheap and you get what you pay for. Freon is very expensive because it has been taxed to make it so. But it is still available, and it cools like nothing else you can get in any new car.
A car that costs $50,000 (never mind $100,000) ought to have an AC system that can make you cold. Luxury cars used to have AC systems like that before they switched to the same cheap coolant used by every other car AC system. There is no reason they couldn’t be cold again.
That is one of many things that could make a luxury car special to drive or ride again.
There is something incredibly sad about a $50,000 luxury sedan with a four-cylinder engine under its hood–just like a $20,000 economy car. Never mind the turbo added to make up for what’s not there anymore. Prestigious cars used to have prestigious engines–the kinds of engines ordinary cars didn’t have. V8s, at least.
V12s in some.
They didn’t turn themselves off, either because that would have been taken as both absurd (people who spend $50,000-plus on a car can afford not to worry about what they spend on gas) as well as contrary to the purpose. A luxury car is supposed to be poised and smooth and elegant. A luxury car with an engine that shuts off and comes on and goes off and then turns on again and over-and-over-and over is little different than an ’86 Yugo that stutters at every green light.
Except, of course, for the price.
A luxury car’s engine should never turn off, and who gives a damn about gas mileage? When Cadillac meant something, it was because Cadillac didn’t care about it. It was the point of the thing, you see.
More precisely, it was beside the point.
Look at the jeweled mechanical gauges and real glass/metal facings used in the luxury cars of once-upon-a-time. Most people have never seen it and they’re the poorer for it. The Bugattis and Cords and Duesenbergs of the Art Deco era were the Stradivarius violins of their era and forever.
They are, to use an over-used word, awesome.
They command respect. One does not dispose of a Cord 810 or V16 Cadillac or Mercedes 300SL. The leaper hood ornament of a Jaguar XJ6 has more enduring value as art than the disposable plasticized ephemeral mass-produced electricized kitsch being sold today at high cost, to people who have no idea how little they’re getting.
It doesn’t have to be this way. People are spending more than ever on high-end cars. There is no reason they shouldn’t be getting what they’re paying for.
If only someone would offer it to them again.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.