Auto Motives


By Jamie Wolfcale

(Published in the September 2010 issue)

There’s little doubt that stereotypes are bad for our culture. However, they don’t just materialize out of thin air. This applies just as much to car owners as it does to the rest of our society. Are all Corvette drivers balding, middle-aged men in the midst of a midlife crisis? Probably not, but if a Corvette pulls up next to you in traffic, take a quick glance, and chances are you’ll see a guy who resembles a slightly younger Clint Eastwood.

I spent nearly a decade as a valet at malls and restaurants before starting my own automotive blog. During this time I started asking myself a few questions: Why do most Cadillac drivers look like they lived through the Great Depression? Why are Porsche drivers such anal-retentive snobs? Why don’t Jaguar drivers tip well? My coworkers and I even had a running joke about how strip clubs must hand out Scions as company cars.

One thing I did not anticipate when researching this article was how hesitant people who work in automotive businesses would be to discussing this topic. I talked to mechanics, valets and car wash attendants, none of whom were willing to go on the record for fear of offending their clientele. Except for one guy.

Nazar Aldulaimi owns a chain of San Diego car washes, is a professor of Arabic at the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District and is a former manager of Rolls Royce Dubai. He’s also currently at work on a book about this very subject.

“I don’t think Corvette drivers are interested in speed or anything like that,” says Aldulaimi, who also agrees with my contention that the ‘Vette has always been America’s flagship sports car, which means the decision to buy one is partially rooted in patriotism.

Congruently, Porsche 911 drivers tend to be a fairly specific breed, too. Male drivers are often stereotyped as trying to compensate for a lack of trouser furniture, but I don’t buy this. Porsche drivers see themselves as having refined sensibilities. They might be doctors or investment bankers, as opposed to landscaping-empire-owning Corvette drivers.

“Honda owners are practical people,” says Aldulaimi. The same could be said of Toyota owners. Both companies build cars that make sense to, and serve the purposes of, people across all demographics.

According to Aldulaimi, drivers of the two big Swedish brands, Saab and Volvo, tend to be “mid-40s, conservative, white collar and married with two kids.”

As for Hybrid cars, Aldulaimi says that the average Prius driver is “very careful with their money but not necessarily the environment,” suggesting that saving money on gas is a bigger motivator in the purchase of a Prius than being an environmental savior.

Of course, all of this has to be taken with a grain of salt. None of these are absolutes. But whether you realize it or not, the kind of car you drive probably says as much about you as the clothes you wear and the music you listen to.

Whatever you drive, just be sure to tip the valet. He’ll think highly of you, no matter what logo is on the keys.

Hipster Highway

The top 10 cars driven by the über-cool

Most people these days are familiar with what a hipster is. Urban Dictionary defines them as “a subculture typically in their 20s and 30s that value independent thinking, counterculture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence and witty banter.” Still not sure? Well, to paraphrase comedian Jeff Foxworthy, if you drive one of the cars below, you just might be a hipster yourself.

#10 Volkswagen Jetta

For decades now, the Jetta has offered European styling at an affordable price. As any self-respecting hipster can tell you, European stuff is way hip.

#9 Saab 9-3

This one applies to a different type of hipster-a professional hipster, if you will. Think first-year architect who goes to wine bars on the weekends, but still periodically slums it at the dive bar.

#8 Ford Falcon

Formerly a favorite of the rockabilly set, the Falcon has been the default entry-level classic car of choice for years now because of its low cost and classic proportions.

#7 Honda Civic

The Civic makes the list because of its shear ubiquity. Fact: 97 percent of all Civic owners are hipsters. The remaining three percent are your grandparents.

#5 Any Saturn

The only thing that Saturns says about their owner is that they don’t give a sh*t about cars. This is perfect for hipsters, because it’s totally un-hip to like cars.

#4 AMC Pacer

An integral part of being a hipster is having an irreverent sense of irony. The AMC Pacer is the automotive equivalent of a vintage Rush concert t-shirt.

#3 BMW 2002

A car for the hipster who appreciates cars, the BMW 2002 has and always will be one of the coolest cars to be seen in, and it’s widely considered to be the world’s first sports coupe.

#2 Mini Cooper

Minis are very popular with the female hipster set. Since the Mini’s introduction in 2002, it has become commonplace to see girls with horn-rimmed and asymmetrical haircuts in the driver’s seat.

#1 Volvo 240

I have known so many people that have owned Volvo 240s. The things are like tanks in that they last forever, and I fully expect them to be handed down to an entirely new generation of hipsters.

Honorable Mention: Fixed-Gear Bike

Everyone knows the hipster’s transport of choice is the fixed-gear bike. If you’re thinking about buying one, just remember that the tapered-leg girl jeans and facial hair don’t come standard.

Let Jamie Wolfcale take you for a ride at