Starting off 1975 nice and varied

As it’s the year of my birth, I entered my reading of the 1975 R&Ts interested to see what was happening in the automotive world, and the first two magazines in my pile of 75s, March and April, did a good job of that.

The first piece of welcome news was that the Energy Crisis was over, and some of the more outlandish legislation was being revisited–at least in Europe. Speed limits were being returned to slightly higher levels and Germany went back to unlimited highway speed, which is logical considering that it was proven that most of the reduction in road deaths during the crisis months had little to do with reduced highway speed limits. In fact, an interesting article in one of these magazines highlights the fact that, even with the unlimited speed limit reinstated, Germany had the one of the highest reductions in road deaths.

Unfortunately, the US ignored the data, bowed to those who went with their feelings and retained the imbecilic 55 for another two decades in one of the dumbest examples of the tyranny of the majority ever seen. But the editors of the magazine didn’t know that at the time, and the text was rife with hope that sanity, as opposed to parsimonious big-brotherism, would prevail.

Another interesting thing discussed in these issues was the Bricklin, a now-forgotten safety sports car that attracted plenty of attention in its day and then sank without a trace. The first drive here gives a few good reasons for the debacle… and the nice thing about 1970’s automotive journalism is that there’s little need to read between the lines: the build quality and some of the design decisions were utterly awful.

In other news, this was the era of the launch of cars that would become juggernauts (the VW Golf) and cars that were heralded as the next great thing and sold really well, but are now reviled (the Triumph TR7).

And they’re the years of Porsche coming to maturity. After being the enfant terrible of the racing and production car circles for years, the company now had to navigate a fuel crisis while selling only expensive sports cars and also wait for the top class of GT racing to evolve to the point where they could truly compete against others.

We now know that the 935 was coming, but Porsche didn’t, and they were understandably nervous. And yet… the tiny company always took up an amount of space in the pages of this magazine that is truly disproportionate to its size.

These two make a good ’75 sampler.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is an entertaining romp through the Ural mountains… which have become infesed with genetically-modified monsters. Test Site Horror has everything for both the horror lovers and the thriller enthusiasts among you, and you can check it out here.

Death and Rebirth – The 1950s at Le Mans

Le Mans is my favorite auto race. It competes for that position with the Indy 500, but it wins because it’s an entire day on a long, challenging, character-filled track. Yes, the chicanes on the line droit des hunaudieres are a travesty and those who approved them in the 90s should be retroactively shot… but even with that, it’s a beautiful thing. I’d love to see it in person someday.

So Quentin Spurring’s wonderful decade-by-decade look at the race, including the organization, each entrant and the events of the race itself, represent my absolute favorite piece of nonfiction reading. I like these even better than the Collector’s Press Horror/Science Fiction/Fantasy of the 20th Century series, and that’s saying a huge amount.

The 1950’s are not my favorite Le Mans Decades (those would be the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s), but Le Mans 1949-59 is a truly wonderful book anyway. The best thing about it is that it dedicates few pages to the 1955 accident.

For those of you who are new to this, that race is infamous because a Mercedes 300 SLR driven by Pierre Levegh crashed on the pit straight, got airborne and landed in the crowd, killing the driver and 84 spectators.

Cue the immediate overreaction in which several countries banned motorsport outright. Most countries saw how ridiculous that was almost immediately–only the dorky Swiss still insist on keeping the ban around.

Worse, however is the fact that so much ink has been spilled, all the way to the modern day, about that crash, as if it was a difficult phenomenon to explain. Essentially, it can be summed up in a few lines–in an era where speeds were increasing faster than most people expected, and crowd protection was laissez-faire, to put it mildly, something like this was in the cards. To a certain degree, considering that a lot of races were still run on open roads with people wandering in to see race cars capable of nearly 200 mph flashing past, it’s unfair that it happened to Le Mans.

Unfortunately, it did, and the French, to their credit, ignored the initial overreaction, corrected the public safety issues and went on with the race the next year.

What I love about this book is that the 1955 race report is not about the accident. It’s about the race and the drivers and the cars, which is how it should be. The accident is given its own section, much smaller than the race report proper. It was an important event (the deadliest motor racing accident in history, and a real tragedy), so ignoring it would have been just as bad as giving it too much space. Spurring got the balance exactly right.

Which is pretty much what I’d say about the rest of the book. It’s a hefty tome with a lot of minor teams and entrants profiled, yet it never bores the reader because there’s always something interesting about every last entrant… and I can’t even imagine what kind of research was involved in getting that data on obscure teams.

When you remember that this decade represents the rebirth after the destruction of WW2, one can only be thankful the race survived, and came back stronger than ever.

Anyhow, I can’t recommend this one to the general public because I fear a lynch mob as much as the next man. But if you’re a motorsport enthusiast, these are not only indispensable but fun.

Get them. Read them. You can thank me later.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a monster romp through the Darien Gap. It’s fun, too, and the title is Jungle Lab Terror. You can check it out here.

On Sports as a Mirror of Civilization

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway once famously stated that there are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.

It’s a good thing Ernest isn’t around today.  He’d be down to only one and a half, and that half is dwindling fast.  In fact, if he was magically revived, he would likely look around at the state of the world, especially the state of what passes for individuality and (he would be particularly shocked at this) masculinity and reach for the shotgun all over again.  We do not live in the kind of place where a man’s man would feel comfortable – or a woman’s woman for that matter, although it’s doubtful that Hemingway would have cared about that.

Some people will tell you that this is what progress looks like, but here at Classically Educated, we beg to differ.  We believe that this is what George Orwell was warning us about.  We live in an era where the hand-wringers, the timid and the nosy neighbor write the rules for everyone else, and most people seem not to understand what has been lost in the process.

We’re not talking here about the advance of the political correctness epidemic which we’ve discussed before.  We’re talking about something that, though related to PC thinking, isn’t pushed by the lunatic-fringe thought police, but is much more accepted by society in general.

Let’s look at Hemingway’s sports.  Bullfighting is being decried as cruel by many groups, and popular opinion is swinging in favor of the protesters, and is surviving by a thread only in areas where it is traditional and continued – but who knows for how long.  The focus on bullfighting was always on the sheer bravado of a man stepping in front of a huge, enraged, and dangerous animal, and the fact that, reasonably often, the bull wins.  The protests focus on the cruelty to the bull, and ignore all other elements, essentially saying: “it’s unfair and rigged.”  To this, we reply: “OK, then, you do it!”  Bullfighting will probably end up being outlawed soon, and the world will be poorer for it (and meanwhile, cruelty to animals on a much larger scale will still be accepted worldwide because it is necessary to feed the poor).

If Gilles were alive today...  He probably would be climbing mountains.

If Gilles were alive today… he’d probably be climbing mountains.

Bullfighting is half gone, but motor racing is worse off. Except for niche motorcycle racing on the Isle of Man (thank anything you believe in for the Isle of Man TT!), motor racing has been emasculated to the point where it is no riskier in most cases than playing video games.  While making cars safe is fine, they’ve even removed the grass outside the tracks, so if a driver goes off, there is no risk of not finishing the race.  This might be OK for junior formulas, but is not cool in top formulas…  and doing that to the Parabolica at Monza is a bigger sacrilege than burning bibles, Korans or whatever sacred symbol you prefer.  If the powers that be at the FIA want to know why their ratings are going down, look no further than emasculated tracks and drivers who act like entitled teenagers because the era of hard men living with big risks are long gone.  The public no longer finds idols in these people.

One of the greatest observations about life in motorsports comes from that great philosopher Peter Egan, who once observed that, when motor racing was having a huge upsurge as recreation, it was due to the fact that the people doing it thought (and we paraphrase): “B-24s are dangerous, MGs are fun!”  They were, of course, correct.  Perhaps what is needed is to recover a sense of proportion.

So that leaves mountaineering.  Mountaineering still rocks, as long as you’re doing it up on a big mountain, and not in some namby-pamby wall on a gym.  Double macho points if you’re above 6000 meters in the Himalayas.  Hemingway gives you the thumbs-up.

If these changes were only limited to Hemingway’s sports, it would be bearable.  But it’s not.  Have you tried riding a motorcycle without a helmet, or even a bicycle in some places?  It’s gotten to the point where skiing is illegal without helmets on some slopes, which kind of defeats the purpose of skiing itself.

Now, ask yourself: as a grown adult, who, other than yourself, can you harm by omitting the helmet?  OK, now why does society have ANY right to legislate that?  Answer, other than for litigation purposes, it doesn’t.  So a simple solution is to have people sign waivers which holds society harmless in the case of non-helmet-wearing, and have the hand-wringers butt the hell out.

Of course, the likelihood of that happening is about the same as these same people suddenly having the epiphany which tells them: “hey, people having risky fun is fine!”  Won’t happen.  Interfering concerned citizens will continue to be a bane on the existence of anyone with a bit of an independent streak.

Which brings us to Football (NFL Football in this case, not rest of the world football, which we’ve already written about).  The latest question around this nicely action-filled sport is whether it’s worth watching after one man – Ray Rice – was shown to be a domestic violence criminal, and the league was remiss in policing it.

Ray Rice Running

The obvious answer is: of course it’s still worth it; nothing has changed, and the actions that are being reported, while vile, have absolutely nothing to do with the league.

Of course, the 24-hour news cycle and the hand-wringing nature of American press means that the stupid question is asked and asked in seriousness. Hell, there are even calls for the commissioner of the NFL to resign over something that has nothing to do with the on-field product.  The only thing one can say is that everyone needs to take a step back, relax, and get a sense of proportion back into their lives.  I am glad to see that there has been a suit filed by Rice against the league for its action against him – there are civil and criminal courts to deal with this, and removing someone’s livelihood for something that took place outside the workplace is vile.  Yes, he needs to be punished, but there are appropriate and inappropriate fora for said punishment – and the sensationalist media and outraged public are not, and never should be, a jury.

Plus, we personally don’t care if the entire league is made up of murderers, assailants, thieves and (gasp, horror), people who download content illegally.  Audiences are, despite attempts to make it seem that way, not watching for the values of the thing (other than those inherent in this kind of sport, such as teamwork, sacrifice, guts and glory).

Finally, we believe that all defensive players should be allowed to hit the quarterback as violently as they like.  This is not a ping-pong match. (OK, that isn’t specifically related to the topic, but it has to be said!).

Essentially, what we’re trying to show is that society’s pendulum has swung too far in the direction of timidity and health and safety at all costs, even that of an individual’s freedom to manage their own lives.  Those people who are frightened at everything need to move into bubble-wrap packed houses and get out of public life as soon as possible (to those peopls, we say: remember, there are germs out there, and even if you’re an online activist, there are computer viruses waiting.  Beware!  Beware!  Much better to just lock yourselves up somewhere and stay safe).

We don’t see that happening, sadly.  The world will continue to be increasingly safe, beige and porridge-like.

It’s our loss.