It was another action-packed year for the AUTOMOBILE crew, living our “No Boring Cars” slogan to its fullest. From driving a Nissan GT-R through Alberta, to seeing Mad Max: Fury Road in a Bentley at a Detroit drive-in, to taking turns with the Corvette Z06 and McLaren 650S chewing up California mountain roads, we covered a lot of ground in 2015. It wasn’t all rosy though, of course. At least one of us had to deal with furious friends who bought Volkswagen TDIs on our recommendation. Here are our staff’s high and low points for 2015.
Rory Jurnecka, Features Editor
HIGH: Driving to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in a fleet of classic Lancia rally cars owned by car nut John Campion. To finally drive a Lancia Stratos (let alone a Grp. V ex-Monte Carlo Rally version) was a childhood dream come true.
LOW: Also at the Amelia Island Concours, setting out under cloudy skies in the 725-hp Galpin-Fisker Rocket only to be met with a torrential downpour the entire drive. Photographer John Lamm (and his camera) was soaked getting these shots.
Sandon Voelker, Videographer
HIGH: The smell of diesel and the sound of crunching metal as Scott Burgess piloted Larry, a 60-ton Chieftain MK10 main battle tank, directly over what was once a Pontiac Grand Prix. No time to dig a foxhole I sat just a few feet away and operated my camera as the car popped like a soda bottle and rained bits of glass and shrapnel down all around me.
LOW: Immediately after getting the real rally co-driver experience riding shotgun with Andrew Comrie-Picard as he tossed his Fiesta ST rally car about on the snowy back roads of Missouri I got the real rally fan experience. Somewhere in the woods off a dirt road we stood in the cold as snow fell and we waited with angst to film rally cars ripping through the fresh powder. The snow continued to fall and we continued to wait. For hours we attempted to keep our cameras and ourselves warm, but the cars never came. This stage of the 100-Acre Wood Rally ended up being canceled, as the necessary emergency vehicles were too busy tending to traffic accidents that resulted from the tremendous snowfall.
Mac Morrison, Executive Editor
HIGH: Discovering firsthand what the building fuss about Singer Vehicle Design is all about. As spectacular as these remastered Porsche 911s appear in photos and videos, as intriguing as spec and build sheets appear on paper, there is no—ahem—substitute for ingesting the sounds, smells, and feel of such mechanical and aesthetic wonderment. Even more comforting is the fact Singer creates these analog driving tools in the booming age of overwrought digital performance.
LOW: Justin Wilson’s death during the Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono in August. Many miss one of the sport’s and life’s kindest men.
Jake Holmes, Daily News Editor
HIGH: In October, I picked up our new (like, 300 miles on the odometer new) Four Seasons Miata at our L.A. office, lowered the roof, and drove north to Monterey. I had so much fun soaking up the sun and getting to grips with the roadster that I didn’t even turn on the radio. Two days later, Mike Floyd and I convoyed back from Monterey to L.A. the long way round, taking the Miata and our Four Seasons GTI to explore some of the twistiest and most scenic two-lanes around. Pure joy.
LOW: The Land Rover Discovery Sport is marketed as a tough off-roader, so I picked it for a guys’ camping trip to the wilds of Michigan. Less than three hours from home, our rough-and-tumble vacation ride was sidelined by a flat tire from a nail picked up in a Qdoba parking lot.
Chris Nelson, Senior Editor
I look back at this year and see only one low: the loss of my dad. Truth is, though, that 2015 has been one of most exciting ayears of my life. I attended Goodwood Revival, took a Rolls-Royce to Outside Lands music festival, and drove Subarus around Japan and Aston Martins around England. But the two highest highs of my year had to be driving across the country with my brother, Jon, in an Alfa Romeo 4C coupe and spending time with my mom in a Mazda MX-5 Miata. I wouldn’t have been able to deal with my dad’s death without those two.
Ronald Ahrens, Contributing Writer
HIGH: My Uncle Chuck Tillotson came of age in the early 1950s, when every red-blooded American boy was car crazy. Even in his ninth decade, he still is, so it was a special delight to go to his car club’s annual show last Memorial Day weekend in Fallbrook, California. Old Volvos, a pair of Crosleys, rat rods, De Tomaso Panteras: I love the mishmash of a local show, and my uncle is a great guy.
LOW: It was painful to go last February to the Thermal Club, near Palm Springs, for a Petersen Museum benefit that featured Danny Sullivan without being able to ride around the track with him in Ol’ Yaller Mark III. The 1985 Indy 500 champ was devoting himself to big-spenders who’d ponied up for that experience in the sports-racing car. At least we reporters got a free dinner.
John Lamm, Contributing Writer/Photographer
HIGH: Let me cheat and offer my plural “highs.” First is a 120-mph ride around the Isle of Man circuit in a Subaru WRX STI with rally driver Mark Higgins. Second is discovering my 11-year-old grandson Casey is as nuts about cars as he is about baseball. His dad took him to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and Pebble Beach Concours, where he met Lady Susie and Sir Stirling Moss.
LOW: The passing of one of the greats, Denise McCluggage. Imagine this “little old gray-haired lady” whips past a cop while going well over 100 in a big Mercedes. When the cop stops her, she scrunches down, tries to look still older and asks if he saw the car that looks just like hers and passed her going sooo fast. The cop bought it.
Conner Golden, Daily News Editor
HIGH: Late this summer, I spent a 1,300-mile weekend in a 2015 Dodge Viper GT, exploring the plentiful mid-Ohio backroads. The car was brutal and probably a little too fast for the sublime Ohio St. Rt. 26, but the scenery was fantastic and I’ll always remember it.
LOW: Forever the Corvette apologist, my inner ‘Vette fanboy took a gut-punch when I was left stranded by a base 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible with just 7,000 miles on the clock. The culprit? A valve spring on the fifth cylinder had called it quits, sending to car on a flatbed off to GM’s tech center in Warren. Weiner even spotted it en route the next day.
Joey Capparella, Daily News Editor
HIGH: Driving a 2005 Ford GT on the gorgeous Highway 141 through the canyons of Western Colorado as part of the Gateway Canyons Resort’s exotic car rental service.
Kara Snow, Copy Editor
HIGH: By day, mild-mannered copy editor. By night — for one week this year – I had the power to transform unruly L.A. drivers into perfectly behaved law-abiders who would never dream of touching their cell phones while piloting a vehicle. My power was bestowed by the loan of a black-and-white Dodge Charger Police Pursuit vehicle with working lights and siren (which I never tested, of course, not even in my closed garage). If only we could all drive cop cars. Nothing bad could come of that. Right?
LOW: Some cars are so endearing, we develop a strong affinity for them, as was the case with our Four Seasons 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C in sexy Rosso red. I named her Sofia, caressed her dashboard as she prowled the streets of Los Angeles, and paraded her around to countless Cars & Coffee and other parking lot gatherings. Her mishap at the hands of a wayward Honda Civic – and immediate return to her maker – caused me considerable sadness, maybe even a tear or two.
Eric Weiner, Daily News Editor
HIGH: The odd sensation of drifting around and around and around with the odd stillness of the Swedish hills in the distance. Rory Jurnecka, then writing for Motor Trend, was by my side in the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S we were winter testing on a former Swedish airfield. Laughing our heads off, we took turns twisting the steering wheel and matting the throttle to will the uber-SUV into icy donuts, sending puffs of white powder off into the tundra. Rinse and repeat for maximum enjoyment.
LOW: Last year, my Low was the rancid stink of myself and another auto journalist after hypermiling the Audi A3 TDI through the desert without A/C. This year, it’s realizing that entire ordeal was total bullshit. That diesel engine was cheating on emissions the whole time. I burned those damn clothes for nothing!
Todd Lassa, Detroit Bureau Chief
HIGH/LOW: Invasion of the Human Drivers: Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) was a sci-fi allegory. Ostensibly the story of aliens sucking the brains and soul out of earthlings and replacing them with their emotionless selves, it was, like George Orwell’s “1984,” considered either an indictment of Soviet Communism or of banal suburban Eisenhower-era consumerism, depending on one’s point of view. That’s how I felt about my sci-fi ride in a Google autonomous Lexus RX 400h, in Silicon Valley last April. On one hand, it felt like the solution to bad drivers who spend their entire commutes on their smartphones, and the accidents they cause. On the other, it was the beginning of the end of driving as we know it; the simple pleasure of getting behind the wheel and taking responsibility for one’s skills and actions. It was both the highlight and the lowlight of my automotive life in 2015.
LOW: On the other hand: I never figured out whether I had fully turned off the traction and stability control in the European-spec ND Mazda MX-5 Miata I drove a month or two earlier than my Google ride. It doesn’t matter; I was able to get the tail loose enough to know I was actually driving the car. Most everything about the fourth-generation Miata is much like the first three, dynamically speaking. And the most reassuring thing, beside the honest-to-goodness three-pedal six-speed manual at my left hand (it was a RHD car) is that there is still no multi-setting driver dynamic control. Just get in the damn sports car and drive. Chassis setups are for engineers, not the owners.
Mike Floyd, Editor in Chief
HIGH: I’d say it was a tie between taking a lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe during the 24 Hours of Le Mans weekend in an Audi RS 3 and bombing down Highway 1 in a Mercedes-AMG GT S at the crack of dawn, fog heavy, but the road largely clear. Two once in a lifetime experiences that I’ll remember forever treasure in my memory. These are the kind of experiences that we live for in this business, and I was happy to be able to share them with our readers and humbled and honored to have the opportunity to do so.
LOW: I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but the VW “dieselgate” scandal was a real lowlight for me. Many of us loved the kind of experience a diesel-powered car offers, and we were seduced by the high mileage, the range and other benefits. But I was reminded recently by Jamie Kitman that in the end, a fossil fuel like diesel was never going to be the answer to cutting our reliance on fossil fuels, because, well duh, it’s a fossil fuel. I’m also disappointed we didn’t ask some harder questions, me included, along the way. Additionally, a lot of good people I know in the business were dragged through the mud through no fault of their own; a guilt by association scenario.