Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS - Tim Keen

Keen pon­ders dirt roads; Mor­ley keeps his dunny mags

YOU MIGHT have seen that video of some mud-hun­gry trou­ble­mak­ers fling­ing some very ex­pen­sive metal – a Lambo Miura, a Vey­ron, a LaFer­rari for god’s sake – up some dirt tracks in an au­tum­nal wood. (There’s also a Lambo Coun­tach, but that’s not so wor­ry­ing, since it’s mostly a trac­tor any­way.)

It’s sort of ex­cel­lent and sort of hor­ri­fy­ing, like deep-fried but­ter or a He­len Mir­ren sex tape.

Part of my brain says: “What’s the point of hav­ing fire-blooded cars if you don’t turn them loose oc­ca­sion­ally?” An­other part of my brain says: “Be­cause you’ll wreck them, you crazy red­neck ga­loot”. (And an­other part of my brain is still back on deep-fried but­ter...) The thought of im­pact­ing mud and rocks and branches all up in their un­der­car­riage would make an en­gi­neer turn a lit­tle green. (And a spare parts re­tailer smell a lot of green.)

Which leads to my lat­est can’t-fail in­vest­ment idea: A sump-plug-and-wind­screen su­per­store in Ne­braska. (Full dis­clo­sure: this idea will prob­a­bly fail.)

Thanks to a bud­get crunch, Omaha, Ne­braska, is look­ing at a $300 mil­lion short­fall in their road main­te­nance bud­get (we sus­pect that some­where, an Omaha coun­cil­man is drink­ing vin­tage grange from a solid sap­phire strip­per shoe on a yacht made of rhino horns.) So they’ve turned to a strat­egy called ‘un­paving,’ which is what it sounds like: There are so many pot­holes that it’s cheaper to grind out the re­main­ing bi­tu­men and turn the whole thing into a dirt road. And not out in the coun­try – right in the city and sub­urbs there are bare ruin’d gravel traps, where late the sweet tar­mac sang.

But a freshly graded dirt road is bet­ter than a se­ries of muddy pot­holes glued to­gether with coarse chip, ar­gues the mayor of Omaha (in be­tween search­ing down the back of couches for spare change),

and she’s prob­a­bly right, even though it sounds a bit like a huck­ster sell­ing diet swiss cheese that’s lower in calo­ries be­cause it’s all hole.

Hav­ing a rally course for a morn­ing com­mute might be a good busi­ness model for US auto mak­ers – let the Euro­peans and the Ja­panese make the sedans and sports cars, de­signed for con­ti­nents where the roads are flaw­less black rib­bons that gift-wrap whole coun­tries. And let the Yanks fo­cus on SUVs and pick-ups, lum­ber­ing across the land­scape like Ice Age mam­moths, fu­elled by the liq­ue­fied re­mains of their an­ces­tors.

Would the world be bet­ter if all the roads were dirt? I say that as a con­firmed bi­tu­men acolyte – I’ve driven rock­hop­pers down land­slides reck­lessly la­belled as trails, and came away soaked in fear-sweat like a pro-democ­racy marcher in Moscow. I like get­ting faintly lairy on a dirt road as much as the next guy, un­less the next guy is smug­gling moon­shine. But at the end of the day, I like the surety of know­ing if I press the stop­pers, I’ll stop, and not keep slid­ing in a per­sonal dust-storm into a long­suf­fer­ing gum tree.

Still, it’s very pos­si­ble that driv­ing on dirt makes you a bet­ter driver. Slow in, fast out – the op­po­site of my di­ges­tive tract. If the rea­son there are so many ter­ri­ble drivers on Aus­tralian roads is be­cause so lit­tle is ex­pected of them – be­tween nan­nys­tate speed lim­its and mod­ern cars de­signed to do most of the driv­ing for you – then at least driv­ing on dirt re­quires one’s full at­ten­tion. Noth­ing con­cen­trates the mind like the prospect of hang­ing the tail out.

Maybe in­stead of toll roads and tran­sit lanes, we can have a mix of bi­tu­men roads and dirt roads in ev­ery town and city – it’s cheaper for the gov­ern­ment to main­tain, and might raise the na­tional av­er­age driv­ing IQ in the process.

Or we can all move to Omaha, Ne­braska. And drive Coun­taches, side­ways, all

day long.

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