The Automobile Magazine award-selection week was unusually new and fresh this year, thanks in part to the involvement of our new road test editor, Christopher Nelson, who came to us this summer straight out of Indiana University, in Bloomington, home of Nick’s English Hut on Kirkwood Avenue — famous for Sink the Bismarck, the best college drinking game in the world. Not that I would know about that.
We gave Nelson about three months of experience schlepping test cars and racking up track-day miles and driving instruction before we dumped the whole shooting match in his lap. By that, I mean arranging the rental of bucolic GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan; scheduling the twenty-five cars we chose to bring along for the Automobile of the Year and All-Stars evaluation drive; and plotting out three days of track time, driving routes on the rural roads of southwestern Michigan, and videotaping. We also put him in charge of coordinating helmets from Bell, tire support from Tire Rack (our official tire and wheel supplier), meals, and hotel rooms. And, oh, of handling every emergency that popped up along the way to the final votes.
I was afraid that before we even set off for South Haven, I’d have to coax him off the roof of our three-story office building. But no; instead, he became immediate best friends with office manager Jackie Guenther, who cheerfully attached herself to his hip for the month as aide-de-camp.
Did I say that Nelson is twenty-two? Yes, indeed. He is among the six great new guys we hired in the first half of 2011 whose high level of enthusiasm, knowledge, and creativity belies their average age of 22.2 years. In addition to Nelson, the talented Jake Holmes, Donny Nordlicht, and Ben Timmins bolster our web efforts, and the creative Thomas Hang and Sandon Voelker are now part of our art department.
It’s an entirely fresh vibe that vibrates through the offices at the corner of Liberty and Fourth Avenue these days. Same wavelength, different frequency, very fun. My only regret was that web and art duties kept all of them save Nelson and videographer Voelker chained to their computers while the rest of us decamped for South Haven.
The weather was crisp and the rain held off as we took the big guns out on GingerMan’s fine road course, and the precipitation then confined itself to a light mist for our day of driving on the tiny two-lanes that twist through Michigan’s remote blueberry country. No drama. No police actions. No pissed-off locals. No spins. Or crashes or spontaneous bursts of runaway testosterone. From the men, either.
The nomination for our Man of the Year, Peter Schreyer, was brilliantly presented by senior web editor Phil Floraday and the vote was unanimous, an unusual outcome for this group. Robert Cumberford’s case for the Fisker Karma as our Design of the Year (which included his full disclosure that Henrik Fisker was a difficult but seriously good student of his at Art Center in Vevey, Switzerland) also produced a unanimous vote.
Tech of the Year almost came to blows. Never mind about that.
The Automobile of the Year discussion seesawed around the table from Ford Focus to Audi TT RS to Ford Mustang Boss 302 to Audi A7 to Dodge Charger to Hyundai Veloster. You just try putting your head around that. The only reason that the Ferrari 458 Spider wasn’t on the list is because we all agreed that if a Ferrari isn’t fabulous, something is desperately wrong. Then it was down to four finalists: A7, Focus, Veloster, and Charger. And my beloved A7 won.
The All-Stars discussion and vote-by-ballot were as exciting as they always are, with a record forty-seven vehicles from twenty-five brands receiving votes. That represents a lot of desirability out there in the autosphere. Ford, BMW, and Dodge got the most votes. The Honda Odyssey won Japan’s only 2012 All-Star, and nothing from Korea made the top ten, although the fact that more Kias than Hyundais got votes says something about the influence of our Man of the Year.
And for the first time in a long time, 60 percent of my vote counted! I send one last shout-out to the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, the Volkswagen Beetle, the Volvo S60, and the Infiniti QX56 — superstars on my ballot. Love you all.