Editor’s Note: This week, we take a break from the ongoing Sturm und Drang in the business, as Peter gives us a look behind The Autoextremist curtain and what he’s really all about. In On The Table, we preview Emeya, the all-new and all-electric hyper-GT from Lotus. And our AE Song of the Week is “Everlong” by Foo Fighters. In Fumes, Peter continues his story about Jim Hall’s Chaparral Cars racing team. And finally, in The Line we travel back in time to Laguna Seca’s inaugural race on November 9, 1957. Onward. -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. There’s a favorite scene in “Get Shorty” (among many) between Delroy Lindo (as the gangster “Bo Catlett”) and John Travolta (as “Chili Palmer”) when they have a confrontation in a restaurant, with Travolta telling Lindo what he’s going to do to him if he doesn’t get out of his way, whereupon Lindo says threateningly: “You don’t know me, you only think you do.” It was a brief but perfect scene.
I’ve been doing this column for 24-1/2 years now, and many of you (haters and likers alike) think they know me. And to that, I say – echoing Mr. Lindo – you only think you do, which is just fine with me. Some things are better left unsaid, and some things are better left unknown. But as always, I have a few things to say this week, which may just shed a sliver of light as to who I am and what I’m about. Because after all, just how much more can be said about the “Grand Transition,” the UAW, the ICE vs. EV contretemps, and everything else roiling this industry right now?
I still like driving just for the hell of it. Having no particular place to go is therapeutic, and to be able to get lost in your thoughts as the road unfolds before you is still magic for me. I have never grown tired of it, and I don’t think I ever will.
I still like listening to music when I drive, and in fact, the two acts have always been inexorably linked for me. They don’t distract from each other in the least – instead, the whole experience is enhanced. There’s just something about it that allows me to experience the power of an automobile along with the power of musical artistry. It’s like a drug they don’t sell. And that will never get old either.
I still rail against mediocrity… and basically everything, for that matter. I still have the fire within, and I still have a restlessness in my soul that hasn’t abated one iota. This is all still worth doing, because sitting around doing nothing was never going to work for me. I will not go quietly into the night because it’s too boring to contemplate and, in case you were wondering, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I still don’t suffer fools, gladly or otherwise. I’m not a cheerful people person (No, who knew? -WG); I never have been and never will be. In fact, I find that I like animals more than most people. And after 24+ years of doing this, I have become intimately familiar with the drill of being a national columnist, which is, when people agree with me, I’m a hero. And when they don’t, I’m an asshole. It’s just the nature of the game.
As much as I understand that the Internet has allowed Autoextremist.com to thrive, I still despise the rancor, vitriol and pure hatred that exists on the various platforms. It is beyond disheartening and disgusting, and I see no end to it, which is flat-out depressing. I’d like to think that we could all be better and do better, but the longer this goes on the more my hopes for something different continue to fade from view.
I still loathe the ICE vs. EV debate, with extreme views from both sides ultimately contributing nothing positive to the discussion. It is just tedious. I’ve said it countless times, but The Future will be comprised of many different modes of power – ICE, EVs, fuel cells and developments we haven’t even heard of yet. Much to the disappointment of many, there are no ”finger-snaps” available, or a giant switch that can be pulled to make it all instantly happen either. This is going to unfold over decades, and expending furious energy insisting that one way or the other is best at this juncture is a monumental waste of time.
I still marvel at the boatloads of money being expended on autonomous vehicles. It redefines the term “stupid money.” GM is getting hugely burned right now with its investment in Cruise (and deservedly so, I might add). It’s a train going nowhere, and the billions invested in it will never be recovered. Imagine what that money could have been spent on instead.
I still bristle at the popularity of giant pickup trucks and SUVs. The automobile business has always been a faddish-fashion business, but this trend has left me cold from the start. I see people careening around in vehicles big enough to blot out the sun that they can barely park – with the emphasis on barely – so they can conquer the canyons of Costco and the hollers of Home Depot. It’s just so much rolling stupidity. But then again, as Sly Stone once so famously said: “Different strokes for different folks.” He was speaking the High-Octane Truth. And that’s all I have to say about that.
I am still stunned when mainstream journalists attempt to cover this industry. I rail against the journalists who actually cover the auto beat for a living quite often because I hold them to a higher standard, but they’re operating with an impenetrable cloak of credibility compared with the “accidental tourist” writers who are assigned an auto story. Their naiveté is astounding, and their takes are, for the most part, painfully misguided. The latest evidence? The mind-numbing coverage of F1 going on right now, especially with regard to the Las Vegas race. It is beyond stupid and emblematic of everything I’ve just written.
Speaking of F1, it’s no secret to longtime readers that I still absolutely loathe F1. The F1 powers that be are global carpetbagging mercenaries who are experts at extracting as much ca$h as humanly possible from cities, state governments, sponsors – and fans/enthusiasts – who actually think they’re getting something of meaningful value out of it. They’re not, and the joke is on them. Everything about F1 is orchestrated to the nth degree, with its insistence on antiseptic garages and a long list of mandatory requirements, not to mention the insultingly usurious amounts of money it demands before it will even deign to darken a venue’s door, growing more egregious by the year. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the “racing” or lack thereof. The weekends are so predictable that the racing is an afterthought. There is no better example of how technology for technology’s sake results in mind-numbing predictability than F1. The hype for F1 is red-hot right now – Las Vegas is being called a “landmark” event – but they’re not fooling me. It’s just so much unmitigated bullshit, and it’s still the unabashed Greed Circus it has been for the last three decades at least. And thus, it was ever so.
Design still matters, in fact, it matters more than ever right now. I am seeing more creativity in the design space at the moment, and it’s not just limited to the “show pony” exotics either. I’m seeing more mainstream vehicles with a design point of view, which to me is clear evidence that design has taken on an even more crucial role in projecting a brand’s image. The auto companies that understand this will succeed, and, as always, the auto companies that just phone it in when it comes to design will get left in the dust.
Despite all of the negatives going on in this business today, I still believe in the essence of the automobile. Yes, the business itself can be mind-numbingly tedious at times, as I’ve well documented over the years. And it is without question one of the most complicated endeavors on earth, made up of so many nuanced ingredients that it almost defies description. But the creation of machines that are safe, reliable, beautiful to look at, fun to drive, versatile or hard working – depending on the task they’re designed for – is more than just a cold, calculated business. It is and has been an industrial art form that has come to define who we are collectively.
The automobile obviously still means more to me than it does for most. I grew up immersed in this business, and the passionate endeavor surrounding the creation of automotive art has never stopped being interesting for me. And it is very much art, by the way. Emotionally involving and undeniably compelling mechanical art that not only takes us where we want to go but moves us in ways that still touch our souls deeply. As I have reminded everyone often in writing this column, I for one will never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams.
And finally, I’m still hungry. I still want more from this business because I believe it is always capable of more. We’re on the precipice of monster changes in this industry, and I expect that some legacy companies will not exist in their current form within five years. Again, constant change is the nature of the game.
And I still believe in the True Believers. I believe in their vision, their dedication and their endless capacity to dream of what could be, because without them this business would cease being viable.
And for the record I’m still here, much to the chagrin – or delight – of people, depending on their frame of reference.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Editor’s Note: Click on “Next 1 Entries” at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. – WG