Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Red Barchetta

Those of you familiar with the Canadian powerhouse trio Rush will no doubt recall a sonic gem of theirs from 2 decades ago called “Red Barchetta.” The name refers to a famous classic sports car built by Ferrari, but later was also the name for a lame Fiat drive. The former car earned its stripes by being fast and sexy.

The lyrics of most all of Rush’ songs, penned by drummer god Neil Peart, have often strayed – strike that – plunged into glorious sci-fi epics, which endeared the band to many free-thinking youth over the last 30+ years. Red Barchetta was a song on their "Moving Pictures" album about one such young man living in a distant future age where socialism at least and fascism at most reigned. It was also, as an entry in Wikipedia described it, a “post-petroleum future in which the ‘primitive’ gasoline-burning sports cars are prohibited by ‘the Motor Law.’” A controlling society, the youth were compelled to rebel in ways that the State could only hope to contain by vigorous use of the police.

This particular boy would escape to his “Uncle’s country place that no one knew about” and drive a perfectly preserved Ferrari every few weeks. One such time took immense effort to realize a narrow escape from the robotic “alloy air car” minions of the totalitarian society in which he was irresistibly trapped.

While on vacation in Ohio last week, I was delighted to learn that my father had his own version of an older exotic foreign sports car – red, of course – for me to drive: a well-preserved, daily driver of a convertible 1991 Jaguar XJ-S, V-12. Huzzah! This baby purrs… but also roars when pressed.

The ’91 makes 318 horsepower under a longish hood, replete with muscular lines arcing down to a fine pair of headlights. The switchgear, I would say is customarily British…which is to say that a reasonably intelligent American driver can figure out about 95% of what is needed; the other 5% is anyone’s guess.

To fire up that glorious 12-cylinder engine, one turns the key and an array of lights glow up the walnut wood dash. After a few seconds electric fuel pump whine, the engine roars to life, then settles into a soft exhaust burble directed with authority out two gleaming tailpipes.

My wife Kim and I had the pleasure of taking the Jag to Amish country, where the car drew an unexpected amount of attention amongst mini-vans, Honda sedans and – dare I say? – buggies. The weather was not too cooperative, raining off and on during the day; just enough to force top-up driving. Still, even at speeds approaching 100mph (dancing with a Mini Cooper S), the cabin noise was minimal.


Handling was good for a heavy luxury-touring convertible, but compared to my Miata M of a few years ago – a veritable go-kart – it was heavy to steer and rolled over on bulbous tires.

We capped off a day of driving on twisty two-lane country roads and antiquing with a pretty good Italian meal at a restaurant in Zanesville, a town made famous as the birthplace of famed Western author Zane Gray. Now Zane would have appreciated the risks our futuristic youth took to escape the suburbs of his youth for the wide-open countryside in his Uncle’s Red Barchetta.

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