Manifesto: On cars and confidence

Fiat or Ferarri? A man's car can say something about him.
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Fiat or Ferarri? A man's car can say something about him.

OPINION: It's a bit of a push to say "all guys like cars", but a lot of us do. Those who don't care about what's underneath the bonnet still take joy in the aesthetic appeal.

What's unclear is why men like cars. Do they say something about our masculinity, make us feel good or represent something we think we're lacking?

I'd say it can be all of the above, but it depends on the man. And the car.

I've driven big cars with V8 engines, little cars that struggle to get up hills, motorbikes and Vespa scooters. I've liked them all for different reasons, because one way or another they were accessorising my personality, just like jackets or shoes.

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Today I drive a Fiat 500, the smallest car on the market, save for the Smart Car. I bought it for three reasons: Its Italian history signifies a bit of "dolce vita", it's terrifically thrifty on the gas and reasonably emissions-conscious.

The fact I can fill it up for $60 and drive 600 kilometres is terribly appealing, and makes my city commute costs a drop in the bucket.

When I see a lad in a roaring Holden or one of those souped-up American pick-up trucks,it does nothing for me.

They're such overt displays of toxic masculinity, as if the drivers believe it necessary to spray their environment with petrol fumes, just as an unneutered dog would mark his territory.

Instead, give me a Range Rover for its stateliness, an Aston Martin for its 007 swagger, or a 1970s Porsche 911 because it reminds me of my dad and the kind of thing he'd drive mein when I was a little kid.

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Needless to say, unless you're someone who sees them as mere transportation from A to B, cars come with an emotional connection. A 2003 British study found that while both genders enjoy psychosocial benefits of cars – they give a sense of autonomy, prestige and protection – only men see measurable increases in self-esteem when behind the wheel.

There's also that strange notion that a car somehow signifies a heightened sexuality or virility.

Maybe it's because many cars of years past have been obvious phallic symbols – just look at the Jaguar E-Type.

I don't think anybody sees me as awfully sexy in my wee Fiat. Though I must note, I do feel good about myself when I'm driving it. On sunny days, sunroof down, I definitely feel a vibe that I can only describe as "Mediterranean cool".

Perhaps that's the point: not that a car makes me look better, but that it makes me feel better.

Is there an issue that affects men you'd like Lee to discuss? Send an email to life.style@fairfaxmedia.co.nz with Manifesto in the subject line.

 - Sunday Magazine

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