You are what you drive…or are you?




It seems most Americans believe that they can tell quite a bit about a person by the car they drive.  While this started out harmless enough, all too often we’re judging what a person is like by the type or number of cars in the collection.

It’s very easy to stereotype owners of specific makes and models.  Like many of his generation, my father-in-law would always point out that Porsche drivers were a-holes and Mercedes owners were all NAZIs, (despite the fact many German cars appeared in the parking lot of the local Jewish Community Center.)  Others claim Corvette guys are cheesy middle-aged men compensating for being hung like a termite. Acura Integra owners are evidently all “Fast and Furious” wanna-bes.  Volvo owners are all poor drivers. BMW owners are all yuppies living well despite huge credit card and mortgage debt.  Toyota purchasers view cars as appliances. Subaru buyers are all members of a gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender organization.  Owners of Jaguars, Bentleys and pre-WWII Classics like Packards and Duesenbergs are all snooty aristocrats   Ferrari and Lamborghini people are all short men with small feet and big egos.   Citroen and Rover enthusiasts are all engineers.  Camaro and Firebird pilots are all mullet-headed white trash way too enamored with their “farmer’s Ferraris.”  Minivan drivers are all soccer moms and NASCAR dads (who wish they actually owned something cool — like a Hummer.)

I could go on forever, and I’d be happy to if you’d like.

The fact of the matter is that you simply cannot establish anything about a driver by his or her car.  To assume that because someone owns a Triumph or MG that they are friendly mechanical engineers that can tune a pair of SUs in their sleep is simply a joke.  If it were true, then the thousands of mechanics who specialize in these cars would be out of a job.

Demographic information exists regarding the average age, income, level of education for certain new cars.  One can say that on average a Volvo or Lexus owner is more affluent and better educated than a Ford or Chevy driver, or that the average age of a new Lincoln buyer is striking close to the age at which most men die.  One can also base how good a driver is based on the accident statistics for their given ride – like a Porsche 911 Convertible owner generally drives well under the limits of the car, while a Mustang or Mitsubishi Eclipse owner goes beyond the capabilities of both skill and adhesion.

What the numbers don’t say is if the person is nice or a pain in the ass.  How a person interacts with others is always what makes a difference.  The type of car or the cost of a car collection is never a way to accurately gauge whether or not the owner is a good, honest person whose company you can enjoy.

I remember meeting former Chair of Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance Glenn Mounger for the first time.  Glenn’s garage is filled to the walls with cars most of us would kill for, such as a Ferrari 250GT Series One Cabriolet, ’53 Buick Skylark and a 1930 Packard Speedster.  One might assume that since Glenn has incredible cars and people spend years kissing his tush for a chance at showing their vehicles at the most prestigious car show in the world, he’d be the most pompous man in the world.  That assumption, however, is dead wrong, because Glenn is the most down-to-earth, nicest guy one could ever hope to meet.  He is just as happy talking to a car newbie as a Nethercutt, Mann, Keller, Lauren or other Pebble Beach regular winner.  And just to show this isn’t an anomaly, Kirkland Concours Head  (and vintage racer of a GT40, Lola, Sonoco Camaro Z-28, and original Corvette GrandSport coupe) Tom Armstrong is equally as nice, friendly and interesting to talk with.   I’ve never met Jay Leno, but those I know who have found him easy to chat with and wonderfully kind.

I’ve found that owners of expensive classics and sports cars can often be easier to approach, more eager to talk, and curiously…far more likely to offer a chance to drive their cars as those with lower-buck vehicles.  Then again, one can’t stereotype – during a conversation at a party to kick-off a tour from Seattle to Pebble a year or two ago I found a rather well-known Hispano Suiza owner so grossly condescending that I wanted to kick him…then I came to the conclusion his old age meant he would likely die of natural causes within a decade.

Chances are that nice, interesting, courteous folks were that way before they ever started driving.  A Porsche or Hispano Suiza doesn’t make someone pompous, nor does being an inherent jackass predetermine a decision to buy a Boxster over a Cadillac STS.   

It is true that people are attracted to different marques, models, eras or types based on exposure, so there will always be a relation between a vehicle and owners’ demographic and psychographics.   While it’s safe to say that a Chevy El Camino will appeal more to someone from the rural areas than the city, it would be unfair to assume the owner of a ’69 SS396 Elky is a hick with less teeth than the Major League Baseball drug policy circa 1986.

It’s fun to stereotype, though…and I’m certainly fair game.  Based upon the Corvette Convertible, Ferrari 328 GTS, Toyota Avalon, Oldsmobile Intrigue, Triumph TR3 and Mazda Miata that all fight for my attention, I must be a middle aged man compensating now for a lack of being a cool during the 1980s, who sees cars as an appliance, with a bland personality, but still loves to tinker in a dark, oil splattered garage when not being perfectly happy driving an underpowered girl’s car.

Hey, I resemble that remark.


2 Responses to You are what you drive…or are you?

  1. jsneddon says:

    Wow Sam!

    This thing has certainly opened you up. Good to see some free-form opinions without the constraints of other ‘family friendly’ places I’ve chatted with you on. 🙂

    I still stick to my opinion that the collector Ford guys are closet slide-rule owners with big adam’s apples though…..

    Great weblog- keep up the good work!

  2. Jbrattain' says:

    any good psychologist with a couple of weeks training would tell you that multiple cars are going to have multiple effects. So how do you figure a garage with a Packard, a Model A, a massive LaSalle, and a daily driver 79 New Yorker? An aristocratic snob doesn’t fit, a man of the masses or a mechanic doesn’t fit–should I bunch it all for a Subaru?
    Good bit, fun reading.

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