John Evans was a high-spirited Welshman who seemed to be perpetually in motion. He became our boss on August 1, 1985, when we joined Murdoch Magazines and went to work on the project that would become Automobile Magazine. He was a keen deep-water sailor with three Atlantic crossings to his credit, and he was also a surprisingly talented driver of vintage racing cars. During the short time that he was our overseer, he had a Morgan, an Austin-Healey 100, and a replica C-type Jaguar, which came to grief one night when he was driving it through the Holland Tunnel to his home in rural New Jersey. My memory of the Healey was that it had suffered every known performance tweak and was about as appropriate for a pur-sang vintage sports-car event as a Smokey Yunick Indy car.
John died of congestive heart failure late in March. He had been ill for a while and wasn’t famous for taking care of himself. In the years before we knew him, he had been a serious boozer, and Alcoholics Anonymous was his life jacket, safety harness, and parachute. Once, when Rupert Murdoch had temporarily posted him to London to look after the business side of the Murdoch newspapers there, I sat with him all evening while he called recovering alcoholics and substance abusers back in the United States, giving them encouragement and an occasional stern admonition. After one long call, he sighed and said, “That guy is hopeless. He’s just beginning to see daylight after years of booze and drugs, and now he thinks he’d like to become a rock ‘n’ roll concert photographer! He’ll be knee-deep in temptation every night of his life!”
One of the speakers at John’s memorial service in Manhattan quoted Linus Pauling, who said that the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. John Evans had more ideas than anybody I’ve ever known. He saw the Internet coming before the rest of us and created an online reservation service called Jaguar, based on the old Hotel and Travel Index reference book. Despite the fact that it never worked as it was supposed to, Jaguar clearly pointed the way to an online future, and Murdoch was able to sell it at a handsome profit. John was never one to hide his light under a bushel, and it pleased him to think that he had single-handedly saved Murdoch’s News Corporation. I sometimes think of John as the mouche du coche, the French fly who, by biting the horse’s rump, convinces himself that he’s the one pulling the wagon.
I wandered around the New York auto show with my pal Leo. Leo is a little gimpy from a World War II injury to his back, suffered while he was a Marine in Burma, and all that walking was beginning to get to him. At the Maybach stand, I asked the guys if Leo could try the back seat in the long-wheelbase 62 model that was on display. They showed him in, and he gratefully sat down, drinking in all that luxury. Leo has had his own chauffeured car for thirty-five years, and he’s used to it, but it didn’t prepare him for the Maybach experience. As Maybach’s Wayne Killen demonstrated the rear-seat recliner, the lumbar massage feature, the various light levels, and all the rear-seat controls for the sound and air-conditioning systems, Leo reclined there, feet up, eyes closed, big grin, murmuring, “Fantastic… fantastic… fantastic… fantastic.” I thought they’d made a sale, but the next time I saw Leo, he was happily ensconced in the back of his Yukon XL limo substitute, punching a number into the car phone and trying to find something in his briefcase.
On the gorgeously sunny day before the New York show opened to the press, that same Wayne Killen met J. L. K. Davis and me outside Grand Central Station with a Maybach 57 model (the short-wheelbase sedan), which would be ours for the afternoon. I’m crazy about Maybach’s two-tone paint schemes, and this one did not disappoint me. It combined two shades of gray (Teide medium gray and Teide light gray).
We thought about driving it out into the nearby countryside or maybe just starting an urban drive with a tour of Central Park. But I’d always wanted to show my wife Brooklyn Heights, where I’d lived in the ’60s during my first marriage, so we headed for the Brooklyn Bridge, figuring that we’d then drive to downtown Manhattan on the return trip and circle around September 11, 2001’s ground zero a couple of times to see what progress was being made there.
Spring was beginning to assert itself in Brooklyn Heights. A few flowering trees and shrubs had burst into bloom, and I was swept by a great wave of nostalgia as we silently rolled through the narrow streets past the lovely old brownstone houses that have made the neighborhood so special. We stopped several times where streets ended overlooking the docks, New York Harbor, and the Statue of Liberty. Lower Manhattan’s skyline still looks wounded with the World Trade Center’s twin towers missing.
As we drove back and forth from one end of the Heights to the other, we passed a dozen schools disgorging their students into the midafternoon sunlight. Most of the kids knew exactly what the Maybach was, and it got lots of yells, whistles, and upraised thumbs. There were always a few young guys too cool to make any overt display of admiration, and they either caucused on their street corners, discussing the car and darting furtive glances our way as we sat waiting for a light to change, or just strolled by, trying to check it out without appearing to do so. Adults were less demonstrative. Lots of people noticed the Maybach, but the aging baby boomers tended to give it looks that indicated they knew that it was a very serious luxury car but not one that they recognized.
Back across the Brooklyn Bridge to Lower Manhattan. We blundered around, finding our way by instinct, and suddenly found ourselves skirting the vast construction area where the World Trade Center used to be. Hard-hat guys cheerily saluted the Maybach and chatted about it with us whenever we stopped. Meanwhile, we were surprised by the amount of ancillary damage still visible on the buildings around the perimeter. Rolling over the broken streets and the great steel plates that Consolidated Edison lays down to cover the holes they’ve dug, the Maybach felt like a very safe, very comfortable haven in the midst of all that slowly mending destruction.
Two blocks away in any direction, New York looked pretty normal and virtually untouched. Hordes of people were leaving work early to get home in time for Passover, and often a knot of commuters waiting to cross the street would cluster around one guy who was enthusiastically telling them what our Maybach was and why it cost 320-some-odd-thousand dollars. This was Wall Street, after all, and among those thousands of people, there must have been at least a few dozen Maybach prospects.
For the automotive enthusiast, the Maybach’s 5.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-12 will be the main attraction. With 543 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque, it is simply breathtaking.
For the chief of state, the captain of industry, or the unindicted co-conspirator, the car’s luxurious interior environment is sure to close the deal.
As for me, I am most fond of the way the car becomes smaller as I grow more familiar with it, and I find myself diving through holes in traffic where Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords are reluctant to follow.