The late ’90s were a time when cars were much simpler, had fewer electronic nannies and was also a time when Jeremy Clarkson had a Dione Sanders perm. Good times, those were.
Flashing back to an old Top Gear episode from 1998, we take a look at Top Gear’s aforementioned host (ex-host, now) ranting and raving about how most modern (for the time) optional extras aren’t worth the money. Many of those options were electronic systems that, according to ’90s Clarkson, simply ruined the car. His main beef in the video is with BMW and its E38 7 Series, which at the time was brand-spanking new.
The 7 Series came with sophisticated traction control and parking sensors, things that were revolutionary in 1998. But Clarkson wasn’t a big fan of both systems, as he mentions that the traction control isn’t clever enough to account for human interaction and that the parking sensors can be negated by turning your head. He’s right in a way, but times have changed.
He also goes on about how a car can have too many airbags, which seems a bit silly even for the time, and how automatic transmissions with manual overrides are stupid. The airbag complaint is a bit odd, because safety doesn’t seem to be something that gains importance over time and should have been a priority in automakers from the get go. Though, the auto-manual transmission is an understandable complaint for the time. Automatic transmissions were horrible in the late ’90s, by modern standards. Current automatics shift incredibly quickly and smoothly, so manual overrides work quite well. But back then, it was far less intuitive than a manual gearbox, so Clarkson’s frustration is understandable.
It’s just interesting to see that consumers, especially enthusiasts, hating new technology is not a new fad. We’ve always bemoaned new ways of doing things, which is probably complete ignorance to be brutally honest, as we’re afraid of change. Even something as simple as traction control, which even then had a clear benefit despite its technological shortcomings, was hated by enthusiasts who claimed that it ruined the driving experience. Imagine what Dione-looking Clarkson would think about today’s modern technologies. He didn’t like that the E38 had rear parking sensors, but today the 7 Series will go and park all by itself. He’d have a fit.
1998 Jeremy Clarkson does make a couple of good points though. A lot of these coddling technologies do make for worse drivers, as there’s not as much responsibility anymore. When the car can do so much for the driver, the common driver will become complacent and lack the attention and responsibility it takes to drive carefully and safely. But bemoaning certain technologies simply because they’re new is frankly ridiculous and seems silly in hindsight. I’m sure if 1998 Jeremy Clarkson were to step into a DeLorean, set the date for 2015 and saw what we have today, he’d realize that the 1990’s weren’t so bad after all. And he’d probably cut that perm.