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Top Gear’s Britain no longer exists Both excellence and adrenalin have become taboo

Even these lads didn't take cars seriously. (Top Gear/BBC)

Even these lads didn't take cars seriously. (Top Gear/BBC)


October 11, 2023   6 mins

Has the Age of the Car broken down? In my Nineties adolescence, getting a driver’s licence was a basic rite of passage; now, young people throughout the West don’t seem bothered.

Nothing could bring our waning love for the automobile more forcefully home than reports that the BBC may be axing its internationally bestselling motoring show, Top Gear. First broadcast in 1977, fronted by Angela Rippon and Tom Coyne, Top Gear began as a straight-faced motoring magazine show. It became the best-selling juggernaut production of its peak period after a 2002 reboot, fronted by the laddish trio of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond.

At its peak, Top Gear encapsulated an entire relationship between engineering and the pursuit of excellence: one inextricably bound up in material and cultural conditions that were already wavering when Clarkson was fired. And it’s this complex relationship, equal parts technical and emotional, which is in flux today: not just within the show itself, but out in the car-driving world itself.

The joy of Top Gear, in its Clarkson/Hammond/May salad days, was the way it captured the two dominant forms of motoring enthusiast: the tinkerer, and the petrolhead. Top Gear tinkerer features would depict these three middle-aged men making daft modifications to second-hand cars, for example turning a Porsche 944 into an “ambulance”, or a Ford Transit into a “hovervan”,  then try to complete ever sillier challenges. Petrolhead segments would feature the same three middle-aged men, driving beautiful, fast, staggeringly expensive miracles of engineering perfection through stunning landscapes.

Of course, petrolheads and tinkerers are often one and the same, though in my observation car-lovers tend to incline one way or the other. My late dad, for example, was a tinkerer: an engineer by training, he spent as much time as he could get away with in a workshop overflowing with hand and power tools, plus shelf after shelf of labelled tobacco tins brimming with nuts, bolts and other small objects that might come in handy one day.

Tinkerers, of course, don’t confine their tinkering to cars. But cars have, historically, been a central object of tinkering attention. Whether mending, restoring, customising, or otherwise fiddling about with engines, the tinkerer is happiest absorbed in the material business of making the damn thing work. This both affords distinctive pleasures, and calls for a particular mindset: one eloquently defended by the mechanic and philosopher Matthew Crawford.

Working with your hands, Crawford argues, requires distinctive modes of knowing based in practice, imitation, and tradition as much as in abstract principles. Importantly, too, such work requires a pragmatic acceptance and understanding of what your chosen material will and won’t accommodate, such as flexibility, flammability, melting-point and so on. The resulting aggregate skill set is both physical and aesthetic: Crawford speaks of “pride in meeting the aesthetic demands of a workmanlike installation”, a sentiment my dad would indisputably have recognised.

For the petrolhead, meanwhile, the main attraction is how fun it is to make machines go ridiculously fast. Crawford analyses the emotional side of driving as a distinct aspect of his philosophy of engines, arguing that self-directed driving at speed expresses an attitude to risk-taking and personal agency that delivers immense social benefits.

For Crawford, giving up that sense of agency to an infrastructure of automated vehicles, speed cameras, and safety-minded restrictions may deliver some social utility, narrowly understood. But, driving is emotional as well as functional, expressing that aspect of our spirit that takes risks, and aspires to mastery of our tools. At its best, he characterises skilled driving as a “state of grace”.

In peak Top Gear, the avatar of tinkering was James May: an amiable nerd emanating pure essence of garden-shed. Clarkson, on the other hand, embodied the petrolhead delight at what these engines can do. (Hammond was the designated straight man and token biker.) Clarkson obviously knew about as much about engineering as I do, but his transparent delight at howling V8s, smoking brakes, and machines that let you corner at speeds that would kill you in a lesser vehicle, was genuinely infectious to watch even for a motoring agnostic like me.

But in different ways, both the tinkerer and the petrolhead have been losing cultural cachet for some time. Indeed, Top Gear itself captured this decline, mostly depicting tinkering in comic terms, and motoring excellence as the out-of-reach preserve of far-away experts. The supercar segments lionised these sleek, roaring vehicles as things of magic and wonder a long way from the reach of someone in a shed. And while my dad took his own tinkering seriously enough, car modifications for Top Gear challenges are usually comically shonky workmanship done not for the admiration and emulation of tinkering peers, but for banter. In amidst all the motoring was a pessimistic message radically at odds with Britain’s history as a nation of engineers: that fiddling under the bonnet is off-limits to amateurs, except as a joke.

As for the emotional side of driving, petrolhead joy in the high-velocity “state of grace” has also grown problematic. This is partly thanks to mounting anxieties over the financial and environmental price of fossil fuels — and, more broadly, a growing sense of scarcity. But it’s not just climate change. It speaks, too, to a growing discomfort with the pursuit of excellence as such — especially such resoundingly impractical forms of excellence as a car that will do 0-60 in 2.5 seconds but doesn’t have a boot.

 

Engineering miracles such as the Bugatti Veyron express a culture that will stop at nothing in pursuit of the “state of grace”, attainable in transcendent moments of harmony between driver and machine. And the cultural cachet accorded to this pursuit is, far more broadly, on the wane. It’s hard to point at a single cause, though it’s possible that at least some of those who once pursued mastery of tools and machines now devote the same attention to video gaming. In any case, the tinkering culture that once underpinned such joyfully pointless quests for excellence is also waning. Here, de-industrialisation no doubt plays a part, and it probably doesn’t help that modern gadgets are deliberately built to thwart tinkerers. So, too, are modern cars: there is much less point in buying a Haynes manual for a vehicle whose innards are largely powered by computer software.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the kind of inventive “shopcraft” that once characterised Britain’s tinkerers is today found more in culture where scarcity is part of life, and hence where tinkerers are still valued. Nor should it surprise us if the aspiration to build supercars has migrated with the tinkerers. Earlier this year, Entop unveiled the first Afghan supercar: the Simurgh, which looks like a Batmobile and runs on a modified 2000 Toyota Corolla engine.

The internal combustion engine was, once upon a time, accessible both mechanically and financially. Such machines afforded a democratic and emotionally potent playground for the symbiotic 20th-century emergence of the tinkerer and the petrolhead: the twin mastery of the engine’s innards, and of its capacity for excellence. But with its comical tinkerers and inaccessibly magical supercars, even peak Top Gear tacitly acknowledged that this age was on its way out.

Post-Clarkson the show has limped on for several fairly forgettable series, until presenter Freddie Flintoff’s horrific track accident last year took it off the air – possibly forever. And this may be wise: for even by 2015, the writing was on the wall.

Regulatory changes and rising fuel costs were already combining into the now acutely palpable pressure on Western consumers, to shift from internal combustion toward batteries. Some years on, there are no car manufacturers anywhere (except perhaps in Afghanistan) working on new internal-combustion models, while the cars we already have are at the heart of many energy-related culture wars. Whether it’s the cost of EVs, the politics of “Net Zero”, “15-minute cities”, or the geopolitics of petrol prices, much of our most contested political fractures concern personal transport. Against that backdrop, Top Gear’s fun, relatively apolitical magazine format feels at best out of step, if not outright disingenuous.

And the energy transition has a bearing on the car as symbol of agency, too. This is partly practical: compared with internal combustion engines, the technical complexity of EVs poses tremendous barriers to entry for car-tinkerers. And there’s a class element, too: hybrids and EVs are prohibitively expensive compared with a battered-but-serviceable petrol runabout.

No wonder, then, that many young people are deciding not to bother, or to treat cars as mere appliances, with as little emotional weight as a dishwasher. To the extent that cars speak of agency or excellence today, they do so in ways that are ever more problematic – or simply inaccessible, whether through complexity or cost.

Cheap, abundant fossil fuels may have placed machine-enhanced grace temporarily in the hands of Everyman; but today, we are witnessing the end of that era. I have too much faith in the world’s nerds to imagine that tinkerers will ever die out completely; but the meaning of cars has already changed forever. And outside the dwindling community of tinkerers, a culture that has largely abandoned the search for mechanical mastery may not even feel this as much of a loss.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
9 months ago

Mary is coming at this cultural change – away from technical mastery and towards a widespread allergy to excellence – through the medium of cars. I tend to view it through the prism of gardens.
Mary is looking at her tinkerer Dad; I think about my green-fingered grandparents, who spent every minute they could outside, tending to their tiny garden behind a council semi in Derby. That little patch of land was loved and cared for, turned and renewed, the wooden bench brought out from under its tarpaulin in the spring with great ceremony (for taking care of your stuff so it would last was the norm then too). My grandparents knew the Latin names of all the plants and would discuss endlessly the tiny dramas which were unfolding outside in the soil. There was great excitement when a chaffinch or a wagtail came to feed at the bird table.
They didn’t have much, so they plunged into the detail of what they had and became experts.
Staying in York a while ago, I looked out of the hotel window (Premier Inn in Blossom Street, FYI: friendly – but grubby, outdated and with about an inch of dust on the stairs because no one had bothered to hoover there. Extension lead, anyone?) into the garden next door and had to gulp: full of rubbish, scruffy, broken paving slabs – not a flower or plant in sight. And you can see these miserable little scraps of land everywhere – far fewer people bother with their gardens these days and the general level of pride in oneself, one’s appearance and the appearance of one’s garden has dropped off significantly.
Maybe it is the increased stress of modern life that leaves people with less time for things like this. Maybe it is the increase in availability of other leisure alternatives that renders watching birds outside your window uninteresting. And if you can always buy new stuff, then the fuss and ritual of taking care of (and learning the art of) special things gets lost.
A garden is quite out of my reach at the moment – ditto for a balcony. I guess I’m a typical millennial who missed the property-purchase train and got stuck in rental accommodation. But I still try very hard to replicate some of the care and discipline and pride that my grandparents had, because it is important. So I tend to my three orchids, grow chilis on my windowsill – and learn about what works and what doesn’t. It’s very satisfying and I am a card-carrying orchid anorak – but it does rather have the feel of a “a last stand” about it.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

P.S.: here’s a poem about gardening by Ursula Askham Fanthorpe which I discovered this year and absolutely love: https://rihlajourney.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/men-on-allotments-u-a-fanthorpe/

Last edited 9 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Andrew H
Andrew H
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Thanks for sharing this. I have no interest in gardening but come from a long line of gardeners, so I have some vestigial appreciation for their passion.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Will happily echo others in saying thanks for that. I’m an orchid fan too (from a previous relationship with a woman who loved them) and i always look out for them in the short June-July period when they flourish. It’s also their rarity, exoticism, wildness that i love. They’re truly an unsung wonder of the natural world; i’m pleased to hear you’re singing on their behalf.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Pride in oneself – interesting. In times past, the state of one’s front step was of great importance and, with increasing affluence, that pride then attached to one’s front garden. (We can blame the car, of course, for the disappearance of the front garden in favour of off-road parking.)
That spotless front step was a demonstration of pride in oneself, affirmed through the medium of community approval. Perhaps the state’s ever-increasing insistence on controlling every aspect of our lives has lead to a weakening of the importance, or even existence, of community standards as we retreat indoors where, for the time being at least, we can behave as we like.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

You chose the WRONG Hotel!

Otherwise is not the huge Cathedral one of the finest in Europe? You presumably walked the Walls, amongst the best in England, visited the National Railway Museum again without peer in Europe, perused the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, St Leonard’s Hospital and Clifford’s Tower, the Guildhall, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, the Yorvik
Viking Centre and the splendid medieval gateways and their barbicans?

“Time spent of reconnaissance is never wasted!”

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

This made me smile. You are not alone in being a millennial who has an interest in gardening and plants, I am the parent to 2 millennials, one has made a garden in a small yard behind a terraced house, has an allotment and knows some of the Latin names of plants. The other is keen to grow fruit and vegetables as soon as a garden is within reach financially. They also appreciate the quality of workmanship and materials in older furniture snd household items, perhaps there is hope for the joy of these things being rediscovered.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
9 months ago
Reply to  Karen Arnold

Do your children also have a thing about cleaning their shoes in the old fashioned way, using Kiwi polish and two brushes? That’s another thing my grandpa was a stickler for and I happily carry on the habit.

Last edited 9 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Ben Scott
Ben Scott
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Haha! Polishing shoes and sharpening knives are 2 of my favourite things. Always have been. From when I was in the Boys Brigade (shoes) and working on a farm at 13 (pocket knife).

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Yes, and using cups and saucers for a cup of tea!

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Mary
Sure the macho cowboy felt the same way. Perhaps you have read Edward Abbey.
BTW What’s wrong with an electrical adrenaline spark ?
If all one can sell is the past then you become a tourist trap !

Last edited 9 months ago by Mark M Breza
Steve Trimming
Steve Trimming
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Although somewhat depressing that it highlights the general decay, thanks Katharine, a lovely comment

Steve Farrell
Steve Farrell
9 months ago

The Guardian comments section isn’t a reasonable or rational place, but the comments below recent articles on Khan’s ULEZ were very interesting.

The refusal to acknowledge that owning a car opens up all kinds of possibilities, bestowing as much freedom as an average wage slave is likely to experience, was mind-blowing.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Farrell

Yes. First unscrupulous councils played highwaymen, warring on the car via illegal yellow box and parking traps. Then the Bossy Leftist State piled in with its eco nuttery & wider war on our mobility and freedoms. Top Gear’s massive popularity was not driven by tinkers or petrolheads. It was – briefly – the only TV show which openly challenged the new progressive puritanism. Thats the reason Clarkson was terminated and with it those millions lost. Control control vetocracy.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
9 months ago

As a lifelong South London cycle commuter, Top Gear was a great example of something I think the BBC still does very well – a programme about a subject you might not be interested in that is still entertaining – ‘Paul and Bob go fishing’ being another example.

It lost everything once they got rid of Clarkson et al.

Crawford’s vision of motoring is I think very much tied to a romantic Jack Kerouac vision of the road that doesn’t apply to South London.

The excess population growth of the past 30 years is making motoring increasingly untenable in London – it’s an ugly,polluted, gridlocked mess.

It would help if the cars were aesthetically pleasing but modern cars are fantastically ugly.

As for tinkering, get a bicycle and you can tinker to your heart’s content.

Failing that, you could always do a Guy
Martin and buy a Lancaster bomber engine.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
9 months ago

I have to disagree
Top Gear demise is essentially due to the loss of Clarkson.
The demand for EVs is faltering and will decline further when their many disadvantages become more widely shared
If Government persists in penalising domestic car producers for building petrol and diesel cars then secondhand market in those will become even more important and “ tinkering” with cars more prevalent.

D Glover
D Glover
9 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

It could go either way. If petrol is readily available in the future then used IC cars will be sought after and cherished. An EV is not much use if you live in a terrace or a block of flats. You can’t have a charging socket beside your front door if the cable is a trip hazard.
But some future Chancellor might impose a ‘sin tax’ on petrol, like those on spirits and tobacco. The less affluent can’t keep their old cars if petrol becomes scarce and ruinously expensive.

Last edited 9 months ago by D Glover
Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
9 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Thanks – I would say that the “ sin tax” has been paid on petrol and diesel for a long time now as 70% of what you pay at the pump is tax ( fuel duty plus VAT) – raising in excess of ÂŁ30 billion per annum (and where is that important source of income coming from if we stop buying petrol and diesel? )

Second , besides the good question of accessibility which you raise, where is all the extra electricity going to come from? We will need to at least quadruple U.K. electricity generation and supply to electrify the motor fleet. Furthermore, a similar increase will be needed to replace natural gas as a heat source ( the vast majority of U.K. homes have gas heating). An eightfold increase in U.K. electricity generation and supply grid in 12 years???The sums and timings just don’t add up. As currently timetabled Government dictated energy transition is a pipedream – as is the thought that wind and solar are the answer. The realities of practicability and affordability will dawn upon our politicians eventually – one hopes. I would add that public resistance to Government dictating how we live our own lives will also cause increasing social unrest which democratic politicians will not be able to ignore.

D Glover
D Glover
9 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

Perfectly true. We’re short of power stations.
We’re also short of houses, farmland, reservoirs and prisons.
Where are we going to build it all?

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

I hope you’re right, but I doubt it.
Most of young, woke, green morons believe in “world boiling” stuff.
So they will carry on believing till they are all unemployed and freezing.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

And they won’t be able to afford EVs either. WooHoo! F
Go team west

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Great post.
There is nothing rational about manic drive to EV.
It is religious cult of woke Neo-Marxists driving it.
All the green idiocy is facilitated by taxpayers subsidies to privileged green parasites.
Joe average can’t afford EVs.
But that is the point of techno feudalism.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Excellent essay. Makes me sad as the connection to cars slowly fades into oblivion. I was never much into cars, but I appreciate the emotional bond it creates for others.

po go
po go
9 months ago

I teach 13/14 yo kids and long for the days of pre-smart phone and social media. I dread the future. So much they miss out on. If the global elites could have manufactured a more docile and blah bunch of ppl, I’d be surprised.

Jon Kilpatrick
Jon Kilpatrick
9 months ago

I am never cease to be amazed and delighted by the breadth and depth of Mary’s insight. She illuminates and defines phenomena which I experience viscerally but can’t articulate. With no disrespect intended to her mother, I wonder if part of the reason she has such a high functioning intellect is because of the life lessons she learned from an intelligent, resourceful, and inquisitive father.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
9 months ago

The ICE might not be dead yet. EVs are proving to be very expensive not just to buy but to insure and maintain. They are also an environmental scourge in their own way and may well be fatally explosive. Toyota is working on ammonia as a replacement for petroleum. Never underestimate the Japanese.

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

I think we will find EVs being one of those things that end up being a good idea in theory but with too many negatives for real life.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Karen Arnold

Sounds like Communism?

Lodewijk Paardenkooper
Lodewijk Paardenkooper
9 months ago

In 1991 I imported a Triumph TR3a (year 1958) from the UK, that was originally exported to the USA. It was a wreck. With the help of the Moss parts book and Haynes I took it completely apart and restored (with some professional help) in nealy three years. I do not only love the British people for their exquisite sense of humor but-maybe even more- for all those lovely (repairable and affordable) sports cars.

Ralph Hanke
Ralph Hanke
9 months ago

interesting, to me at any rate, that no one mentions the Grand Tour show. Although there are fewer episodes, the same sense of wonder still exists among the three musketeers. Well four actually because Andrew Willman is/was always in the background.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
9 months ago
Reply to  Ralph Hanke

I love those. The Cambodia one, in particular, seems designed to be watched by a teenage boy from another age. The different boats, the history woven into the episode, the scenery, the back and forth between the three men and the overall sense of fun and adventure. Great!

STEPHEN GILDERT
STEPHEN GILDERT
9 months ago

Mary, as a petrol head. Who’d have thought it. But as ever her thinking is bang on.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago

It is, but she might also have mentioned the life-threatening accidents involving Richard Hammond and more recently, Andrew Flintoff as perhaps contributing to the demise of Top Gear.

These occurred whilst attempting driving stunts, not in the course of demonstrating everyday vehicles which could be tinkered with, or even the pursuit of engineering excellence with a “state of grace” but rather a state of manic driving unworthy of emulation.

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

She did mention Flintoff’s accident. Read It again

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
9 months ago

Interesting as ever, and I agree with quite a bit of this article, but let me offer some tangential thoughts.

I was never a car nerd, but like pretty much most males I was instinctively attracted to the beauty of some cars through the years without really knowing why. The first car that ‘registered’ with me the minute I saw it at something like the age of eight in Kampala, was the Citroen DS with it’s eye-catching headlights and that adaptive suspension, when a doctor of my parents aquaintence purchased one. Over half a century on, I can still remember people discussing how it used to break down with remarkable regularity, but that didn’t matter at all to me – it was absolutely gorgeous. Another French car which I loved the design of was from the noughties, which pretty much no one in the UK liked at the time, was the Renault Vel Satis. The Frenchies (and to a lesser extent the Italians) sometimes have a design sense that I am magnetically attracted to, without ever knowing exactly why.

The odd thing is, I have lost most of my interest in cars these last few years, both as things of design beauty and as desirable status possessions, and I now pretty much view cars as utilities, and again I don’t know why. Must be the grip of my nihilist streak getting stronger.

Another point I will make is about Tinkerers and Patrolheads. For myself I don’t do the Petrolhead thing, and for the same reason I don’t do video games. But at core, the Tinkerer mentality is one and the same as that of scientific curiosity about how everything works. The depth to which you take this curiosity, and levels of superimposed abstractions you are willing to overlay over your investigation, is a matter of personal temperament. As such, the extent of physicality you engage in is kinda moot. For example, software engineering is as much engineering as someone building a ship or a missile. In fact, in the dim and distant past, I knew people who would model the missiles they were building with vector mathematics. Some people are all about the hands-on, tangible, physical use and manipulation of materials. To others, the physical to the abstract and back again, is one single continuum – and in fact there is no real difference between a combustion engine in the real world and one modelled to behave exactly in the same way in software. And yes, I know someone will say: “your engine in software is not going to take you from London to Brighton”. And my answer is, yes it will do precisely that, if your software also models a surface which incorporates London and Brighton. Oh, and models you as well of course. The level of detail you then include in your models for all the objects is then merely a design choice.

Last edited 9 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
9 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The lack of interest on cars that has crept up on you has crept up on me too, and I think I know why. As somebody who could not be less interested in cars, and never having been a tinkerer, I could at least admire the variety of approaches that a diversity of manufacturers came up with, and especially the national look of a foreign car. How did we come up with the Morris Minor while the French got the 2CV and their neighbours the VW Beetle? How did Italians fit into a Fiat 500? Why were there two As in Saab? Volvo? From Sweden? You could be drugged and taken blindfold to any capital city in the world and know exactly where you were if you were allowed a ten-second glimpse of the traffic lights. Not now. Better design for use (and profit) means uniform mediocrity of style.

Walter Schimeck
Walter Schimeck
9 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

You make the abstract activity of designing on a computer somehow equivalent to the “real” physical manipulation of tools and materials to create a real physical and hopefully useful object. It is not, and can never be. The “Knowledge Economy” as we know it, has yet to come to grips with the fact that you can’t eat knowledge, any more than you can drive it, and that the only reason the knowledge economy thrives is because it is underpinned by a working class (now largely situated offshore) that continues to provide the physical foundations, i.e., the food and the hardware.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
9 months ago

The beauty of the tinkerer with his car is that man and machine are – just about – in harmony. My father is still a great tinkerer and can produce objects of perfection on a lathe, the human the master of the machine. The rest of us, on our iPhone and computers and cars that are computers with engines attached are servants of the machine. Clarkson and May are – were – the last gasp of man and machine enjoying life together.

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
9 months ago

My wife says reading Unherd and watching YouTube is turning me into a bad tempered crank and to get a hobby. So I’ve created a workshop making my first Telecaster guitar and have started obsessing about buying a Myford Super 7 lathe. I do still shout at YouTube, and I’m still in danger of getting fired from an obnoxiously woke university….but tinkering is definitely the way to go.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
9 months ago

… was Top Gear about cars or people….?

Ralph Hanke
Ralph Hanke
9 months ago

Yes!

B Moore
B Moore
9 months ago

Ironically EVs are far simpler than ICE engines. Basically it’s one of those silver things that used to power kids toys and a battery – ok they might need some battery management software, but ultimately they could be very simple.
It’s all the nonsense they add to it that makes it complicated. They are complicated by design.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
9 months ago

The key reason for the change is that driving just isn’t enjoyable any more. Ironically there are just too many cars everywhere. Driving in the north of Scotland not that long ago and was surprised by the traffic – you really have to get very remote to encounter traffic free roads. Driving round the Cotswold area recently it was just unpleasant. Same in North Norfolk. It’s not too bad in the Yorkshire dales but try the Lake District, really not great. Or perhaps it’s just me. Fortunately I live in a fifteen minute city by accident. Just happens I’m in walking distance from lovely countryside, hospital, shops, city centre, coffee shops and so can happily carry on without the car. Perhaps someone can explain to me why the idea is so awful. Am I missing something?

Last edited 9 months ago by Martin Butler
Christian Moon
Christian Moon
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

You need to drive at night if you can – different experience.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
9 months ago

I grew up in Scotland in the seventies and don’t remember much car culture. Moving to alberta Canada meant getting a license so you don’t freeze to death walking to work 6 months of the year.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago

There’s just so much more for would be car nerds to do these days, thanks to increasing computer power. Without leaving their basement, they can indulge in all sorts of macho fantasies – and with the advent of AI and VR this will be all the more so. Not only driving supercars, they can drive spaceships, massacre aliens, fight ancient battles – the possibilities are as endless as the nerdy males imagination and the experience will become more and more realistic.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago

What about author sticking to writing about stuff she understands?
Petrol is not expensive because of oil being expensive.
It is because 75% of price is tax.
EV are not complex at all in comparison to ICE vehicles. They contain about 10% of parts in comparison to ICE engine.
The demented movement to green, electric idiocy is purely political.
There is neither local or national grid capacity to charge EV if we go fully electric.
There are not enough metals like cobalt or lithium to go fully electric.
Even if there was sufficient supply it is controlled by China.
So good luck with transition to EV.
I hope you enjoy walking.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Oil itself is as cheap as it’s ever been. I’ve just compared the $ price history with $ inflation (US CPI) since the 70s.
Paul Ehrlichism will never die out of the green-tinged brains of women.

FacRecte NilTime
FacRecte NilTime
9 months ago

Lovely article, thank you. And I encourage anyone else who enjoyed it to click the link on the interview with Matthew Crawford.

Sonny Ramadhin
Sonny Ramadhin
9 months ago

I studied Engineering at university and 95% of the cohort were not ‘tinkerers’. They were closer to the sort who wondered why you needed a car.

Now I work in Industry in County Durham, mere miles from the University but another world entirely.

People car about their cars, people work on their cars. This is far more relatable to me, once a toddler known for having a near constant grasp of a hammer and the owner of a shed much like your father’s.

I have read all of Crawford books but I never liked top gear. Give me scrapheap and robot wars any day.

Christine Novak
Christine Novak
9 months ago

Years ago, I took my car for repairs to the local shop two blocks away. My mechanic had his a garage attached to his house. It was a very personable shop. I had to smile with amazement when he fixed my car by fashioning out of wood an otherwise unobtainable part. Now that’s tinkering!
I, myself, like to take apart small appliances, and fix them. But increasingly the parts are fused together and irreplaceable. A part of the throwaway culture and planned obsolescence.
But more to the point of your article, I morn the loss of tinkering and the aforementioned aspects of manhood.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

Perhaps there was a golden age of tinkering – from the end of WW2 to 2000. I don’t remember my father doing much tinkering, but I was brought up in a world of Army Surplus. I remember seeing several years running, a “car” powered by a Spitfire Merlin engine roaring along the seafront at Brighton.

Terry Raby
Terry Raby
9 months ago

Inherited tinkering from my father who would have several motorbikes at a time under repair and sell one in order to buy and try out another. My modest high point was in replacing the fullset of radiator hoses in my V12 Jaguar. Then try out at 120 mph – too scared to go to 150 mph even in the Outback.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
9 months ago

A celebration of a disappearing era. Distraught, yet my eyes are dry.

https://youtu.be/BsrqKE1iqqo?si=Wy3G2S7d-6bdNtmc

Ride no more, petrolheads and tinkerers, ride no more.

Douglas Redmayne
Douglas Redmayne
9 months ago

Fully autonomous vehicles and robotaxis will be the final nail in the coffin of car culture and these are expected within 10 years and within 20 or 30 full self driving will be mandatory . As someone without a license and due to retire soon I am pleased about this.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

Perhaps that may bring about a revival of the good old Country Pub?

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago

You are usual Commie/Na*I type. What is wrong with choice?