When 2+0 equals ridiculous

My 10-year-old son has informed me that he prefers instrumental jazz because “it’s not full of all that ‘Oh, bayyybeeee’ stuff.” I told him that I sympathized but also that there are two rock bands serving the very limited clientele of people who want to hear music without the mention of romance: Iron Maiden and Rush. Most car people think of Rush as the “Red Barchetta” band but the true fans all eventually get around to their utterly cringeworthy 1980-release paean to atheism known as “Free Will,” which contains the following line:

If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice

In 2013, I bought a very nice ‘80s-era Mercedes 560SL, silver with blue interior. Without fail, every one of my friends made a point of looking meaningfully at the package shelf behind the oh-so-Benz devil’s-horn-headrest buckets. “You gonna put the rear seats in?” they’d ask. You see, the R107-platform SL came with rear seats in most markets, but here in the States we got a package shelf. Supposedly this was because the rear seats didn’t meet “U.S. requirements,” although I’ve never met anybody who could explain what the requirements in question might be. Should I buy the seats and put them in? I vacillated on the topic until I sold the car two years later, having made a choice by choosing not to decide.

Twenty-seven years prior to that purchase, I’d spent one high-school winter riding to class in the similarly vestigial rear bench of a friend’s ‘75 Fiat Spider. My friend’s sister rode up front, by parental decree and negotiation. My friend’s steady girl sat in back with me, two 14-year-olds pressed sardine-like together between the raw blast of the cranked-up heater and the icy chill of Fiat’s indifferent approach to convertible-top sealing. This was temptation in intravenous form, far too much for mere children to resist. Our resulting misbehavior saw us both riding the bus by spring. My friend sold the Spider and bought a regular-cab Toyota pickup.

The past was another country; they drove two-seaters there. The aforementioned regular-cab pickups, a dizzying variety of European and Japanese sports cars, the frog-faced Ford EXP and bubble-backed Mercury LN7. People just went to the dealership and knowingly spent real money on brand-new cars that had no rear seats. For many, it was a chrysalis phase before they got married, had children, and bought station wagons. This journey from childhood to parenthood did not surprise anyone. People didn’t agonize about it. Nor did they agonize about the idea of buying something less “capable” than a three-quarter-ton Suburban. Cars didn’t cost as much or last as long, so you felt freer about making a short-term choice. You could buy a Ford EXP with a clear conscience. Four years later, it would be worthless and you’d be a mom or dad in an Escort wagon.

Today’s young people won’t marry, have children, or even delete their Bumble accounts during a relationship—but they are very willing to make a six-year commitment to a crossover utility vehicle in which they will spend the vast majority of their time completely and absolutely alone, trailed duckling-esque by between four and six empty seats plus a cargo area with room for activities. A few of my 30-something friends are very excited about the new BMW X5M and Audi RS6 Avant. None of them will ever put anything in the back but flatpacks from IKEA. All of them would be better served by a rip-snorting Corvette Grand Sport in a ridiculous color but that would displease whatever inner schoolmarm tells them to be good little boys and to not interrupt others when they’re speaking. A 30-something man with a Corvette is a potentially dangerous individual; the next thing you know he’s canceled his Amazon Prime account and disappeared to Mexico with the Spearmint Rhino’s top earner. Put that same fellow in an Audi station wagon or BMW X-something and you know he’s been securely harnessed to the engine of globalized commerce. Marked for advancement. Completely tamed.

Should our theoretical George F. Babbitt prove malleable and morally flexible enough to reach the senior ranks of his corporation, we might eventually see him use the resulting largesse to purchase what is increasingly becoming the logical successor to the family-free family fast wagon: a four-seater car in which the rear seats have been deliberately removed for no justifiable reason whatsoever. This is supposed to make the car feel sportier, although I’m not sure how. There is some kind of half-witted logic at work:

  • Cars with two seats are sporty
  • So if we take the back seat out of a four-seater and make it a two-seater
  • Then it’s sporty

In some vehicles, like a Dodge Caravan, the removal of the rear seats saves you three hundred pounds, which does, indeed, speed up the proceedings a bit. In a Porsche GT3 or Lotus Evora, it’s a tenth of that, or less. One fellow on a Porsche forum weighed the rear seat and belts in a new 992. It was 21 pounds. A piece of carry-on luggage. Lotus calls this arrangement a “2+0.” Two years ago I drove a 2+0 Evora Sport 410 across Europe and was impressed by everything about the car but the lack of a rear seat. Why would you deliberately exclude the possibility of having some company in your car? It’s one thing for the government to force the arrangement upon you, as was apparently the case with the U.S.-market Mercedes SL and the Fiat Spider. It is another thing to look at a perfectly usable backseat and say, “You know what, I don’t have any kids. No friends, either. Let’s make sure my car reflects that.”

Defenders of the 2+0 faith say that the rear seats in cars like the 911 and Evora are useless anyway. To which I respond that the proper thing to do in that case would be to buy a car which doesn’t compromise its packaging for “useless” rear seats, like a Viper. In truth, however, the rear seats of a Porsche 911 can be extremely useful, and not just for your kids. I’ve been a 911 owner for almost two decades now and I’ve put plenty of adults in the back of the car for short trips. Nobody ever asks to repeat the experience, but it’s nice to have the option when you need it.

The other putative explanation for a missing rear seat is the presence of a half-cage or body-stiffening structure, as seen in various Mustangs and Porsches. Revelation 3:15 applies here: either get a race car or don’t. Stop pretending to be a race car, because that’s silly. If you’re really driving so close to the limit that there’s a nontrivial chance of a rollover, you should have a roll structure over your head as well as behind it. Anything else is what they call “cosplay” and should be treated with the same disdain that decent people show to anyone who wears a Nomex suit to driver’s-ed track days. There might be one or two automakers out there who trade pretty heavily on blurring the line between their street cars and race cars, but you don’t have to respect that marketing angle any more than you actually have to bow to the king of the Renaissance Faire.

What really bothers me about 2+0 cars, more than the ridiculousness of 200-pound owners talking about “crucial weight savings” or people driving center-lock wheels to work, is this: Bad two-seaters, like bad books and movies, drive the good stuff out of the marketplace. They let the automakers feel good about the consistent and lamentable attenuation of legitimate sports cars in the marketplace. Here’s an example: The fastest Mustangs have no rear seat, but the Camaro ZL1 1LE not only has a rear seat, it has a folding rear seat! (This may be news to some of you with a 1LE; the latch is behind the flap on the seatback, and GM doesn’t discuss it in the owner’s manual.) That’s because Chevrolet makes the Corvette, which is a real two-seater. Simple. If Corvette production ever comes to a halt, look for 2+0 Camaros to appear almost overnight. In the meantime, Ford can get away without selling a legitimate Corvette competitor because they have 2+0 Mustangs. Boo hiss.

Similarly, Porsche uses the 2+0 strategy to distract from the fact that they don’t sell Caymans with the most powerful engines. Pay no attention to that Cayman GT2RS behind the curtain! It doesn’t exist! There’s a very complicated pricing structure which depends on the Stuttgart LEGOs only being assembled in certain ways. Don’t like it? Buy a used Viper.

I’m told that the ABSOLUTELY INEVITABLE! (that’s sarcasm!) electric future contains a world where you can buy a “skateboard” containing the mechanical parts and then put whatever body you want on top. This radical, totally futuristic idea, which should in no way be confused with the way in which the Model T was built and sold 110 years ago, will allow you to have a sedan, wagon, two-seater, whatever you want. Which means that someone, somewhere, will insist that their electric car be a 2+0. I don’t like it, but as Rush sings:

What you own is your own kingdom
What you do is your own glory

As for me —I will choose a real two-seater! I will choose free will! Oh, bayyybeeee!

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