Near the beginning of the 1995 Michael Bay movie Bad Boys, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are driving in a new Porsche 911 Turbo. Smith remarks that it's a limited edition, and Lawrence replies, "Damn right it's limited. No cupholder, no back seat..." And then he says a few other colorful things attesting to the 911's modest practicality. In the mid-1990s, that joke worked because a limited-edition 911 really was a rarity. These days, it's a rare 911 that's not some kind of superspecific Targa 4S Black Edition GTS Turbo GT2 GT3 RS 4.0 Cabriolet Speedster. And it's not just the 911 that has splintered into a craze of low-volume variants. Based on the cars I've driven lately, I'd say we're in a golden age of special editions.
Special editions are nothing new; the 1970s were rife with them. Back then, if you wanted a Plymouth Duster (and who didn't?), then you were also tempted by the Gold Duster, the Silver Duster, the Feather Duster, the Space Duster, the Duster Twister, and the Decorator Special. The '80s gave us such luminaries as the Chrysler Imperial Frank Sinatra Edition and the Lincoln Mark VI Bill Blass Edition. The '90s brought the Isuzu VehiCross Ironman Edition, and in the 2000s General Motors rolled out the Chevrolet Venture Warner Bros. Edition, which came with a built-in VCR. Cutting-edge stuff!
Special editions have been hit or miss over the years, but my feeling is that they're more prolific now than ever before. It's almost a challenge to find a new car that doesn't offer some oddball trim package, low-take-rate powertrain, or strange co-branding. Special is the new mainstream.
I recently drove a Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn Edition, a pickup that's apparently designed for Texas ranch hands who have an affinity for Ed Hardy T-shirts. There's an eight-inch "LongHorn" badge on the door that could be pried off and used as a huge belt buckle (and probably will be). A barbed-wire pattern is molded into the rubber floor mats, which confusingly also include a rug insert. The instrument-cluster faces are surrounded by a stylized barbed-wire motif. (This might be the only truck that comes with its own tattoos.) The Ram is a nice truck, but who let The Situation design the interior? Thankfully, the proliferation of Ram micromodels means that there's another that's more to my taste, the Tradesman. With vinyl seats and 390 hp for twenty-three grand, it's an austere throwback, a sneaky-cheap muscle car that's actually useful.
Around the same time I was contemplating the Ram's tribal ink, I snagged the keys to a Ford Mustang Boss 302. The Mustang is America's Porsche 911 in terms of endless variants, but the Boss is indeed something special. The engine is tweaked and the suspension breathed upon, but the best part about it is the hidden exhaust side pipes tucked under the rocker panels. The Boss's speedometer is completely illegible, owing to the fact that it reads to roughly 400 mph, but those side pipes always let you know how fast you're going. The exhaust is so loud, thrumming along just beneath your left ear, that at first you think there's something wrong with the car. But there's not. That's the way it's supposed to sound, because it's the Boss, and company policy dictates that even from hundreds of feet away you will cause golfers to miss putts if you rev it out to about 7000 rpm at the 1-2 upshift (I'm sorry, random golfer).
Not all special editions make as much glorious sense as the Boss. Consider the Jeep Wrangler Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Special Edition. Like the Chevy Camaro Transformers Special Edition, the CODMW3SE probably holds the most appeal for people who can't afford it. By which I mean, twelve-year-olds. "Isn't it time to expand the in-game interaction to your out-of-game lifestyle?" asks the Jeep website. (Uh, probably not until my pimples clear up.) Furthermore, "If you want to watch the setting of the sun, and it's not raining pain, just fold back the soft top for an open-air 360 quick-scope of your surroundings." Allow me to don my car-critic cap and suggest that if your drive typically involves raining pain, you should opt for the hard top.
Distastefully appropriated military lingo aside, isn't it a little strange to market an outdoorsy off-roader to video-game fans? "Hey, do you enjoy staying indoors and inhabiting an imaginary world of ones and zeroes represented on a glowing screen? Then you're gonna love driving around out in the woods and fighting with wild animals such as bears!"
I think that if Jeep can sell a Call of Duty Wrangler, then Ford should offer the Explorer 24 Jack Bauer (sayonara, Eddie Bauer). If you failed to buckle your seat belt in the Explorer Jack Bauer, it would not sound a chime. Because that might compromise your plan to jump from the vehicle, which has no doubt been hijacked by an evildoer who's holding a gun on you. Joke's on you, terrorist, because the Explorer Jack Bauer is about to blow itself up.
Back in the video-game vein, I'd also like to see a Super Mario Brothers Fiat 500, with a button that lets you hurl turtle shells at other motorists. How about the Nissan Cube Rubik's Edition, which would have multicolored body panels and be no stupider than the four-color 1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin Edition? Elsewhere at the Nissan dealer, electric-car exhibitionists could opt for the Leaf Peeper, a Leaf with transparent doors. The Chevy Avalanche Schmavalanche Edition would be sold only in Florida, where there were no fatal snow events last year. The Tang Mustang would be marketed toward astronauts. And why not have a Ford Expedition commemorating the fine work of Mr. Funkmaster Flex? What, you say that model was actually built, in 2008? Really? Well, I'm just spitballing.
If Confucius were still alive, he might say that if everything is a special edition, then nothing is a special edition. It's akin to how I don't have a tattoo, and not having a tattoo is my tattoo. Is a BMW M5 without a badge more special, or less, than one that does have a badge? That's a great question. I'll have to ask Will Smith.