Classic Cars: You Are What You Eat…And What You Drive

Sophia Loren with a 1959 Mercedes Gullwing Roadster
Sophia Loren with a 1959 Mercedes Gullwing Roadster

Sophia Loren, certainly one of the most voluptuous, beautiful and talented actresses to ever grace a movie screen, once said, “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” Spoken like a true Italian beauty.

This quote started me thinking. Can a country’s favorite foods have relevance to the kind of automobiles that are designed and driven there?

Italy, the land of little Fiats, Ferraris and delicate Vespas…and pasta and vino. Did the great Italian car designer Sergio Pinin Farina go home at night after a hard day’s work at his design studio and lust after a hot plate of spaghetti just as Leonardo DeVinci did hundreds of years earlier? You bet he did. To a red-blooded Italian teenager, there is nothing better than driving a Vespa motor scooter as fast as humanly possible through the many narrow streets of Florence. This same teen will eventually graduate to an agile Fiat motorcar and then, if financially successful, to a Ferrari, the top of the pecking order. The good life. Fast cars, fast women and tasty food. No wonder Italian restaurants are the most popular restaurants in the world.

It has always surprised me that the biggest-selling vehicle here in America is the Ford F-150 pickup truck. The second most popular vehicle is a Chevrolet pickup. In virtually every other country in the world, no manufacturer even makes a pickup. What gives? Is it because America is the land of Big Macs, French fries and the popular Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey?  Americans like living large.

The British have always called our automobiles “Yank tanks,” and indeed they are, especially when compared to most of the world’s automotive offerings. Americans were brought up on big cars with large V-8 engines. Nothing wrong with that, except they have a big appetite for fuel, which has gotten expensive. Americans also have a big appetite for food. I believe it was a Russian diplomat who once said that America was the only country in the world where even the poor people are overweight!

The staple of Asian food is rice. Delicate little grains that have to be gobbled up en mass to be filling. When one really thinks about it, Asian automotive products started out as delicate little products. Honda originally built little small bore motorcycles. To this day, the Asian automobile makers are famous for building jewel-like engines that are over-engineered and seem to run forever. I’m not a great fan of raw fish or shark fin soup, but food that may be a little strange to the Western world is a dietary staple to a lot of the globe.  These excellent foreign cars with many strange-sounding names have become commonplace on American roads. In many ways, drivers have been taught that small and delicate can also mean tough and long-lasting.

What can one say about European cars? Just like the foods of each country, they are all so different. The French have the best reputation for fine food, but not for the best of automobiles—certainly not here in America, because there is currently not one French automotive product being imported into America. Germany is a lot like America, a meat-and-potatoes kind of place. They love their brawny ‘S’-Class Mercedes Panzerwagon and Hot Rod BMWs. Why, even those old delicate little Porsches sports cars now have to share their showrooms with their sibling large SUVs and sedans. Dr. Porsche must be turning over in his grave.

Ah, England. Not exactly known as a place to find a superb meal, but certainly a place to buy a great car. All those Rovers and Rollers and Bentleys and Astons and Jaguars mucking about cannot be a bad thing.

I’ve heard it said that you are what you eat…and, in the Hamptons, you are what you drive.

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