EAST VS WEST | EMBRACING TWO CAR CULTURES
With an authoritative growl under the hood and a solemn countenance to match, the car culture surrounding the European Union carries an unabashed sense of pride and varied history. After being grateful enough to work on a gamut of vehicles both at home and abroad, there's no question that those within the European family possess a deeper emotional connection, dare I say, a palpable sense of deference to their vehicles. While it may not be completely representative of each and every subculture within the region, it's generally a well-founded dogma that Europe clings to their cars for reasons beyond utility and convention.
FIG. 1 MAP OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
While we all have priorities in life, the European car culture is treated like that piece of priceless art displayed above the mantel. In other words, it serves as a focal point within the household. and although it's in plain view, you can't touch it, smell it, taste it, or even breathe on it.
For those of you who live in the Western Hemisphere, you might be asking yourselves, why? A simple answer to this question might sound counterintuitive, but the European Union and territories farther East have accessibility to both a wider network of mass transportation, at least with regard to denser urban populations (Paris, London, Milan, Berlin, Amsterdam, etc.) but there's also an understanding that those of the European persuasion are faced with what many would consider to be excessive tariffs and taxes imposed on the masses. When you fuse these criteria, it practically places a disincentive on one to pursue a vehicle purchase in the first place. I mean, let's face it. If you can rely on mass transit to facilitate your daily commute, of what use does an automobile serve?
In contrast, The United States is infinitely younger with regards to infrastructure, so rather than viewing this from the perspective of good or bad, it's simply just different. For reasons that may already appear blatantly obvious, the US and the EU are diametrically opposed to one another based on their own respective history, too. With Manifest Destiny serving as the fabric of American life, it's only natural that we should shape the United States as a land of utilitarianism. With that being said, let me provide you with a piece of historical context.
For one, after World War II, the United States continued to advertise the idea that a king should have their own castle, which gave birth to what we know today as modern-day suburbia. With this mindset, each state started to adopt its own version of that dream, thus making an interconnected mass transit network untenable and outrageously expensive.
With the largest metropolitan areas being few and far between, it was only natural to rely on the automobile taking us to where we needed to go. It wasn't until 1955 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed an "interstate" system, which for purposes of history, was initially meant to serve as a means for the military to move seamlessly across state lines in case of an impending invasion.
FIG. 2 MAP OF THE UNITED STATES AND THE NHS (NATIONAL HIGHWAY SYSTEM)
Another talking point that comes into focus is one of climate, and this is the major differentiator between the two continents. There's no denying that the United States offers a wider variance of biospheres than any other place on Earth. In fact, did you know the United States is comprised of 47 separate biospheres?
With the gulf stream barreling through the plains and the Midwest unfettered, it doesn't necessarily lend itself to favorable climates by which one can stage an automotive-based culture. Now, that's not to say it doesn't exist in the US, because it certainly does in "big ticket" cities from coast to coast, but Europe has a longstanding tradition of hosting car-related events, and its genesis can be traced to the first automobile exhibition of 1898, in Tuileries, Paris, France. It's in their blood, and to deprive the average European of that tradition is enough to wage a war.
In the United States, we suffer from extreme temperature swings, whereas many European countries luxuriate themselves in milder temperatures almost year-round. Now, is this a consistent trend that stretches across the expanses of the continent?
No, absolutely not. In fact, there have been multiple occasions where I'd been called to stage vehicles in places where milder temperatures were to be expected, then I'll be blindsided 30 minutes before judging and I'll either be sweating like a snow cone in Phoenix or freeze like I'm setting-up camp in Antarctica. All jokes aside, the general populace will capitalize off of favorable outdoor conditions to stage their events.
So, it goes without saying that there's a level of interdependence between the passionate European driver and the surroundings that come naturally to them. From the colorful conversations I've had with car collectors, customization shops, and other manufacturers who showcase their wares, the one term that carries throughout is "natural". If the conditions outside aren't favorable, the one coordinating the event will improvise and collect the resources needed to ensure the meeting is a smashing success. The phrase "Due to inclement weather" isn't an excuse across the pond.
With a history that outshines that of the United States, car clubs from country to country, region to region, and even village to village can easily host in any open field, barring any unforeseen circumstances, of course. With an overwhelming majority of Europe being much more dense in population, smaller populations from neighboring towns unite, then next thing you know, boom! A local car show emerges and it becomes the new flavor of the month.
In contrast to this difference in culture, we as full-blooded Americans don't have as much red tape to cut when coordinating such an event, whereas any proposals in Europe need to be passed by local councils and smaller government agencies.
Aside from working on remarkable vehicles both vintage and new, the greatest payoff is listening to the stories that are shared from owner to owner, and the heartfelt anecdotes that exemplify the passion each owner has for their prized possession.
In contrast to this mindset, you typically won't hear the mechanical nomenclature tossed around like we proudly carry throughout the United States. These conversations usually begin with an epigrammatic remark like "Well, she's been with me from the beginning, unlike my ex-wife." Then I'll turn on my inner dialogue and think "God, I love deadpan British humor".
If that weren't enough, I had a colorful conversation with a gentlemen named Frank whilst in Switzerland preparing for a concours event, and let's just say hilarity ensued. The dialogue carried as follows:
Leon: "Your accent, you are not Swiss." "Are you Canadian?"
Me: "No, sir." "In fact, I'm from the US."
Leon: "US?" "There is no US."
Me: "Pardon?" Leon: "We're through." "I want a divorce, but I'm taking the Aston Martin."
Me: *awkward pregnant pause*
Leon: *gives a furtive smile*
Me: "You are quite the trickster, Leon."
Leon: "If you can have my Vantage done in 30 minutes, I'll consider counseling in lieu of a divorce settlement."
Me: laughs uncontrollably* "Then I shall finish post-haste, Leon."
As I digress, it's interesting to note that the American classic car catalogue has started to reverberate throughout the ranks of dedicated gearheads all over Europe. Despite this ongoing trend, you'll find a divide in opinion as western Europe tends to favor the American mindset whereas anything east of Germany will remain loyal to their own brands.
While I didn't have the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of each region as much as I would've liked, I was able to understand the visceral feeling of pride that one has to their vehicle. Now, that's not to say I didn't enjoy a sojourn every now and then whilst traveling throughout Europe, and to corroborate this statement you'll find a short video showcasing my wife and I visiting two of my favorite destinations of Lake Interlaken, Switzerland and Lake Como, Italy.
So, if I were to put it succinctly, this industry allows me to transform something that carries emotional value to someone, which in turn gives the owner something they can latch onto. If you ask me why I do what I do, it's because I have the privilege of preserving part of their lives. While many might think it's a two-dimensional transaction, it's not.
It was never about the car, it's about giving that person more reason to love a machine. Ironically, this carries the same outlook I had when practicing both vocal performance and piano in both my undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Much like the days when I would lock myself into a practice room for hours at a time, I dedicated myself to however many hours were required until I was satisfied, and as any musician will tell themselves, they repeat the same mantra over and over again, which is "I'm never satisfied".
As I look back on my travels, I'm eternally grateful for not only expanding my existing skill set, but I've had a chance to fully immerse myself into a variety of cultures that each have their own unique characteristics, vibrant histories, and how it differs from what is considered commonplace in the United States. Embracing something different opens the door to something you'll cherish for a lifetime. If not appreciable, at least you exposed yourself to something that adds a bit of jois de vivre.