Best drive: Datsun 240Z on Tennessee’s country roads.
Associate editor David Zenlea and I traveled down south in a Scion FR-S to compare it against a fully restored 1971 Nissan 240Z. Nissan loaned us the Z with no strings attached, asking only that we bring it back running. A pair of young dudes with two rear-wheel-drive Japanese coupes on some of the emptiest, twistiest roads we’d seen with next to no maturity between the two of us—it was splendid. I fell for the Datsun immediately. It smelled like half-century-old gasoline and burnt oil. The 100-degree weather fused back skin to seat vinyl. Gearchange throws required an intermission. I futzed with the manual choke constantly as I convinced myself it was affecting throttle response. All that plus the fact that the little bugger could really drive at its age made me giggle. Actually giggle, and I don’t giggle. As if that wasn’t enough, the cherry came after Zenlea wrote his piece and I read this paragraph: “I put the stability control system in sport mode—I'm happy to have a safety net when I'm not in the Z—and luxuriate in the Scion's balance as the rear end rotates just enough to tuck around a corner at a faster speed than the Z could manage. Only, there it is, right in my rearview mirror. ‘That Z's pretty quick, given the right driver,’ a sweating, beaming Nelson says at the next switch point with a wink that I find absolutely infuriating. Actually, though, he's right.” ;).
Best hoon: 4WD donuts in our Four Seasons Kia Sportage at Keweenaw Research Center.
The Kia Sportage was the support vehicle during a tire test we did with our Dodge Charger. When work was done, I took to hooning in what should be the least hoonable car on God’s green Earth. But when you have four-wheel drive, Bridgestone Blizzak tires, and a commitment to doing dumb things, anything is possible. I coaxed the Kia to about 15 mph, stepped on the emergency brake, cut the steering wheel, started feathering the gas, let the e-brake off, and began to spin.
Best tweet: "Used the paddle a few times. Once when we ran out of gas, twice trying to lure otters into the Amphicar. Cutest animal."
Favorite design: Porsche Boxster S.
I remember a younger Christopher Nelson saying, “It’s the Boxster’s look that will keep me from buying one.” After spending a lot of time with the 2013 Porsche Boxster, I find myself now saying, “It’s time to join Cougar Life and find a sugar momma that will let me drive her around in the Boxster S that she buys me.”
Best driving song: “All My Own Stunts” by Arctic Monkeys.
I vividly and fondly remember going through a corner in a car nicknamed after a city-destroying lizard the first time I heard “been watching cowboy films/on gloomy afternoons/tinting the solitude/put on your dancing shoes” come through the speakers. It’s the perfect blend of smooth and gravelly that helps you get into the mood when you’re doing a bit of wheeling.
Most surprising car: Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1.
I can’t stand the Chevrolet Camaro. I think it’s showy, uncomfortable, and, worst of all, boring. Something with 426 horsepower shouldn’t feel as gutless as the SS does. What about the 1LE? A bit better, but it’s still not an emotional car. No, you have to go to the tippy top of the Camaro lineup to find something worthy of your attention, and worthy the ZL-1 is. Taking that monster down the strip in 12.3 seconds was great, and I was shocked by how poised it was when the steering wheel went left and right. Headroom still stinks, though.
Most disappointing car: Chrysler 200 convertible.
I usually drive with the top down any chance I get. When I drove this Chrysler, the roof was up and the windows were up. I leaned as far back as possible in my seat and put on a Halloween mask so no one would know I was driving this Quasimodo. It has the nimbleness of a clubfooted bison to boot.