Why is it that when given the opportunity to express our own authenticity, we generally revert to the habit of regurgitating everything we have ever seen or heard? Why is it that our minds find comfort in responding to what is most familiar as opposed to taking comfort in reason, logic, research and facts? Facts, research, logic and reason are what creates a world of people who can think critically and address their opinions on platforms where they can be seen and heard, hence the need for the freedom of expression. However, there are certain people with opinions so loud that no alternatives can be heard. Some opinions become so loud and widely accepted as the truth, that they even begin to take on the form of dogma or religious beliefs that are left in perpetuity by a few organised in cult-like harmony for the benefit of the person responsible for initially creating the opinion. It is at this moment – the point at which opinions become just as dangerous and corrosive to the human mind as propaganda – that people need to start disagreeing and begin creating their own opinions. The habit of jumping to conclusions is one everyone falls victim to, from time to time. The only way to counteract this is by being conscious of the fact that nobody is immune to jumping to conclusions and doing whatever is possible to turn researching facts into a habit.
Every industry has its own Goliath, and more often than not, it is what this Goliath thinks and believes that has the capacity to influence everybody else within their field. Their fame and fortune reaches such exponential proportions that this one person begins to generate their own gravity and redefine your perception of reality from the mere utterances of their words. However, although the world is populated by approximately eight billion people, not many human beings seem to possess the stature, strength, courage and fortitude necessary to stare this Goliath in the face and become the contemporary reincarnation of David himself. In relation to the motoring fraternity, the aforementioned statement could not be any more true if it grew legs, a British accent and then spent the majority of its adult life setting the standard for a certain motoring television show of the BBC – a standard by which all other motoring shows are judged. As a matter of fact, an old, fat and prominent motoring journalist, who currently is a former employee of the BBC commented on a number of occasions that nobody could be a true petrolhead until they owned an Alfa-Romeo. This statement has probably traveled the world more frequently than astronauts can claim to have orbited the Earth. It is for this reason that this one opinion of the very fat old man has probably become just as prominent as his face or current television show, justifying why so many people who call themselves petrolheads do not disagree with him. However, I believe the old fat man overlooked something, and as such, I believe it is necessary to demystify and thereby redefine what should actually qualify someone to be classified as a petrolhead.
As a South African, it should be plainly obvious that my alliances lie with German car manufacturers, purely because of the fact that some of the largest German multinational car manufacturers in the world build certain models of their cars in this country. A good example of this would be Bayerishce Motoren Werke – more commonly known as BMW. This car company has a South African manufacturing plant that has been responsible for over five model generations of the BMW 3-Series, which is arguably regarded in as much esteem as Nelson Mandela. It really is a shame that the conservation of vehicle history in terms of South African car culture is not protected with the same level of care as world heritage sites. If the world were to be called by my name, I would declare the 3-Series – more specifically the E30 – as the greatest icon South Africa has ever seen on four wheels. I actually think that I should become the president of South Africa for a day, just so I can create a public holiday that honors the significance of this one car – a car that continues to be affectionately known by South Africans as the gushehse. I do not know of any vehicle that has lined the driveways of more suburban South African homes, which has built itself the reputation of being the spinning festival car of choice, driving children to school, being used to rob banks and do hijackings all at the same time. This car has defined my childhood, and on the streets of Soweto, its exhaust note continues to reverberate against all the pop-up vendor stalls, hair salons, watering holes and everywhere else where a good time involves getting drunk, getting heartburn and suffering from gout. This one car is proof that the love for cars, the love that has a habit of starting from childbirth and turning into an all consuming obsession, should form the initiation, which inducts mere mortals into the world of the petrolhead, where the love of a car is all you need to be allowed entrance. This can be any car, provided that it leads to the love of all cars in all their various incarnations, and it does not matter if the car is or is not an Alfa-Romeo.
After having taken the time to meditate on the subject of what constitutes a petrolhead, I have come to the conclusion that when distilled to its purest form, being a petrolhead is truly nothing more than a state of mind. The instant someone has the desire to own, be surrounded by and drive cars for the pure pleasure that they bring, as opposed to using a car to commute to a job you hate – stuck in traffic for the promise of some measly wages – you know you have it. You know that you have been poisoned by that very venom which now makes you more decisive than anyone else when it comes to choosing a car. The venom in question is called petrol; something South African petrolheads definitely have a love-hate relationship with. You need petrol for the exhaust note of your car to resonate against the skyscrapers of crime-infested Johannesburg CBD, but that resonance is a privilege that comes at a very high price. Be that as it may, this is a price petrolheads – much like myself – will be willing to pay because passion is a constant act of love and hate.
The passion that I have for cars is quintessential; everyone who loves cars and motoring will agree that this burning desire to be near anything on wheels is stirred within you from your youth. As such, even though I do disagree with the old, fat, prominent and British BBC ex-employee about Alfa-Romeos making petrolheads, I cannot rebuke the desire residing within me to own them. There is a subtlety to Alfa-Romeos that can and only ever seems to be acknowledged and appreciated by people who love cars. They constantly strike me as being the sort of cars that are driven by people who truly understand their cars, and do not buy cars to show off their wealth or compensate for their sexual insecurities which make it impossible for them to ask someone out on a date. Come the day I buy my first Alfa-Romeo, I look forward to that one moment where I will pull up to an intersection alongside another Alfa-Romeo owner and we will exchange greetings before finally going our separate ways. The nod of approval that I will receive in this one moment is enough reason to continue living life the way I do with absolutely no regrets. I know Alfa – the first part of the name of the car company stands for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili – but to me it represents the Greek letter alpha, which to many philosophers and myself defines the beginning of anything. It is therefore fitting that the chronicles of how cars have influenced my childhood begin with the mention, critique and analysis of this car manufacturer. Alfa-Romeo only marks the beginning into my journey of exploring my fascination with the fundamental concept of the car.