Avoidable Contact #110: Sob Rock and the rebirth of the cool Porsche

YouTube/John Mayer

By the time you read this, two important things will have happened: John Mayer’s new album, Sob Rock, will have been released—and my new Paul Reed Smith “Silver Sky” electric guitar in the gauche-but-desirable limited-edition “Lunar Ice” finish will have been delivered to my house. I won’t be able to directly experience either event; I’ll be on Snowshoe Mountain with my son riding our bikes, beyond the Pale of cellphone data range and six long hours from my front door. But I’m quite excited for both.

Don’t expect Sob Rock to contain any guitar wizardry or even any tunes capable of standing with Mayer’s previous best-of work. That’s not the point. Rather, this is a massive, so-cynical-it’s-heartfelt exercise in nostalgia for the music and aesthetic of Mayer’s (and my) youth. The mastering, mixing, and keyboard tones wouldn’t be out of place in one of Clapton’s dire Reagan-era efforts, the album cover shamelessly cribs from Miami Vice, and the guitar work is sparse and heavily processed in the manner of every adult-chart hit from the—ahem—air-cooled era. Hell, it even has a “THE NICE PRICE” faux-sticker on the cover. It’s available as a cassette, something that must have caused Mayer’s handlers at Columbia Records to experience at least a frisson of despair in the sourcing and production.

Oh, and there’s a Porsche.

I was surprised to see a black GT3 in Mayer’s short promo video, although I was less surprised to see a little video sleight-of-hand implying that there’s a cassette player in the thing. After all …

… and here I am going to insert a disclaimer that yes I have owned and competed in multiple Porsches, and yes I am still the owner of a 993 Carrera 2, and yes I am a dues-paying PCA member of two decades’ standing, and yes I have a genuine if strained affinity for the marque …

… Porsche hasn’t been cool in a very, very long time. No modern Porsche is in any way cool. There was a time, 40 years ago, when Porsches were very cool indeed, when they were the cars of choice for various film stars and alpha males et al. Remember the 911SC in Flashdance? And all the slantnose variants littering Miami Vice? And the genuine menace of the four-speed 930 Turbos and whatnot? Well, that’s all gone now.

Maybe it was the arrival of the water-boxers, maybe it was the omnipresence of the Boxster, maybe it was the way the company went from being a small-batch manufacturer of 5000 or so frog-faced throwbacks a year to a full-line SUV manufacturer with a side gig in clanky, clunky, wannabe race cars. Whatever it was, the cool has been gone for quite a while now. Hell, they barely make the Turbo anymore, and that was the coolest Porsche even before Andial started slapping fiberglass flats on ’em. Today’s headlining 911 is the GT3, or maybe the GT3RS, which is something my son would call “try-hard.” A Porsche 911 Turbo was something you might blast down the PCH at two in the morning with a stripper/model/actress snorting a line in the passenger seat before running it into a Malibu parking block hard enough to bend the airdam. A Porsche 911 GT3 is something you have concours detailed twice a month in between telling people stories about how you could totally rip off a 1:32 on Mid-Ohio Club like, right now, if you didn’t have to get over to your doctor for another shot of Botox.

The uncool of current Porsches is so severe that it’s rubbing off on the older cars. (Again, this is my opinion, as an owner. It’s not the opinion of Hagerty, or of my fellow employees.) Fifteen years ago, I was leaving my dirty 993 on $89 tires double-parked out front of two-star hotels as I went through a round of vodka-fueled depravity that would have made fellow (albeit fictional) junk-911 owner Hank Moody blush. At the time the car was worth less than a new Civic Si. But now I have to keep the thing clean and garaged so I don’t accidentally ruin its debutante ball on Bring-A-Trailer someday. I don’t want to be seen in it, because I don’t want people to think I bought it last year with my bonus from my job doing mergers and acquisitions.

(A further disclaimer: Should you decide to buy my 911 from me with your M&A bonus, allowing my son to spend the windfall on two years in Switzerland riding downhill MTB and partying in Gstaad with disreputable petty-nobility Eurotrash ladies, I think that would be quite cool, indeed.)

Truthfully, it’s not just Porsches. The Italian supercars are losing their luster, and I blame it on YouTube. McLarens are absolutely delightful on a racetrack but in the real world they’re primarily cool because people think they are Lamborghinis—and see above. The ultra-exotics, like Pagani and such, are heart-stoppingly wonderful, but they don’t have any swagger. The movie stars don’t drive them any more. They’re all in Teslas. When you see an exotic car pull up to a nightclub or restaurant, you just know it’s not going to be Tom Cruise getting out of it. There are two people in my neighborhood with first-rate, eight-figure supercar collections. One of them was in pharmaceuticals, the other one was in industrial plastics. Wonderful fellows and a delight to know, but nobody’s ever going to become obsessed with them the way people got nuts over Steve McQueen.

There’s really only one car out there that still commands absolute respect on the street, from young people in particular. There’s only one car that still raises pulses and gets people talking, still has little kids running around in their neighborhood talking about it. That car is the Dodge Charger Hellcat. The reason it gets respect is because all the serious local hustlers have them, and they all drive the wheels off them, and the cars are always filled with gorgeous women and loud music and the cinnamon scent of incipient mayhem. The Hellcat is Daddy Cool. It is omnipresent on social media: doing donuts around a gas station, evading the police, serving as the backdrop to some scuffle between the representatives of different crews or music labels.

You see, “cool” isn’t something you get from a car. It’s something you give to a car. When I was 29 years old, I thought owning a 911 would make me cool. It did not. Owning a 911 never made anyone cool. Instead, it was more a case of people who were already cool buying a 911. Steve McQueen didn’t get a single bit cooler because he drove a 911 or wore a Heuer Monaco. You won’t be a single bit cooler yourself if you buy that stuff. To misquote Hank D. Thoreau, try being the cool dude in the uncool car and see where that gets you first.

Not everyone likes John Mayer—I certainly do; he and Josh Tillman are my spirit animals—but the dude has been fairly cool at times. If he keeps driving that black GT3 around, it is possible that black GT3s might become cool, the same way a raggedy-looking and completely unconvincing Corvette-based Daytona replicar became cool because of Don Johnson, or the way McQueen made a bone-stock 911 look awfully cool in the opening scenes of LeMans. You won’t be any cooler in your black GT3, but you will feel a little better about it, the same way I’ll feel better playing some extremely low-or-no-paying weekend music gig with a John-Mayer-spec Lunar Ice Silver Sky.

I’m going to cross my fingers for this—for Porsches to become cool again. New ones in particular. Even that Taycanerino thing. It will take the pressure off my old car, which will once again become worthless, at which point I can return to enjoying it the way it was meant to be enjoyed. I have a lot of interesting stories that involve that car. Most of them couldn’t be shared here no matter how much I toned them down. I mean, I could probably try doing it. Could fill them with euphemisms and evasions and roundabout descriptions. Take all the blood and fire and you-know-what out of them. Just tone it down to one middle-aged man in an old air-cooled 911 with a missing front bumperette and a can of stop leak in the air-conditioner, making the rounds of all the (recently) single ladies, like a depraved and incoherent Santa Claus.

I could write all of them that way, focus on the car itself rather than what I did behind the wheel (and on the hood, and against the passenger door). But that wouldn’t be very cool, now, would it?

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