Rage against the machine – Porsche envy

Firsts tend to leave an indelible print on the memory. First girlfriend, first pint of Guinness, or, in this case, first day out in a newly acquired 996 convertible.

I had picked it up the day before from its previous owner and, keen to show my wife that (notwithstanding the substantial hole in our finances) we had gained a whole new lifestyle, I took her for a drive in the country. It was autumn, but the gods were smiling on me. It was a beautiful, roof down day, and I could feel that with the sun on her face and that gorgeous flat-six soundtrack in the background, she was beginning to believe that sacrificing new clothes and meals out for the next five years was worth it.

The narrow road had occasional passing places and, seeing a large 4×4 approaching, I pulled over and waited to let it go by. It slowed and stopped beside us, and the window came down. I thought I was going to be thanked for my road courtesy, perhaps, or else a friendly word would be exchanged in the manner country folk are famous for. Such naïveté! A stream of abuse was hurled in my direction: general vitriol with one specific word (Porsche) cropping up many times over. I was accused of doing things in my spare time that, in my innocence, I had to Google that night to discern their meaning (so that’s what it means? No, I certainly don’t do that).

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just experienced another first: Porsche- rage. Telling the story to a 997-owning friend the next day, I was surprised by how unfazed she seemed. “Welcome to my world” was the gist of her response. Perhaps once a month she found herself on the receiving end of gestures and abuse that had initially upset her, but were now like water off a duck’s back. Harder to swallow was the bill for keying down both sides while parked in leafy Hampstead, though that could have happened just as easily, she thought, to a Ford Fiesta. I’m not so sure. Over the months that followed, abusive comments hurled from the pavement and gestures offered from other drivers fitted the pattern she had described. On one occasion when I was parked up, the car particularly dirty after a rainy weekend, one kind soul even tried to help me wash it with his saliva.

What explains these reactions? Some would suggest that it amounts to little more than envy. It’s easy to forget that to a non car-enthusiast, any well-polished 911 is simply ‘a Porsche’, which equates to expensive luxury. Perhaps my 996 was being mistaken for a much more valuable car. Fair enough, but as a motoring journalist I regularly drive expensive, desirable cars, and have encountered many positive reactions. While recently filling up an Aston Martin DBS, the driver of a tired-looking Peugeot at the next pump chatted enthusiastically about the Aston for ten minutes, and shook my hand when he drove off. Similarly, during a Jaguar XKR test in Wales, a man walking his spaniel stopped to tell me that it made him proud to see such a fine product of the British motor industry, and congratulated me on my choice. I didn’t have the heart to discuss the realities of multi-national car companies, but that wasn’t the point. Maybe, then, nationalism is at the heart of this. These two cars were built in Britain: a Porsche clearly isn’t. But, again, I’m not sure it is that simple. Parking a Maserati Quattroporte outside a friend’s house, a neighbour approached and tapped on the window. I steeled myself for a mouthful of, well, ‘Maser-rage’, but as the window came down, he simply asked with a slightly embarrassed smile whether I could start the engine again and rev it a few times. With misty eyes he told me he would happily replace his home music system with a continuous loop of that sound. I have to admit I have some sympathy with the idea.

None of that has ever happened with any Porsche I have driven, at least not in Britain. An American friend has a 996 GT3 painted in a subtle shade of day-glow orange, with racing exhausts and what are probably best described as drug-dealer wheels. If I get the negative experiences described with a stock, Seal Grey 996, what must he get? Nothing, he tells me. No gestures, no abuse, no keying. In fact, quite the opposite: people high-five him when he’s parking, wave to him as he passes and lean in to chat when he’s stopped at the lights. I think maybe this says something about American society. In the USA, success, particularly financial, is respected, and a Porsche can be seen very obviously as a symbol of high achievement. In Britain we are a bit suspicious of high-flyers, particularly those who appear to be flaunting their success.

But the reasons that Porsche-ragers trot out as a justification for their behaviour is more simple. All Porsche owners, they claim, act in an arrogant and selfish way as soon as their bottoms hit those sports seats. It’s true; a percentage of Porsche owners do behave in a way that irritates or upsets others. Probably about the same percentage as Aston, Jaguar, Maserati, or Ford owners. But that, I’m afraid, is not the common perception. We can either live with this, or we can try and do something to change it. Every time one of us lets someone in at a junction, refrains from flashing their lights at some questionable driving or doesn’t park across two bays at Sainsbury’s, we might begin to change that opinion. Will it work? I don’t know. But if there is even the smallest chance that it will stop someone sharpening their car keys on my driver’s door, I’m ready to give it a try.

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