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American cars

When I was away I drove a Dodge Charger, a big dumb car that I’m reliably informed is the choice of annoying people with no class. Which, of course, is why I chose it. And you know what? I loved it. Sure, it doesn’t go around corners, but the Americans have solved that problem by not really having any corners. It eats petrol, but despite the price hikes petrol’s still laughably cheap compared to here. And while it’s one of the smallest things on US roads it’s still massive by UK standards. When I got back, the Saab felt like a Tesco shopping trolley, or maybe a roller-skate.

One thing did strike me, though: US (or at least, Floridian) roads are brilliant. Glass-smooth, impeccably maintained, and generally great, if boring, to drive on. And yet the cars are so insulated from the outside world you don’t feel anything even when you do encounter a rare imperfection. By insulated I mean *really* insulated: I managed to run over various orphans, nuns, deer and puppies without feeling a single bump.

And yet in the UK, whose roads are uniformly terrible, everybody’s driving cars whose suspension is designed to transmit every last wrinkle through the steering wheel and driver’s seat. Given that the roads round my way, and in pretty much every bit of the UK I’ve driven in, would need thousands of pounds of upgrading in order to reach pockmarked dirt track status, that means UK car buyers are all nuts (and getting screwed – you can lease a brand new BMW 3-series in the US for about 3p a month).

18 replies on “American cars”

I reckon – and sorry to be boring about this – it’s to do with the general lack of corners in the US. Most US cars have massively soggy suspension because there are few corners and often terrible road surfaces. In the UK, there are corners everywhere, so you have to stiffen up the suspension to avoid seasickness but you feel the lumps in a straight line.

Even though UK roads at their worst are far better than the sort of stuff you get in a metropolitan US area.

The roads in the south of England are better than in the north, I suspect. The same holds true in the U.S., I think anyplace with a real winter has terrible roads. They’ve just started to figure out roundabouts here- that’s one UK import we can really use.

On the subject of Dodge Chargers, I saw the film of The Dukes Of Hazard on TV a couple of weeks, and was most surprised to discover that it’s bloody brilliant.

Prof:
> The same holds true in the U.S., I think anyplace with a real winter has terrible roads.

We don’t really get real winters, though – we’re just shit. They fill the potholes round here as quickly and cheaply as possible, and within days they’ve opened up again. Two drops of rain and the repairs are buggered :)

Jonty:
> In the UK, there are corners everywhere, so you have to stiffen up the suspension to avoid seasickness but you feel the lumps in a straight line.

True, but we must have a masochistic streak as well – because we then go on to buy (mainly German) cars that are sprung for the Nurburgring and which get grounded on speed bumps. Over the last X years, the trend has been for firmer and firmer suspension – great if you actually live on a racing track, but not so good when your street has potholes that could swallow a horse.

S2:
> I saw the film of The Dukes Of Hazard on TV a couple of weeks, and was most surprised to discover that it’s bloody brilliant.

I worry about you sometimes.

Try getting a motorbike — then you really start to appreciate how bad the roads are. I get stuck in ruts made by truck tyres, have to swerve wildly to avoid potholes that would throw me off AND contend with the UK equivalent of Dodge Charger drivers. Who are Toyota Yaris drivers, oddly enough.

Yeah, when my dad was a lot younger his motorbike hit a manhole (the cover was off) and he went head-first into a tree. That’s the main thing that scares me about bikes. I just know I’d spend more time face-first into trees than actually riding the bike.

Well you know what I think of Chargers. Have to say everytime I saw one on the interstate, I laughed myself to tears picturing you driving it..

Anyway, think one of the best illustrations of the UK/US difference in cars is when Roars and his lot from Huddersfield came for a visit. We got in a rental car in a garage and I went to put the car into drive (no manual, obviously) and Roars said, “Err, Lis..maybe you want to turn the engine on first?” And I looked at him and said, “It IS on.” The whole car (think there were 4 or 5 Brits/Irish in the car) convulsed. If they could take a picture of a massive sedan that wasn’t making a lot of noise they would have.

They took photos of the 24 pack case of Coca Cola on sale in Wal Mart for $2.99 instead.

> cars that are sprung for the Nurburgring

Which — due to the massive pounding it’s getting from various test-mules lapping it constantly — is getting degraded to the point it’s becoming similar to a typical British road :)

Don’t know if any of you remember, but Britain won an award a few months ago for having the best roadworks in Europe, which seemed pretty bizarre to me at the time. But I’ve done a fair amount of driving in other countries since then, and it toally makes sense. Roadworks in the UK are well signed and easy to navigate. Roadworks in Ireland, Germany, and Italy are deathtraps designed to send you miles out of your way with no way back. Ireland’s the worst.

We were also shocked to discover the quality of German autobahns these days. The effect of the demographic timebomb on state spending budgets is becoming obvious. The last thing you’d want to drive on an autobahn these days is a car sprung for the Nurnburgring: your teeth would fall out.

Another thing about British roads: having a roundabout at every motorway exit. Sems so obvious that we don’t even think of it as design, let alone clever design, yet we appear to be the only country that does it. We take it for granted that we can drive off at the wrong exit, slap our foreheads, and drive straight back onto the same motorway; or miss our exit and turn around at the next one. Doesn’t work in Germany or Italy: take the wrong exit? Ha! You’re going to Munich now, English boy!

>Sems so obvious that we don’t even think of it as design, let alone clever design,

There are actually a couple around the M60 in manchester that don’t have roundabouts – and my god, it’s like a return to the dark ages. Where the f**k *is* northenden you think as a simple lane selection error sends you towards it with no place to turn around… There are another couple that screw with your head by having a roundabout – but putting roughly three miles down a slip road. That’s a long way when all you’re going to do is turn around and drive back up the other side of the same damn road…

About roadworks signposting – there was a notorious incident last year on the M8 at the airport and erskine bridge, where two uncordinated sets of roadworks both diverted people at the same time and ended up creating a big loop that poeple could have kept on going around forever.

There’s a bit on the M62 near the M60 where I invariably end up on the wrong bit of road for about a mile or so each way. Junction 18, I think.

>Junction 18, I think.

Is that where the two meet? You do seem to have to select the middle lane out of three at exactly the right moment. And there is one tiny, *tiny* signpost to help…

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