Let’s face it, from The X-Files to Independence Day and Men in Black, aliens are hot, hotter than Hotlanta when the torch hit town. So this issue’s question, obviously enough, is…
Are there Triumphs on other planets?
Some people may believe that examples of our beloved cars have been transported to the galaxy’s distant corners, and that frail bug-eyed creatures are even now spinning recklessly across the arid plains of their planet, pillows stacked under them, the gearshifts being operated solely through mind control. There’s no way to disprove such a fancy, so I won’t try. This is, after all, a serious column, and so I’ll answer the question as scientifically as I can.
We’ll keep the discussion close to home and just talk about the Milky Way. Four hundred billion stars dot our galaxy, and maybe a tenth of them have planets. Let’s say that one planet in each of those stellar systems might have conditions like our own—that’s 40 billion earth-like environments. Not all would develop life; let’s say just one out of a thousand. And civilization? That’s hard enough to find on our own planet, so we’ll estimate one out of a hundred actually arrives at intelligent life. That means that the Milky Way might have 400,000 civilizations. Out of so many neighboring societies, is it nuts to think that the galaxy is teeming with extraterrestrial sports cars?
This particular idea stems from a conversation I had after watching an odd “alien autopsy” on television. It was all genuine, they’d have us believe, but I asked how it was that this alien had virtually the same anatomy as a human: a face like ours, arms and legs with joints in the usual locations, conventional hands, etc. Surely if life had evolved independently on another planet for millions of years, nature would have arrived at different ways of accomplishing certain tasks.
A friend argued that evolution has selected features that make perfect sense: two legs instead of five, two eyes instead of one, a single head on top rather than two sprouting out from the armpits. Evolution might have followed the same sensible course elsewhere, although I still maintain that the Close Encounters type of alien is purely for the gullible. Nonetheless, I thought how my friend’s argument might apply to transportation on other planets, and so, despite my reluctance to buy into the popular image of extraterrestrials, I maintain that, yes, there are Triumphs on other planets.
A type of natural selection guides the development of cars, let’s not forget. Our civilization has arrived through trial and error at a typical car having four wheels instead of three, one steering wheel instead of two, and disc brakes rather than Flintstones-style foot-brakes. Aliens might have arrived at these very features. Lots of other things fall into place: a windshield to keep the cosmic particles from blowing in one’s eyes, gauges to monitor the machine, and an anti-roll bar to help in cornering (although the advanced civilization that assembled my TR4A didn’t see fit to install one).
I can’t tell you which side of the road they drive on, but I do believe they put their engines in front, since that allows for cars that carry more inside. And I’ve no doubt they’ve got a way to put the top down when they want to soak up some Alpha Centauri. We’re arriving step-by-step at the arrangement of a Triumph, of course, but I may be falling into the trap of thinking our way of doing things is the only natural way. Aliens, for all we know, may have a prejudice toward asymmetry. Maybe one half of their body looks nothing like the other. In that case, their vehicles end up looking nothing like ours, but that doesn’t hurt my case.
On to my final bit of reasoning. It would be entirely natural for the aliens to set up sporting events that use these vehicles, so I’m quite comfortable guessing they have something called, in their own language, “sports cars.” Furthermore, in searching for a name for a particular car they would have arrived at a word suggesting that the car would win competitions: “Triumph” in our nomenclature; in theirs, heaven only knows.
That pretty much completes the picture: alien cultures here and there throughout the Milky Way darting around in fast, nimble little cars that they call “Triumphs.” Now, someone get on the phone and convince George Lucas to use one of our cars when he films the next part of his Star Wars saga!