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An "opinion piece" posted on my blog this afternoon .... I thought I'd put it up here, too, and see what you all thought.

Everyone who drives should spend time in an open-topped car.

There are the positive reasons for it, of course - principally that is is more fun. Yes, you will need more sunscreen, but the morning breeze will wake you up and the sunlight will kill any trace of SADness that might be lingering from the winter. Oddly, the thing I like least of the classic reasons for an open car is the "wind in your hair" feeling - I can't stand the feeling that a little demon is flying just above me, grabbing clumps of hair and yanking them this way and that. But regular trimming and a nondescript cap puts paid to that.

My reason for recommending it, though, is a different one. Most modern cars hide the reality of driving from the driver and the passengers. Mercedes' range of plain saloons are the worst for this; with soft suspension, a muffled engine, plenty of soundproofing, comfy seats, and powerful aircon & heaters the aim is clearly to re-create a pleasant living-room in which you can be wafted gently between A and B (or, for a Mercedes driver, between M & S :grin:).

Now, this is not a bad thing (as such). We don't want to suffer in order to travel; we want to arrive fresh and ready to enjoy whatever varied delights B is able to offer. It is to the credit of the car manufacturers that they have made great advances over the decades in making their wares both easier to operate and more comfortable to use. However, it has an adverse effect; people simply do not realise what is going on underneath them. They prod and poke the levers, pedals, switches and buttons and, magically, things happen which propel them toward their chosen destination. The car tells them which way to go, and will happily intervene to keep them on the tarmac. Everything is easy, everything is safe.

Driving an open sports car reveals that things are not so simple. Merge onto a busy motorway, and the juggernaut's wheelnuts are spinning past your head at an alarming speed, alarmingly close. Go under a motorway bridge and there is a bang as the airflow is disrupted and the sound of the other cars is reflected. That bridge support looks much closer without a roof, too.

Leave the motorway for a country road, and you will start to hear the tyres holding on in the bends. You will hear the tyre noise change as the road surface changes and the rubber finds it harder to maintain its purchase.

Finally, try an emergency stop - a real one, the sort where you worry you're going to break the brake pedal and dent the cabin floor. While you do that, listen out - the tyres will be audibly doing their utmost to stop you, and the hard suspension will echo the strenuousness of their task.

This is not to say that open cars do not cosset the driver; my own has the full complement of ABS, stability control, multiple airbags, roll-over protection, side impact bars, and so on. There is even a wind deflector, offered in a vain attempt to reduce the cabin noise. The difference is that it is possible to see just how cosseted you are.

And if you can't get an open car, then at least wind the windows down once in a while!

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Nicely written. +++

my own has the full complement of ABS, stability control, multiple airbags, roll-over protection, side impact bars, and so on.

I know exactly where you're coming from, my car has none of the safety features mentioned, and I'm convinced I'm a better driver in it as subconciously I'm not relying on electronics to 'save me', death seems much closer. That makes it a far more thrilling drive and safer too.

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Thanks Scotty, thanks TDK! +++

Sounds like i should i put my patent for auto-pilot-drive on hold for a bit....!

Already exists, but no-one dare sell it. The problem is not technical, but legal. "Wasn't me, officer, the autopilot was switched on", and "A car you made had a glitch in the autopilot and mounted the kerb, wiping out my entire family. Please find enclosed a bill for £££££££....". :rolleyes:

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I think thats stretching things a bit.

It exists in theory, but in practice it doesn't work properly, they have the automated vehicle trial thing in America, and lots of entrants, including the biggest names in car manufacturing all enter, plus some smart arse uni-backed boffin type teams, and the prize is very very big, in the millions I think, and it's held every year, but none of the cars ever complete the course!

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What about the Audi TT which they're getting to drive up a mountain road whilst unmanned at high speed? can't recall where I read about it or if it's happened yet but they must be fairly confident it's going to work if they're going up a mountain road rather than on a flat circuit.

EDIT

Just found some

(interesting stuff is 1.16 onwards and I particularly like the Audi rings at 2.20 or so) and an article on it. There's also some other video of it doing lower speed road tests. What's not clear from either though is if the car is programmed to follow a set course on the hill climb or is actually reading/reacting to it's surroundings, I would assume as it's part rally stage it would have to be reacting real time to what's happening to it whilst following a preprogrammed route. Edited by stooH
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