If I had to choose, I would take style over speed any day. Put me in the cockpit of something old, slow and weird, and I’d be happier than the newest and fastest of today’s fast car offerings. I’m certain that brand-new models from Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini are amazing cars that are undeniably cool — but the amount of enjoyment to be had is severely hampered by the restraint required to operate it legally, and most importantly, safely. This concept doesn’t necessarily even apply to the most exotic of cars, as illegal speeds can be reached very quickly in say, a BMW, a Ford Mustang or even that rental car you decided to abuse a little.
Not too long ago, I found myself behind the wheel of a Dodge Durango SRT for a week. I first picked up my friends and took them to a hockey game. As they approached the car, I revved the engine and watched them jump backwards, frightened by the exhaust roar. We drove from stop light to stop light, wishing there was more road in front of us, knowing I could never open it up enough to truly enjoy in the city. We got stares that I’m certain were not the ones I was looking for. It was still winter, and I could see the heat from the engine coming through the absurdly bulbous hood, and it was nearly impossible to park. It’s not a good city car.
The next day, I took the 7-seater rocket ship from New York City to the Hamptons for some time in the country. On the open freeway of the Long Island Expressway, I decided to open it up a little. The engine sounded great pouring out of the giant dual-exhaust pipes, yet with its 392 ci engine and 0-to-60 time of 4.6 seconds, illegal speeds were easy to reach, and the massive Brembo brakes were getting more use than I wanted to give them. Sure, the exhaust crackle and roar was satisfying, but it came at a price of knowing everyone else on the road was rolling their eyes at me and saying “Look at that guy.” I wondered who the Dodge Durango SRT was really for, if anyone. The amount of power on tap warranted the softest touches I’ve ever given to a gas pedal. It might as well be made of glass.
The following days, I drove the fire-breathing Durango SRT around the Hamptons, feeding it 93 octane fuel. I wondered if I owned it, whether I could also afford to fuel it. Curious about all of the race-oriented features in the SRT, I took it to a long stretch of private road, turned on Launch Control, and gave it a go. With a loud roar, the car was off, and my eyes felt as if they were glued to back of my head. With adrenaline rushing through my body, I slowed the car, promising myself I would never attempt that again. It felt out of character for me to try such a thing. The editor of the local East Hampton newspaper even jokingly called me out on my Instagram after hearing me from inside his home.
My takeaway from the SRT experience only reinforced my beliefs: I prefer working for automotive enjoyment than the immediate satisfaction offered by a fast car. I enjoy watching the revs slowly climb while preparing for the exact moment to change gears. In my 1993 Volkswagen Cabriolet or my 1958 Lambretta Li150 Scooter, I’m able to open it up completely, go through all of the gears and juice all of its power without being reckless. I’m not intentionally trying to sound like an old man, say, like Uncle Ben from Spider-Man lecturing Peter Parker about power and responsibility. But, in my view, for the $75,000 it would take to put the overpowered full-size SUV in my garage, I could easily choose four or more vintage cars from my fantasy list in proper working order.
I also find that those kinds of vehicles receive the right of attention from passers-by. A lot of people approach me with the Cabriolet, often mentioning how they used to own one, they loved it and now they miss it. With my scooter, many are impressed by its age and its elegant design — and the discerning bystander will recognize it as a Lambretta and not the more ubiquitous Vespa. They’re conversation starters, and what they may lack in safety features, they make up for with their uncommon presence on today’s roads. In the end, I prefer to measure fun in smiles per mile over miles per hour — and I enjoy when others notice along the way.