Welcoming 2008 with a Bang

Vile Gossip

AUTUMN THAT FALLS IN odd-numbered years are always a bitch, just because the two most important auto shows in the world happen then. Most of our writers headed to Frankfurt last September, then went halfway around the world in the other direction to hit Tokyo a month later. The brain doesn’t like that much time-zone hopping in two months. Neither does our managing editor, Amy Skogstrom, who presides over the resulting crush of late-breaking stories, frantic calls to photographers looking for missing photographs, flimsy excuses for missed deadlines, and long nights trying to get both our last issue and the issue you’re now holding sent off to the printer.

Perhaps it was inconsiderate of me to throw in a complete redesign of the magazine, a brand-new Web site design, a musical-chairs reorganization of the office space, and an entirely different art department with a new way of looking at our world. I think she might no longer hate my guts. (I’m not exaggerating. She actually said to me, “I hate your guts!,” but maybe without an exclamation point.) Anyhow, she plans to recuperate in Thailand for ten days.

So, right before the place emptied out for Tokyo, we put the phone on night-ring for a few days and decamped to the heart of Ohio for our annual All-Stars and Automobile of the Year festival of speed and bad eating.

Conventional wisdom may have you wondering how terrifying it must have been for us to be blasting around the Dark State in cars so powerfully evil that they shuck entire fields of corn as they blow by. I mean, what with the wall-to-wall troopers and all, right? Wrong. First off, we ain’t shucking you when we say we left the testosterone parked and tried to drive like the reasonable humans we really are. Second, the last we looked, Michigan is the Midwest’s newest Police State (when the state government isn’t in mortal danger of going bankrupt, that is), with the biggest concentration clustered in a tight ring around Ann Arbor. Nothing to do with the two national enthusiast car magazines quartered therein, I’m sure.

Plus, we had a few newbies along, and we didn’t need them to run screaming from the magazine after a little ride-along. No problems for our stalwart, perennially cheerful receptionist, Keynosha Griffin. She had already established her high-speed sea legs (and learned to drive a stick to boot) at our in-house driving school last summer, so she was firmly embedded in a lead car as navigator. Jackie Guenther, our new executive assistant, was a little more, shall we say, “startled” by just how fast a car will go on a two-lane without flying through the air and bursting into flames. To her credit, she stayed out of the footwell – and laughed like a crazy woman (an endearing trait we have noticed around the office) for most of the exercise.

New creative director Darin Johnson is an Automobile Magazine art department old pro, having returned to our fold after a short hiatus during which he designed rowdy upstart MPH, which bit the dust in 2006 after about sixteen issues. He’s still the great wheelman we remembered. Johnson’s superstar number two at MPH, our new design director, Nate Schroeder, was a bit less sanguine in his right-side navigational post, but his discomfort may have had more to do with a lack of Dramamine than lack of steely nerve. In any case, he showed up for work afterward, so there was no lasting side effect from his indoctrination. (I just asked him, and he admitted that he was “utterly petrified.” Huh. Go figure.)

As always, the ten All-Stars we’ve arrayed across sixteen pages within are but the tip of the iceberg of cars we love dearly. More than three times as many cars got votes, although some of those votes were apparently cast by people who had gone temporarily insane. You know I’m right. Just go to automobilemag.com and read the impassioned accounts defending All-Star choices that didn’t make it. We’ll see who’s brave enough to admit to that Toyota Tundra vote.

We’re saving the Automobile of the Year announcement for next month, which means you get to guess what it is by its lack of inclusion in this august group. No clues.

Truth in Law-Breaking: No speeding tickets were accumulated in the quest of this year’s slate of All-Stars. It was afterward, on the way home, when one of us, feeling lucky that he’d scored the emerald green, megaspoilered Porsche 911 GT3 RS, attracted the attention of a bored Ohio trooper at the US-23/I-75 split and took one for the team for going 76 mph in a 65.

I take back what I said about Ohio.

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