Even cars on Mars put men in a spin

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The Independent Online
"This is nirvana for us space guys," one of the scientists involved in the Mars programme said at the weekend. Not, I think, because we are near to solving the mysteries of the red planet. No, really it's because he gets to drive the ultimate boy's toy - the Sojourner Rover. Chick magnets don't come much finer than this vehicle, which is driven by a virtual reality headset by a human on earth. What more could a boy ask for? I'm only surprised it doesn't have the modest kind of number plate once seen on a white Lamborghini - "WOW1".

It's not that women don't appreciate a wonderfully designed car, although I have to admit most leave me cold. But I that blame on my father (who despite tears, bribes and dropping his offspring off half a mile from school, insisted on driving a Lada throughout my formative years) rather than an innate gender difference. It's that men, unlike women, insist on treating fast cars with such reverence. Why do they have to wear such a serious expression while discussing the "driving experience" (the school run) of a high performance car? Why is it that the more impractical for day-to-day life a car is, the better it is?

Last week, Canary Wharf, where The Independent is based, hosted a motor show. You could tell it was going on by the suspicious absence of male staff from their desks and the incomprehensible conversations afterwards. In the lobby, there were cars costing the price of a one-bedroom flat - in London. Men drooled over bonnets, and in a quick and highly unscientific poll I conducted, 95 per cent of the men said they would buy a Porsche, Mercedes or BMW if they won the lottery. The women said: "Oh God, men still don't think they can pull just because they've got a nice car, do they?"

"Cars are still phallic," admitted Gary Morgan, a support analyst admiring a Porsche 944. "It would be marvellous to have something like this. What an investment."

But it was the pounds 26,000 Renault Spider that was the best "bird puller", said Andrew Binns, a computer consultant. Not, he added hastily, that he would be interested for that reason. He was married.

This is a car that, after simple adjustments to the suspension, can be a racing car. Apart from its glorious design and magnificent horsepower, the Spider boasts no hood, no heating and no storage space at all. So while it may be very good at attracting the chicks, you can do very little with them once they are there without risking osteopath bills for the rest of your life. And they'll probably never speak to you again because their hair's been ruined in the rain and they've frozen to death.

The Sojourner isn't much better - it's the size of a microwave oven, it only travels at 0.02 mph, and there is a huge time lag between telling the Sojourner to turn left and it actually doing so. The batteries run down in a week, the kids wouldn't fit into it and the dust on Mars will kill any perm. Men will adore it. And so probably our first contact with alien intelligence - a giant step for mankind - will be a tiny green man saying "Fwooar, check out the engine on that baby. How much did that knock you back?"