Of course I have a huge affinity for the retiring, but hardly shy, Bob Lutz. The title of this column is Vile Gossip, after all, and half the things that come from my mouth at any given moment set my own hair on fire. Obviously, I like anyone - especially in this barren industry, bereft as it is of real characters - who can cause a bigger ruckus than I can.
By now, you've all heard the saga of the man who flew his own Czech military jet trainer in to save General Motors, having blitzed through Opel, BMW, Ford of Europe, Ford of North America, and Chrysler, leaving numerous great products as his legacy, along with a reputation as a loose cannon who shot from the lip and antagonized his superiors. His motto: frequently wrong, but never in doubt. The combo pack was irresistible to us. We named him Man of the Year in 1993, right after Lee Iacocca ruined Chrysler by making sure the wrong Bob (Eaton) succeeded him as chairman.
While bloggers and forums across the Web savagely debate Lutz's worth as the "car czar" of GM in the wake of his recent retirement announcement, I have a more personal tale to tell.
Bob Lutz and I didn't really pay attention to each other until he was going through his second divorce. He'd come to an Automobile Magazine breakfast on a cold Saturday morning in January, and he was clearly pissed off at the soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Lutz. "She left and took the freaking sink out of the wall in the bathroom," he said to me, in answer to my casual, "How are you?"
"Apparently your judgment of women is pretty bad," came right out of my mouth. Cue the hair on fire. Did I just say that to the vice chairman of Chrysler? He looked at me. I looked at him. "Yes, I suppose it is," he agreed. We both laughed. As it turned out, three times was the charm, and he and his extraordinary wife, Denise, stood up for my husband and me at our wedding.
To be sure, it hasn't been all yuks between us. Lutz has had no problem over the years picking up the phone to disagree with something written in the magazine. "Who were you yelling at in there?" our copy editor asked one evening. Well, he was yelling at me . . .