The Ratio


Wow…three postings in one day? AND one yesterday? AND two on Sunday? Just call me Mr. Prolific.

Back when I was in university in the late ’80s (twenty years ago! Holy crap I’m old), I did a three co-op work terms at IBM in Toronto. In the third one, I shared an office with Suki (short for Sukhminder), another co-op. He happened to live in the same town I did (Pickering), so we carpooled to work a lot. I drove my dad’s old 1979 Caprice Classic, while Suki drove a brand new 1989 Honda Prelude, complete with 4-wheel steering. After lots of conversations about cars, we came up with a theory that I still believe in. The theory was that the ratio of how cool a car is to how cool the owner of the car thinks it is must always be less than one. In other words, no car is ever as cool as its owner thinks it is.

We’d see cars and their drivers, and give our estimate of what the ratio was — the lower the ratio, the more out-of-touch with reality the owner was. The lowest ratios were held by the posers who’d buy an old Honda Civic (they’re nice cars now, but they used to be small and junky) and add a big three-foot-tall spoiler on the back, paint it yellow, tint the windows, and then think they’re driving some sort of hot rod — until they pulled away from a light and their car made a high-pitched “Wheeeeeeee” sound, rather than the more powerful VROOOM of a Mustang or Camaro. That was something like 0.2. We’d see a Corolla drive by with the driver-side window down and the driver with one arm hanging out the window and sporting a pair of $120 Ray-Bans, and say “0.4”. Note that the same driver driving a much-cooler Porsche might also get a 0.4, or even less, because the car might be twice as cool (doubling the numerator), but the driver may think it’s more than twice as cool (more than doubling the denominator). A beat-up old wooden-paneled station wagon with a family of five inside might rate something like 0.85.

We tried to think of the highest possible ratio. The 78-year-old grandmother who borrows her rich son’s BMW to run over to the grocery store, and really has no idea about cars (so she doesn’t know how cool the car really is) would be pretty high (though it could be argued that it doesn’t count, since she doesn’t own the car), as would be the guy driving the old 1974 Lada that he picked up at an auction for $150. But somewhere in the back of that grandmother’s mind, she is thinking “this is quite a nice little car”, and the guy with the Lada is thinking that he got the car for almost nothing, and that’s pretty cool. Even in those cases, the ratio is still less than one.

Suki freely admitted that the ratio for his Prelude was pretty low, between 0.3 and 0.4, but then it was quite the nice car. My dad’s old Caprice was a gas-guzzler that was about 100 feet long and had broken air conditioning and an analog clock that had been stuck on 3:00 for years. However, it had a powerful V8 and I once had nine adults in that car — with nobody in the trunk (though one was lying across the laps of the people packed into the back seat), so it was probably a 0.75. My first car was a candy-apple red 1988 Cavalier Z24 (that I bought in 1992). It was a standard and had a spoiler and a sunroof, and it was all mine. We’re talking 0.35 tops.

Now that I think about it, a friend of mine once had a 5L Mustang with a pretty low ratio, but before that, she drove a baby blue mid-80’s Reliant K car that her parents helped her buy. That ratio was pretty damned close to one.

Yes, we really did put a lot of thought into this.

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