I've been asked this question a couple of times while owning my Subaru. People have asked me what is so special about my car, and why I enjoy driving my old WRX. Every time someone asks me, the answer is the same - because I love how analog it is.
Now, a lot of what I do in my life revolves around doing it in the digital world. Without computers and the devices that people use on a daily basis, I honestly wouldn't have much of a real career, but when you live in a world of virtualized everything, it's easy to get lost in what's absolute. Emails, social media, and even this website puts up a vale of digitialism that surrounds everything that we seemingly do today. You're more likely to meet and interact with someone online before you meet someone in person and shake their hand. You're more likely to drive a new car that's now partially controlled by computers than you are by one that is not. And that's not too say that is necessarily a bad thing, but me personally? I like to step away from the keyboard from time to time (looking at memes all day gets tiring).
That leads me to my car. I like my 2004 WRX for the reason that it is pretty much entirely an analog experience, and it's also not overly complicated. When I'm behind the wheel of it, there's very little electronics that gets in the way of enjoying the one thing that I love doing most - driving. And while I'm thankful for a lot car related electronic advancements over the years, I simply don't want too much of it in my car where it doesn't matter. I like that my car is an escape from the digital life that I live most of the time, and it's one thing that I own that I can't simply control with just a mouse, or a few taps of my fingers. It's a reminder that every day when I turn the key, that there is more to this world than just starting at a phone or a computer screen.
The beauty of having an older car is that it still has a lot of components that are connected mechanically, rather than electronically. For example, the throttle linkage is an actual steel cable instead of a sensor and some extra wiring. My steering wheel is connected to an actual shaft, and subsequently the steering rack, so I feel every little vibration and movement in the wheel. Mechanical differentials are used instead of an electronic torque vectoring system, and analog vacuum gauges are present instead of flashy digital screens. All of these things give you minute feedback that I think is paramount in knowing what the car is doing too, especially when the car is being driven at it's limit. My car has my full attention when I'm driving it, and I don't just get a feeling of blah and numbness when I'm driving around. It's loud. It vibrates. It gives me tingles in my pants. In a way, it makes me feel alive. A car is a machine, not a computer. Shouldn't it be put together like one?
The mechanical aspect of the car adds to the driving experience in a way that I can only describe with this analogy. When you go into a casino and sit down at a slot machine, how many people opt to pull down on the big red lever to spin the wheel instead of aimlessly pushing a button? I think a lot of people want that physical connection, that subconscious attachment and fulfillment from physically yanking down on that sucker and hoping you hit it big. Sure the light up button is easier and probably faster to press, but I'll be dammed if isn't more gratifying than getting your whole arm into it. Same thing applies when I'm shifting gears with my manual transmission. Each gear change is a physical operation that I do with pretty much my entire body, and it's way more involved that just flipping a paddle or slapping a stick. Subconsciously, I'm in that casino winning big, even if does mean that I'll get there slower (queue the money shift jokes).
I think all of this also offers a more rewarding experience too. There's this physical connection that you get with the machine as you're rowing through the gears, taking turns, and listening to Sammy Hagar singing about how he can't drive 55. Sitting in an appliance disguised as a car has no reward, and it has no excitement. I'll get into what gives a car a soul another time, but to me, these are things that gives a car character, and I think that's important. It's what separates a race car from a Camry, and it's what terrifies me about the future of cars.
Cars today are different because they have to be different. Safety regulations and fuel economy restrictions mostly dictate that, and all of these things add weight and force manufactures to design a car around them. Subaru won't ever be able to make another car like mine again because of that, and I think that also makes it kind of special. Does that mean that today's cars are shit? I'd argue no (some of them are actually kind of nice), but I'd also argue that the feelings and the experience that a 2004 WRX and a 2017 WRX give you would be different. I just happen to prefer the flavor of the older models. Regular Car Reviews pretty much covers my feelings and opinions about this sort of thing in one of their latest reviews about the Honda Civic EH2. If you haven't had a chance to view it yet, I'd highly encourage it:
We're at a point now where there aren't a lot of cars left that still offer that simplistic and analog element to it anymore. The Toyobaru twins and the Miata are probably one of the last shining examples of simplicity and creating a raw driving experience, but that is why I think older Subarus (and maybe just older cars in general) are still quite popular. In my opinion, they're also easier to work on too. Usually parts are cheaper, and the car community knows of all of a vehicle's pitfalls, and how to address them. After doing a motor swap in my car last year, and then helping do one in a 2009 WRX a few months later, it really opened my eyes to just how much more wiring and what I call "unnecessary parts" (air pumps for example) have made their way into cars now. It was in that moment that I realized that I am slowly becoming Walt Kowalski hoarding a Grand Torino because they "don't make 'em like they used to".
People expect more from their cars now, and electronics have been able to give it to them in a cheaper and easier way than ever before. More functionality, more comfort, and less headaches - you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn't want that in their car. Whether or not it's what you want out of a vehicle though, is entirely up to you. Me personally, I own two cars so that I can enjoy the best of both worlds. Yes, I know that's cheating, but I never said you couldn't!