Switched on, but turned off

Great post from John Boggiano on car switchgear:

Who makes the best in-car switchgear? The Japanese; high-tech, utterly reliable, click-click plastic mechanisms? The Germans; precision-engineered, damped actions, titanium-coated bearings and dependability? The French? Okay, not the French, then. How about the Italians? The Italians? Yep, when it comes to switches in cars, the Italians have it nailed.

Consider for a moment that you are parked up on a distant roadside in your Ferrari. Ahead of you, shimmering through some sultry Sicilian summer afternoon lies a romantic and rustic roadscape, beckoning as it beguiles, while Matt Monro wistfully ponders a lost love ‘…on days like these’. Lovingly, you finger your manettino… There – you see? Manettino. The Italians know how to do it. Wonder in Italian, of an attractive young lady whose acquaintance you have just made, if she would like to stroke your manettino and she’ll drag you away by the hair to make babies. Do the same thing in English and when you get to ‘…little knob’, things could turn ugly. Either scenario might land you in hospital, but only one from happy exhaustion.

Everything sounds better in Italian. Not that I’m an expert; I know lots of pizza varieties, but that’s largely from ordering them at the Pistenklaus, and I know how to pronounce Boggiano, but I suppose I can’t really count that. Nevertheless, I know it’s true that even the most mundane word spoken properly in Italian will crackle will Latin sexuality. In my earlier life as a pharmacist, I once took on a potential new dispensing assistant. There’s an Italian pharmaceutical company called Farmitalia Carlo Erba. The first time she heard it spoken out loud, she passed out. It’s powerful stuff.

Returning to the matter in hand, it’s not just the language, it’s the switches themselves and the matter of the thought processes that gave form to them. Much as I love 911s, and Porsches in general, caressing an artfully machined manettino through settings such as fast road, race, balls-out and ballistico is going to do a lot more for your adrenal glands and gonads that pushing a little black plastic thing marked ‘Sport Plus’. It wouldn’t even have to be connected to anything; it would still work wonders.

All of this was brought to mind earlier this week, when my wife Paula and I test drove a new 911. When I say test drove, we were sort of lent it for an hour or so due to a mix-up at my local OPC. We’d gone there to drive a brace of Cayman Ss (what an awkward way to name a car, when it comes to pluralising); one with a sports exhaust and one without. This is all to do with speccing our on-order Boxster Spyder (at least you saw it coming this time; no need to steady yourself). On arrival, it emerged that one of the cars in question wasn’t even there, while the other had developed a problem and was stuck in the workshop. By way of recompense, they lent us the 911 and told us to go and enjoy ourselves. So we did. Up to a point…

Where to begin? Well, for a start it had PDK. Now PDK is wonderful, but it’s not for me. Too many possibilities, umpteen modes, seven speeds: which to choose? It’s a constant conundrum. I should at this point mention the great irony about having been lent this car, in view of the reason for our being there at all; its sports exhaust wasn’t working. However, hope springs eternal and I rather hoped that finding a bumpy bit of road might render it operational again, even if only for brief, inconclusive moments. So I pushed the small button with the symbol of someone’s spectacles on it. A little light came on. So far so good, but now the problems really started.

Lurking alongside the NHS glasses logo sat four more buttons, each challenging me to select the setting most appropriate to my mood and the forthcoming drive. Do I want Sport? Maybe I need to use Sport Plus? It’s a nice day and there’s a great road nearby, perhaps I should hit the PSM button for a bit more fun? What about the ride? Do we want the damping firmer? How firm is it anyway? How firm is the other setting? Let me try the first setting again. I don’t know.., what do you think [to Paula]? Could you tell any difference [from Paula]? Should I use the manual mode of the PDK? If I don’t, what does Sport Plus do? If I do, what does it do? I can’t remember. Wait a minute – I’ll try all the combinations and pick the best one. Thus passed most of the hour: pointlessly.

Look, Porsche, if we really must have all of these on-off, yes-no facilities, can we at least have control of the defaults? That way, we’d know that everything would always be the way we generally like it without having to go poking and prodding at all these things, baffling ourselves in the process. Maybe we could solve it by adding yet another button, this one to store our favourite settings for all the others. It could have a little symbol of a human on it. One of each gender, probably, to avoid being discriminatory. Or perhaps one of indeterminate sex, although that might lead someone to believe that it was only for Lady Gaga. I tell you what, it can have a little icon of me on there in honour of my suggestion. If I cut down on the Mars bars again it might just fit. The Bog Button is born…

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