My New Car: None

I have recently had the pleasure of owning a number of automobiles I have always wanted. These have included the Jaguar XJ6, Subaru SVX, Volvo P1800ES, Porsche 928, and a new Ford Taurus SHO. If you are an aficionado who needs refreshing of memory on the designs, these are, respectively: a saloon with the signature four round headlights that has been retro since it was introduced; a funky grand tourer with an ultra-low drag coefficient; a shooting brake with a glass tailgate; the fastest production car available for a time, which failed to win over purists; and an oversized Detroit sedan with a blown V6 that has the grunt of a V8.

What I mean is I have dreamt in detail about buying each of these motor vehicles. I play a little game. I am sure others engage in this exercise too. I imagine owning a particular car. It's usually a model that I loved in an earlier stage of life, such as high school.

Thanks to the internet, I can engage in an elaborate fantasy. I research everything online, not just perusing reviews but even looking at websites where I could purchase what is pictured. I assess the possibilities as if I were about to acquire each car. I look up what is the gas mileage, where are the best shops in town, whether there is an owners' club, and the like.

I have even considered calling up sellers to inquire further. The wonderful stereotype of the elderly owner can be found out there. One fellow had a lovely BMW 6 series coupe, from the era before the Bangle-butt overcame the aesthetics of the marque, and he promised he was deaccessioning only because he is 92 years old and no longer driving regularly. According to the description, his low mileage ride was in showroom condition.

Beyond that, I even mull over whether I'd have to have a specific model. I used to think I'd be settling if it weren't the top-of-the-line, fully-optioned edition. But I've seen how it would be wonderful to experience the naturally-aspirated engine rather than its turbocharged variant. The hankering for "the best" represents the corruption of consumerism. A stripped down car can be the premium version.

Many of the older cars I would consider are demonstrably inferior by the numbers to today's offerings on the showroom floor. Yet they retain an allure that is inexplicable to others who don't just feel it.

The potential transactions never come through. I try not to consider the realities of coming into the first car I coveted: a Jaguar XJ6 in British Racing Green over a tan leather interior, with its "leaper" hood ornament, manufactured in Coventry. I'd pull up to the country estate in it.

The problems with reliability threaten even my make-believe world. My thoughts run to the morning I wouldn't be able to get the engine to turn over, the tow truck arriving, the shop's exorbitant estimate for overhauling the electricals -- especially out there on the country estate. They're such a bad deal in strictly objective terms that I see them advertised for a price I might be able to take out of my savings account without my wife ever noticing.

Cars are iconic. They represent freedom, the infinite possibilities of the open road, the risks of the adventure ahead. And they are status symbols, identifying to everyone else commuting to work whether you need to do so and at what level of pay in all likelihood. French theorist Roland Barthes praised the Citroen in declaring cars the equivalent of the Gothic cathedral in cultural significance.

I've never wanted an ostentatious car that would be shown on a dorm room poster. The Lamborghini Countach doesn't move me at all, and it didn't when I was an adolescent either. An Acura NSX is superior in most respects; it's affordability should not detract from its attractiveness. The Jaguar XJ6 is about elegance, not wealth. Anyone who ranks a four-door sedan at the top of a wish list has some sensibility even in reverie.

The truth is I don't own any car at all. I have decided it is not necessary. Other Americans have made similar decisions. Per capita car ownership is decreasing, not increasing.

Probably for most of us, the decision is motivated by as much self-interest as environmental conscience. There is much more that I could do with the funds saved from the car payment, insurance, a garage space, and gasoline. I ride a motorcycle, take public transportation, and walk as much as possible. My sense of self worth comes from other sources, not what is parked in the driveway.

I confess that I am materialistic. I am not as ascetic as I might like to be. Maturity has brought the appreciation, however, that anticipation is as enjoyable as possession of most goods and deferred gratification may be the key to life success. If it won't be used daily, it can be dispensed with. Our modern economy allows everything to be rented; that's the new paradigm for property.

I figure I receive at least a tenth of the gratification of holding the title for an object of desire, at no actual cost. It's a bargain.