By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
There’s nothing new about the wealthy using their superior resources to purchase protection and privilege. But there used to be an enforceable social contract governing such transactions. In the pre-SUV era, the trendy, souped-up or ostentatious cars that once thrived NorthOfWilshire were, because of their raw power, often dangerous to innocent others. But here was the Faustian bargain: They were also a threat to the driver him- or herself. Ask Jimmy Dean about that. When you plunked down a load for a Porsche or a ‘Vette, you knew that in a rush of adrenaline you might flatten the paperboy lurking in your blind spot. But you also knew that if you misjudged the bank of Deadman’s Curve, you could end with a chest full of fiberglass or, worse, wrapped around a Sunset Boulevard telephone pole like Mel Blanc. Even if your tastes were a bit more sober and you opted for a pricey Caddy, you knew deep down you were essentially buying a perfumed piece-of-crap Chevy whose wheels could fly off unannounced at any moment. This is at least how I rationalize my own growling, gas-guzzling Impala SS. It‘s bad for everybody -- including me. I claim no virtue for owning it. And at least my under-chassis rails are at the same height as all other ”normal“ cars. When I recently rammed the rear of a dinky Toyota on the Ventura Freeway, I bent it up pretty badly. But its own chassis absorbed the shock on an even keel, and the other driver not only lived to tell the tale but he emerged healthy enough to litigate like a sonofabitch. The moral here: Better To Sue Than To Be Strewn.
Twenty years ago the sensitive liberals who now power the SUV craze and who seek protection at any price would have used their excess cash to buy a completely different sort of ”safe car.“ And there was an inherent social justice in that bargain as well. When you exercised the option your financial position permitted, you brought home a car that sounded like a Latin name for some nether body part -- a Volvo or Saab -- and that looked like one as well. That always seemed eminently fair to me. Your car might be safer than the one I could afford, but, to paraphrase O.J., it was the ugliest-ass, most soporific car on the road. You might survive any accident, except falling asleep while gazing at your own car’s stark Swedish interior. Fair enough. And, most importantly, not only was your car boxy and boring, but it was no more likely to kill me as it was you.
SUVs shred that social contract. They are the first vehicles in history consciously designed and purchased to enhance your safety at the expense of everyone else‘s. When you own one you might fancy yourself a free-spirited adventurer equipped to explore exotic and remote sites where cheaper vehicles don’t dare to tread. But, in reality, you are an excessively self-absorbed and potential serial killer.
There‘s some glimmer of a chance that this collective insanity is peaking. Growing public reaction against them might someday soon stigmatize SUVs as much as tobacco or (the much safer) .357 magnum Python. Some major carmakers are at least becoming equivocal on the matter. Ford, in an act that can only be described as clinical schizophrenia, has just introduced into the market the gargantuan, nine-passenger, 18-foot-long Excursion, built on the F-series Super Duty pickup platform, and tipping the scales at twice the weight of an average car. At the same time, Ford is claiming this monster can get 18 miles per gallon (probably coasting downhill), is supposedly designed to be somewhat less murderous to others, and is supposed to run cleaner than previous similar models. ”You can be environmentally conscious and buy this vehicle,“ says Dave Millerick, manager of Ford’s emission planning department. Notice, he didn‘t say anything about being an environmentalist and actually operating this vehicle.
Until and unless this infestation of steel-plated orcas goes the way of the Edsel or the NASDAQ, I will cling to the helm of my Impala. So the next time you’re ensconced and swaddled in the buttermilk calf‘s leather of your taupe-and-mauve Eddie Bauer Expedition, and you’re rolling down 26th Street on your way to Babalu, the cooled air caressing your cheeks, your favorite Kenny G tunes flowing harmoniously from your Alpine deck and out your Bose speakers, and with your windows and doors secured against the outside world, as you sit perched far above the line of plebe junkers in front of you, and all of a sudden and without warning you hear the gut-wrenching rumble of tuned exhausts and the hungry, sucking swoosh of forced-air induction resonating off your side panels, and in your rearview mirror you discern the dark and determined sneer of the grill of an all-black Impala SS, be afraid. Be very afraid.