From Cathedral of Its Time, the Automobile Has Become a Menace
Virginia and Leonard Woolf bought their first car, a second-hand Singer, in 1927. Three years earlier, she had complained that an increase in traffic was ruining her walks in the countryside. But within a month of acquiring the Singer, she enthused: "Yes, the motor car is turning out the joy of our lives, an additional life, free & mobile & airy ... Soon we shall look back at our pre-motor days as we do now at our days in the caves."
The car was once an icon of Modern sensibility, on the side of progress, mobility and independence. Trains and buses ran to schedules, but with cars you just jumped in and off you went - poop-poop, vroom-vroom - down the open road. At a recent rally, Henry Ford's great-grandson, Edsel II, described the Model T Ford -currently celebrating its centenary - as "a product that delivered freedom". And to the millions who owned one (15m sold in 18 years of production), it was no lie. "You know, Henry," one satisfied customer wrote, "your car lifted us out of the mud. It brought joy into our lives. We loved every rattle in its bones."
Times have changed. Once a key to the future, the car is now a menace to it. Freedom has given way to gridlock, pleasure to road rage. Even the best - fastest - car journeys are a guilt trip, now we've learned what carbon emissions are doing to the planet. The credit crunch and rise in fuel prices might lie behind the plunge in car sales across the world (a 20% fall in Italy in June, 31% in Spain, while in the US Ford has recorded losses of $8.7bn over three months). But the crisis goes deeper. Carmageddon looms.
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