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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Is the thrill gone?

The lyrics to B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” portray the sorrow of an ended romance. While the words of the song make reference to relationships between people, the same woeful sentiments of abandonment and loneliness, to some, apply to their love affair with automobiles.

For example, the ever-changing driving world, including the promise of driverless cars, does not sit well with reader J.M.  He wrote, “The thought of driverless cars makes me want to hurl.  Driving used to be fun back when you had a manual choke, three-on-the-tree (steering column shift lever), and the ‘DeLuxe’ models had an AM radio with more static than music.  Going for a Sunday drive after Church was a family affair and sometimes a stop at the A&W was an added bonus.  With increased traffic congestion, stress, and deteriorating roads, auto makers have devised every possible gimmick to compensate for driver incompetence and at the same time have added numerous distractions in the name of convenience and entertainment.  I guess the next logical step in driver devolution is to remove the driver part of the equation entirely.  The actual ‘fun’ part of driving an automobile, the ‘adventure’ part has gone the way of the dinosaurs, along with Smitty mufflers and leaded gas.”

So, is the “thrill” really gone?  Much of the nostalgia J.M. infers is only relevant to an earlier generation of drivers.  I guess I’m part of that group, since I feel much like J.M. that many elements of driving fun have been dwindling steadily and will be virtually doused with driverless cars. Features like a manual-choke, and “three-on-the-tree” more-fully engaged the driver and enhanced his or her interest in the process.

J.M. “painted” a visceral image of driving’s past with his comments and descriptions, and he has an arguable point that the driving joy exemplified by the “Route 66” days are long gone. His comment that it’s gone the way of the dinosaurs had a literal meaning to me.  On my last southerly pass through Oregon on Highway 97, I noticed that the dinosaur park, a roadside attraction adjacent to the highway there, is long-closed and the giant sculptures within it are being smothered with forest growth.

Nevertheless, even though few drivers from generation X or the millennials know what a Smitty’s muffler is (a short, minimal-restriction, fiberglass-packed muffler with a straight-through design), I think they can still have fun driving.  After all, even though a modern vehicle may be feature-laden, that vehicle can still stop at a drive-in restaurant after church.

The “thrill” of driverless vehicles will never duplicate the elements J.M. described, but they are coming anyway.  Tesla officials promise an autonomous car in two years, and even mainstream manufacturers, like Ford, believe customers will be able to opt for a driverless model by 2020.

And whatever thrills may dwindle, there are some fun-to-drive vehicles available in the meantime.  While the waning of roadside attractions has affected some of the romance of a road trip, a vehicle like a Mustang GT can supply plenty of driver engagement with its exemplary package of acceleration, handling and braking — a refined package which allows application of its power in ways never possible in “the good old days.”

Please let me know if you think the thrill is “going, going, gone” from the driving process.  Actually, I think the thrill is just taking new forms.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at