We often use the word taste to do more than eat. We use it to see, hear, and purchase things. We use it to elevate ourselves and depress others. We use it to express moral outrage when we cannot think what else to do. And we use it to design motor cars.
Here are two motor cars seen at two separate car shows. Both in good condition, both perfectly functional, and both surprisingly expensive…that is the one unifying factor with collector’s cars. They are both dearly loved by their owners so in most important aspects the debating platform starts out completely level.
Then it tilts badly – and it tilts because of the prejudices, bigotry, elitism, nationalism, and desire for gain that is “taste”. For all we know there may be politics and religion mixed in there somewhere.
The finned wonder is a Dodge Coronet, the green and grey car is one you’ve seen before on this weblog – a Jaguar. They are exact contemporaries and at the time their companies shared no commercial or artistic connection. It seems evident that the designers had little connection with each other, either.
This is the norm for commercial firms that existed before the Second World War, but in retrospect seems a little unusual for two nations that had shared two major wars and a flow back and forth of technology in the interval between 1941 and 1959. You might consider that in each case the designers had gone through at least three major body phases to arrive at the 1959 model but had taken vastly different routes.
Also consider that they designed for vastly different customers in terms of income, social status, dwelling place, and general road structure. The two sides of the Atlantic might have had similar roads to ride in the cities, but once the North Americans got out past the suburbs they were travelling much a different highway than the Britons – motorways notwithstanding.
Yet I still hear, as I did in Melbourne at the Hot Rod Show, the snort and haw of the automotive Colonel Blimps when they encounter a sedan like the Dodge Coronet. They deride it for ” bad taste ” while remaining perfectly silent about cars like the Jaguar. Were they honest to the entire question, they would really have to compare that Dodge to the small Austins and other humbler devices available in Great Britain and her former colonies ( Ahhaw, ahhaw, ahhaw, what?) at the time and I am afraid in many cases the comparison would not be upon favourable terms. Think smaller, pokier, nastier, more cheaply constructed, but more expensive to purchase upon relative terms…and always coated with a durable layer of class-consciousness.
But that is not what taste is about. Salty, sweet, finned, or with a wooden dashboard, taste is about an internal assessment that can have little to do with actual external circumstances. Perhaps the best that the North American car enthusiast can hope for is that English gentlemen will remember it’s considered well mannered to chew with the mouth closed and perhaps this would also apply to taste as well…