Old Cars vs New Ones


I like older cars. I’m not quite sure why. I far prefer the 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee to the 2015 model for example. I very nearly bought a 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.7l hemi V8 but was dissuaded when I calculated how much more it would cost to drive from Durban to Joburg and back as compared to the 1.6 hatchback I was replacing it with. It would have cost me twice as much or as near as makes no difference.

My wife then asked me “But why not go for the 3l diesel?”

I had no logical answer. The 3l diesel would no doubt be more economical to run and I wouldn’t have to sell a kidney every time I needed to fill the tank. But I wanted the V8 and nothing else would do, so I ended up not getting anything for a while. I still feel a swirl of excitement in my belly when I see a 2006 -2010 5.7l hemi V8 Jeep but for some reason I don’t feel that same swirl when I see a new one or even the SRT8, which is more powerful but pointless because it’s not meant to go off-road. It’s like an X5/6 or Audi Q7, a big fast station wagon for important people with kids who can’t justify a M3 anymore.

It’s not just the Jeep though. I prefer the previous generation C-Class Mercedes. I prefer the previous generation VW Touareg (although I’d never buy one). I prefer the Land Rover Discovery 2 and I prefer the Toyota Land Cruisers that they built in the 80s and 90s, so much so that I bought one from 1989 and it’s the best car in the world as far as I am concerned. The only visible electronics in it are the digital clock and the radio, which only gets two stations and returns an “ERR” message whenever I try to play a CD, so I prefer to keep it off. There are no touch screens, parking sensors, lane assist gadgets or even ABS brakes as far as I can tell. And yet, put it into low range 4×4 and it will climb Everest whilst rescuing its descendants all the way up and back down again, and it’s cheap to repair.

All of which begs the question, why have carmakers made their cars so complicated? They will say it’s for safety reasons. They will say they are moving with the times. They will say it’s for our own good. They may actually be right about all of those things but I don’t think it’s their main reason. I think their main reason is because all the electronics and gadgets make cars more expensive and harder for the amateur mechanic to fix in his back yard. That makes it easier to sell expensive service and maintenance plans because the modern car buyer knows that if something important breaks on his or her expensive new technological marvel it will cost more to repair than it would to build a new house.

These days you don’t need a spanner to fix a car, you need a laptop. I could ask the worst bush mechanic in Botswana to replace the leaf springs in my 89 Land Cruiser and he’d do it without too much hassle, but I bet he’d be completely lost if he saw a modern set-up with a limited slip differential and independent adjustable air suspension. You’d have to fly out a team of engineers with laptops and specialised equipment to fix a new Land Cruiser or Land Rover Discovery. A bunch of spanners and socket wrenches just won’t cut it anymore.

When I look at the prices of some of today’s cars all I can think is “you’d have to bonkers to pay that”. A new Toyota Land Cruiser 200 will cost you in excess of a million rand. I paid R45 000 for my 89 model and when I took it on a 4×4 course recently it was proved just as capable as the new 200 series Land Cruiser, even without a lockable differential. It ate the all obstacles for breakfast. So I saved a million rand, good for me!

Are old cars better? Probably not, but they are a lot cheaper than and just as capable as the new ones. I suppose it’s like a new pair of R2000 Doc Martens boots. They are cool, there is no question, and they always have been. But, for the same amount of money I can get two pairs of good running shoes and some hiking boots, all of which are infinitely more useful. For the price of a new 200 series Land Cruiser or Range Rover I can buy at least seven and a half second hand 2007 5.7l Hemi Jeep Grand Cherokees like the one I mentioned earlier or twenty six 1989 FJ62 series Toyota Land Cruisers… I could go on but I think the point is fairly clear.

So why do we buy new cars? It’s obviously not a decision based on sound reasoning or logic. If it was we’d all be driving around in Suzuki Jimnys or Subaru Legacy Outbacks but I don’t see many of those. I do see many BMW M5s, Porsche Cayennes and Range Rover Sports. Don’t even get me started on the new “Compact SUV that is Actually Just a Hatchback with Platform Shoes on” models that litter our roads with their elevated seating positions and pseudo off-roader looks.

As much as the marketing gurus would have us believe that we buy new cars to be cutting edge or for the new safety features and extra kilowatts, the truth is we buy new cars because we want them. We’re filled with desire for them. Something primal takes over, good sense is subverted, and next thing you know you’re grinning at a new BMW X5 on your driveway. The same is true in other areas of life. Human beings desire things! We’re seduced by newness, by bright colours, by being better than Jones down the road. We’re shallow uncomplicated hypocrites with an inferiority complex.

“How much is enough?” they asked a rich businessman?

“Just a little bit more” he replied.

I was struck by a thought the other day. I was driving to gym in my cheap sensible hatchback after reading an article in which the writer had pointed out the stereotypical corporate BMW owner profile; middle management drives a 3 series and when he gets his big promotion he trades it in on a 520i. I happened to look at the car next to me, a 3 series BMW, driven a man in a tie going home at 6pm. He looked tired and miserable and I found it all very sad, so much so that I’ve been dissuaded from buying a Volvo S60 T6 and am instead going to try find myself a seventies Citroen DS20. I can’t think of anything more uncool than buying a new small luxury European sedan right now.

So this is my protest against boredom and extended motor-plans, against overly engineered electronic vehicles that do the driving for you, against cars that need a diagnostic every time you change a spark-plug and against car companies who want to hold us hostage with exorbitantly expensive optional extras under the guise of “exclusivity”. Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it is better.


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