Unique. Like Every Other Car.

  Calvin Fisher


 24 Apr, 2019

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon in Cars

I cannot show you the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. I can only show you this column.

Yes, the Baader-Meinhoff Phenomenon. You've either never heard of it before but will soon again, or you've only just recently heard about it and this all feels a bit déjà vu.

While the name itself references the early RAF (Red Army Faction) German terrorist group, the phenomenon itself is much less sinister.

Let me explain via the most common example.

You buy a new car, let’s say something less than ordinary, something like a Fiat Bravo. Suddenly, you see a Fiat Bravo just about everywhere you look on the road. "Ha! You never see those!" You think. But then it intensifies, and on the odd occasion you'll see two, or three at once. Chances are you'll come back from shopping and find a Bravo parked right next to yours. Ha! What are the chances?

Turns out the chances are excellent, as the phenomenon is closely related to synchronicity, and of course the human brain's inexplicable ability to hunt for patterns and familiarity in life.

For example, when I took delivery of a new Subaru Forester test car the other day, other new Subaru Foresters were popping up literally everywhere. Kindred owners would give a rev or flash their brights in appreciation, and quite honestly, I'd given up after the first day or so for fear of blowing a light fuse and of course, wanton winding up of the engine, costs octane you know.

Even my 1983 Toyota Celica Supra, which I bought because it is an uncommon car, only a week after it being in my sweaty palms, was one of three parked outside a friend's house. Ok, one was his, but still.

When I ran a rare (at the time) Volvo V40, you'd think a wild insurgence of Volvo sales had occurred as yet again V40s seemed to be outnumbering Corollas on the road. I'd pulled off an impressive feat just the next day when I sidled up between a V40 like mine, and a Cross Country diesel derivative.

Were this The Matrix, I'd have expected a gang of Agents to descend upon me just then. But it wasn't, so they didn't. Feverishly I scanned the sales charts to cross reference my finding, but the Swede firm's numbers were still more niche than mainstream.

More on that, the only instance of a long-term test car I've ever run that didn't invoke this strange coincidental mashup was several years ago when I ran a Citroen C5. I anticipated seeing one that week. Then two a day, then a fleet. It didn’t happen. The only other C5 I laid my eyes on during that year was the one mine was replaced with. This is not so much the exception to the rule, rather proof of another. Nobody bought Citroen C5s.

It works the other way around too, alarmingly. See, my first real experience with BMP (I've grown tired of writing out the entire thing, bear with me) occurred about 10 years ago. My brother was in the market for a new set of second-hand wheels to replace his Fiat Uno (he used to see those everywhere!), so the local main streets flanked with used car dealerships were our first port of call.

As we entered main road traffic, we tucked in behind a Mazda MX6 with exhaust pipes large enough to hide a small hatchback, with the intention of parking halfway down the road, and spend the afternoon walking from dealer to dealer. Nope. Within 30 minutes, my brother and I were in the leather and plastic cabin of an almost identical MX6, freshly purchased as we made our way back home. And in case you were wondering, yes - we spotted two more MX6s on that short trip back.

It’s not strictly a car thing, of course. It happens with bicycles too, probably. And girlfriends, mobile phones and such. But I challenge you to find another example as glaringly obvious as this. I bet you can't. Some would argue that they've always been there, your mind tends to tune certain things out until they become relevant. Which is precisely what a car becomes when it becomes yours. Like my Chevy 4100, a 45-year-old car I hadn't seen in decades, but now see at least once a week.

Disclaimer: if you own a white Toyota Corolla, whilst strikingly similar to the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, what you are in fact experiencing is called The Sheep Syndrome.

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