GERMANY IS FULL of quaint towns and fascinating cities. Frankfurt is neither. Known widely for two major activities, banking and … well, something even seedier than that, it does have one redeeming feature. Once every two years it plays host to the world’s largest mainstream motor show. And as any car-mad, spotty-faced teenager, beer-swigging middle-ager or slipper-wearing grandpa will tell you, motor shows are the shiz and Frankfurt’s is the daddy. At least it was until the internet, the EU and global warming ruined it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As a teenager growing up in an isolated South Africa, a magazine’s motor show review was something to cherish. Though usually distorted, badly composed and poorly lit, show pictures were my only window into the new car world. The first public displays of freshly pressed production cars were priceless. I could only dream of one day gliding through those halls, soaking up the glamour and drinking in the spectacle.
Then came the internet and at first I thought, ‘great, I can save on motoring mags’. Wrong. 56k downloads on the hindernet took longer than print lead times and surface mail put together. Skipping ISDN (which thankfully matched DAT for speed of obsolescence), I installed an ADSL connection and that’s when things started to go horribly wrong.
I blame the web’s insatiable thirst for content, in conjunction with most car maker’s unquenchable desire for pre-launch hype. Basically, a seven-stage marketing cancer has eaten away at the core of the motor show’s heart, severely curtailing its ability to surprise and delight. If you’ve been anywhere near a motoring related website, you’re sure to have been exposed to any number, if not all, of these mystery-robbing tactics:
1. The development mule spy shot – basically last year’s model with wider tracks, fibreglass wheelarch extensions and black steel rims.
2. Fuzzy spy pics taken through a fence from two kilometres away of a black car covered in packaging tape and bin liners.
3. Snow-laden spy shots (now in focus) of the same car driving past an all-too familiar convenience store in northern Sweden.
4. Strategically hazy production-line shots that have ‘accidentally’ found their way on to Facebook.
5. Ultra annoying, official teasers of epically arb stuff like the car’s bootlid shutline, exhaust housing or side mirrors.
6. Hastily scanned product brochures of the notoriously leaky sort that magically appear on some makeshift website six weeks before the show.
7. Finally, release date embargoes are treated like Republicans weeks before the first public showing. Within 24 hours all the major motoring sites follow suit, committing Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V prostitution.
So instead of mysterious sheetmetal emerging from a shiny silver cloth, you’re left agreeing with the gathered mob that the supposed debutant looks just like the pictures you saw ages ago on Scoopcar.net. Then to top it all, the real thing is just as badly proportioned as it looked on screen. There are no oohs, no ahhs, just quiet mumbling, shakes of the head and a quiet retreat to the next ‘riveting’ reveal.
The internet does not shoulder all the blame though. It has the EU as a partner in crime. Pedestrian impact laws are a good thing. Driving on the pavement is bad. A discipline failure, allied to absolute abandonment of common sense, has given pedestrians Hancock syndrome. They seem to think they can get drunk on either alcohol or iTunes and then just walk the earth like Cain in Kung Fu, claiming even the bitumen as their own. But instead of pursuing the noble aim of insisting humans take responsibility for their actions, the EU legislates that car manufacturers limit the consequences of bad judgment by stuffing their bonnets with jelly and fluffy toys. The result of all this political posturing is the dreaded return of the front quarter light and disproportionately long front overhangs. So we get massive overbites that dominate the displays like fake incisors at a Bugs Bunny convention.
But the poisoning of car design is not the EU’s only motor show crime. (Environmentalists, beware crazy car-nutter’s irreverent comments to follow.) Whatever earthly good its CO2 emissions targets have achieved in the fight against global warming must be measured against the loss of a motor show’s feelgood factor. Instead of listening to the roar of supercharged V16s encased in lickably toxic metal cherry red paintwork, you get to peruse pallid displays of white cars with huge tacky stickers apologising profusely for how bad they’re going to be once released. How wussy. If I want to see a row of kitchen appliances I certainly don’t need to fly ten hours to Frankfurt to get my fill. Although I have heard the banking is rather good.
+Wayne has discarded his magic markers and mouse in favour of an axe (and non-EU spec armour)