IMDB.com, credit and fame meters

February 28, 2008

My life is complete now. I now can be found on Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) as an actual contributor to film/television.

I feel like Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) in “The Jerk”. “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!…Page 73 – Johnson, Navin R.! I’m somebody now!”

Last year I received an email from writer/producer Lee Goldberg indicating he was in the process of writing a movie-length television pilot called “Fast Track: No Limits”. Lee is one of television’s elite writers with credits ranging from “Spenser for Hire”, “Hunter” and “Cosby Mysteries” to the first season of “Baywatch”. (Baywatch wasn’t a particularly tough gig, seeing that “hot girl in bikini walks by” often sufficed for script content.) Lee is actually best known for producing Diagnosis Murder, which makes him a celebrity in retirement communities from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale. He is also a respected mystery writer with numerous books to his credit.

“Fast Track: No Limits” was designed to be car-action-centric and focused plot-wise around an American girl running a mechanics shop in Germany (where the pilot was based, filmed and destined for broadcast on an English-language network.) Lee needed a car guy to assist with ensuring the movie was realistic and factually correct. Although I give him credit for owning a Miata, Lee would never be mistaken for a car crazy enthusiast.

This is where I came in. I enjoyed giving input about the cars specific characters should drive, what technical problems could plague cars, and what (based on Lee’s fabulous character development) the solutions/responses might be.

My work…if you can call it work…earned me a credit for Technical Consultant. I would have loved to get a chance to drive the cars, but an amazing group of stunt professionals were called-in to perform the jaw-dropping race scenes. Still, just to get the call to help on the production and an official credit in the movie, I’m tickled as pink as Suki’s Mitsubishi Eclipse in “2 Fast 2 Furious”.

It’s not that it’s my first time working on a television or movie project. I wrote my first television advertisement script at the age of 11 (with classmate, Kevin Bleyer, who is an Emmy Award-winning writer for “The Daily Show”.) This ad for the Diabetes Bike-A-Thon ran for several weeks in the Seattle market. (I’ve also written and performed the voice recordings for dozens of radio advertisements.)

A couple years ago, I was honored to get the opportunity to help out Jay Rowlands, the great director/star/writer of the vintage car racing film “Clutch”, which will be released in 2008. My capacity was more of a business and marketing consultant, offering ideas for distribution, co-marketing, licensing, PR, and funding.

All of my past work in non-print media, however, has been uncredited in the eyes of the Internet. Now I have an IMDB page dedicated to my tiny, yet everlasting entertainment legacy. Heck, there’s even the IMDB “Starmeter”, which indicates my star stock is down 67% this week…probably because “Fast Track: No Limits” ran last week on German television, and this week I’ve done nothing to keep up my stardom. I need to find another movie or television project to prevent me from falling into last place on IMDB’s ratings. I’m not sure who is in last place right now, but I’m guessing it is on the level of some guy who got coffee during the taping of “Love Boat”.

Actually, I heard “Fast Track: No Limits” has just been released on DVD in Spain…so I suppose I can now officially say “I’m big in Europe”.

If I want to retain my fame (which IMDB indicates is fleeting), I’ll need to get working. Maybe I’ll adapt “Sam Barer’s Four Wheel Drift” for the screen…or a television reality show…

Advertisements

Worthless Press Release of the Day

February 24, 2008

BMW sent this press release:

“CAMERON DIAZ SET TO RIDE IN THE BMW HYDROGEN 7 TO THE 2008 OSCAR AWARDS CEREMONY Hollywood, CA – February 22, 2008… Demonstrating her continued dedication to the exploration of environmentally sustainable energies, Cameron Diaz will be traveling to the 80th Annual Academy Awards ceremony in the BMW Hydrogen 7 Series. The BMW H7 is the first hydrogen-powered luxury sedan, which emits almost nothing but water vapor, and still features all the amenities and comfort of a BMW 7 Series.”

When a company attempts to spotlight a product by highlighting a “yesterday’s celebrity” whose best past decision-making yielded a creepy long-term romance with Justin Timberlake, a few employees in the PR and Marketing departments need to be shown the door.


Washington State’s vehicle displacement tax bill irks just about everyone

February 22, 2008

There has been quite a bit of uproar about Washington State Senate Bill 6900, which intends to create licensing fee increases for vehicles based on engine displacement. The goal, evidently, was to penalize fuel consumption and do more towards energy independence.

The fearmail going around indicates that SB6900 (courtesy of logic-challenged Rodney Tom, who represents the 48th District, including Medina, Clyde Hill and parts of Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland) would impose fees as such: Up to 1.9 liters $0, 2.0 – 2.9 $70, 3.0 – 3.9 $225, 4.0 – 4.9 $275, 5.0 – 5.9 $325, 6.0 – 7.9 $400, 8.0 or over $600. Natually, all the people with V6 Hondas and Toyotas are seeing that $225 green tax and seeing red.

Liberal Democrats and hard-line conservative Republicans are both screaming about this bill, which during my time as a Legislative Correspondent in the US House of Representatives I learned is usually a good indication that it has no future. Indeed, when I first heard about this bill many weeks ago, the commentary was already in that this bill was essentially dead on arrival.

It should come as no surprise to anyone with any slight understanding of automotive technology that fuel economy has very little to do with displacement – or even horsepower, for that matter. Case and point, despite a 348-cubic-inch (5.7-liter) V8 producing 350 horsepower, my 2002 Corvette gets 36 mpg on the freeway, far better than the 1986 2.2-liter Dodge Convertible I also enjoy. Credit goes to the Corvette’s fuel management programming, low weight, tall gearing, and impressive coefficient of drag. Conversely, many low-displacement six-cylinder and four-cylinder cars utilize shorter gearing to overcome much higher weight and nastier aerodynamics.

Displacement taxes are nothing new. Italy’s monumental displacement taxes prompted Ferrari to produce smaller-engined cars for the home market, since even the uber-rich couldn’t afford cars with more than two liters. So when the rest of the world enjoyed the 308, Italians made due with the anemic 208, which in real-world driving simply wasn’t any more fuel efficient.

Unfortunately, there’s another bill making its way though the State Legislature that has a much higher likelihood of success. This one imposes licensing fees based on EPA mileage ratings. This is also fairly moronic, since the EPA estimates reflect a single test loop, and as the commercials say “your mileage may vary.” For instance, the same Corvette that delivers 36 mpg (top up, headlights down and in 6th gear) on I5 between Olympia and Seattle (a hilly 60 mph run of 60-some miles) carried an EPA estimate for freeway economy at just 29 mpg when new. The EPA rating also changed a couple years ago, so this car would probably get a 2-4 mpg lower rating under the new methodology.

The EPA states that the estimates are just that: “estimates”, so why tax someone based on something fictional? Furthermore, a car uses no fuel when parked, so using logic, it would make no sense to tax someone with eight vehicles traveling 15,000 miles total each year more than a single car owner who travels 50,000 miles per year – at least if the goal is to reduce dependence on oil. No matter how many vehicles one person owns, they can only drive one vehicle at a time…unless of course you own two King Midgets, which you can strap to your feet and ride like roller skates.

The only real solution for penalizing people for driving inefficient vehicles is a gas tax. This ensures only charging for use Taxing a car for a license is fine, but I know people with 30 cars who use less gas in a year than most single vehicle owners. Driving uses fossil fuels, not sitting in a garage.

People can debate the validity of a fuel tax in making people drive less until they are blue in the face. Whether taxing now to fund mass transit, or waiting until the cost goes up due to higher demand with shrinking supply, either will make people drive less. At least paying for the fuel one uses is a fairer system…you pay for what you use.


Presidential Automotive Trivia

February 15, 2008

As we roll into Presidents Day weekend, it seems apropos to mention a few pieces of Presidential automotive trivia. These are the types of tidbits that are completely useless except for someday providing the possibility of winning a free beer from your friends.

The first automaker to transport a US President was Studebaker. Before Studebaker made cars and trucks, it was a manufacturer of high-end coaches, which were the choice of Presidents as far back as Lincoln.

The first US President to ride in a car was William “Tons of Fun” Taft in 1909. Taft was extremely interested in cars, probably more than any other Commander In Chief since. He arranged to have the White House stables converted to a four car garage and ordered two 1909 Pierce Arrows to become the first White House automobiles.

Probably the most famous Presidential vehicle was Kennedy’s 1961 Lincoln Continental X-100 limo. It was customized by coachbuilder Hess & Eisenhardt at a cost of nearly $200,000. While it was a convertible, the car featured a removable clear bubble hardtop. After Kennedy was assassinated, the vehicle returned to Hess & Eisenhardt for what was referred to as the “1963-1964 Quick Fix”, which fully enclosed the car. This vehicle returned to Presidential service for LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. It was retired in 1977.

And though current President George W. Bush is usually seen in his Caddy limo or good ol’ boy Ford truck at his ranch, in his younger days of beer drinking and hell raising, he was notorious for ripping up Houston streets in a Triumph TR3.


GM’s turn-around strategy delivers “record” results

February 12, 2008

General Motors reported 2007 financial numbers this morning. We are pleased to pass along the news that GM’s newest corporate-wide strategy to move forward has produced record results.

Unfortunately, the record isn’t something to brag about: a $38.7 billion loss, or $68.45 per diluted share, compared to a reported loss of $2 billion, or $3.50 per diluted share in 2006. That $38.7 billion loss is the largest ever for an American automotive manufacturer. Good job guys! If you’re not going to be good, at least be bad enough to set some type of milestone.

Other journalists are trying to sugarcoat it, indicating that the huge loss included “special items”, such as the sale of 51-percent of GMAC in 2006. Without these special items, the loss was just $23 million, or four cents per diluted share. GM’s release also noted that its core automotive business generated record revenue of $178 billion in 2007 (a $7 billion improvement over 2006) and its total corporate-wide revenue was $181 billion, (down $25 billion from 2006.)

Let’s be clear here…there are always special items to report. GM is constantly buying and selling business units, opening and closing plants, reorganizing financial entities, and negotiating contract buyouts.

Case and point, GM offered early retirement buyout options for 74,000 union workers. This will go on future financial statements as a special item. Next year two or three other major special items will appear.

GM CEO Rick Wagoner said “Our North America turnaround remains on track despite the weak U.S. economy and continued high commodity prices.”

We all understand that the room gets messier before it gets clean, but Wall Street and the public at-large were not expecting the room would look like a tornado hit it when things were supposed to be going back into closets and shelves.

Wagoner better start making real progress cleaning up GM’s crap very soon, or someone else will be tasked with putting operations, as well as special items, back into order.


Picking the Best Example From Each Automaker

February 4, 2008

Here’s an interesting exercise: imagine a genie offered you the opportunity to pick a single example from each current automotive manufacturer. If the goal was to pick the model which best represented every company’s high watermark (weighing facts like sales, performance, quality, marketing value compared to contemporaries instead of relying on nostalgia), what would you take?

Figure the genie also promises to provide ample warehouse space, but no mechanics or extra money to maintain your selections. You can pick new, used or classic, and all examples will be in perfect condition. Selections must be production vehicles, not concepts. Finally, no hot rods or customs, which means a Model A would not be a high-boy and a ’49 Merc would come without a chop.

What this exercise accomplishes is to identify if automakers are indeed producing their best work now or sometime in the past.

Here are my selections with reasons:

Acura – 2004 NSX: Without a doubt, the NSX is the most indestructible supercar ever produced. While the cabin is a wee tight for a person of my 6’4” height, the screaming V6, sublime gearbox and communicative steering more than offset the need to use a shoehorn for getting in.

Aston Martin – 2008 DB9: Quite frankly, just about every Aston Martin has been a fantastic GT. Cars after the DB4GT, however, were too heavy to be competitive against its peers in anything except for luxury and beauty. The DB9, however, delivers looks and V12 performance of the highest levels…and most importantly, doesn’t give the driver the feeling of a car that will be out of its element when the road starts to turn sharply.

Audi – 2008 R8: After my family owned an early 5000S, I’d be reluctant to ever own another Audi. I was actually a fan of the first Quattro Coupes, as well as the not-for-USA initial RS6. In recent years I’ve taken more of a liking to the S4 I suppose, though, that the marque’s best work of all time is the newest R8. It might hit the market with a diesel engine in a year or two, making it the best performing oil burner ever. I’m still warming to the R8’s looks (I’ll never warm to its six-figure price), but there’s little doubt the car is a winner.

Bentley – 1929 Speed Six Le Mans: Please don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love the current Continental GT, but the Speed Six with Le Mans touring bodies were among the most macho, muscular, fast, brutish sporting machines of their day. Any 1929 car that can hold its own in modern freeway traffic is great in my book. Sure there’s the heavy steering, inadequate brakes and outboard gear lever requiring a shot of human growth hormone to operate, but that’s all a part of the charm.

BMW — 2008 750Li: I know, all the M-series fanatics are screaming “what are you smoking???” As much as I love M3 and M5 cars, as well as the new 335i convertible, I still consider the V8-powered long-wheelbase 7-Series sedan the best road-trip car on the planet. Comfort, luxury, power, handling, space…like JC Penny’s “it’s all inside.”

Buick — 1953 Skylark: I’m a Buick guy. I was brought home from the hospital in a Buick Special convertible. My first car in high school was my mom’s LeSabre. The Buick brand offers absolutely nothing for car people, unless, of course, you live in China, where there are some sexy sedans. Some might say an ’87 GNX (lousy car aside from straight-line quarter-mile acceleration), or ’63 Riviera (no convertible option), but I love the high-end look and sleek drop-top lines of the original ’53 Skylark.

Cadillac – 1933 V16 All-Weather Phaeton: Since the likes of Packard and Duesenberg aren’t available to my list, Caddy provides the perfect opportunity to show that the Classic Era produced unmatched luxury. In the 1930s, Cadillac was “The Standard of the World”, something that even the interesting new CTS cannot say without making BMW laugh. When Caddy released the 452-cubic inch V16, however, it was unmatched. Call it restrained opulence, if there ever was such a thing. The engine wasn’t much to look at, with its very clean valve covers and ancillaries. The mill, however, was a torque monster capable of pulling the heaviest of bodies to highway speeds quickly. My personal favorite is the Fleetwood-bodied All-Weather Phaeton, which illustrates what glamorous travel was like in the day.
Even in the 1950 and 1960s, Cadillac never again achieved the level of quality, luxury and image as in 1933.

Chevrolet – 2009 Corvette ZR1: It’s simple to pick a Corvette, with this car being the brand’s halo, but there might be some debate about which one. Don’t tell me about ’67 L88s or ’69 ZL1s, because the 2009 ZR1 will absolutely destroy these cars at three-quarters throttle…all which delivering better fuel economy, comfort, and most of all, reliability. The ZL1 and L88 427 cubic-inch V8s couldn’t idle below 1800 rpms. On the other hand, the LS9-equipped ZR1 is capable of being a great daily driver, as well as weekend racer. And yes, I know it actually isn’t “out yet”, but cars will be ready soon.

Chrysler – 1957 300C Convertible: Some of Chrysler’s best work came in the Classic Era, when it produced its Imperial line to compete against Packard, Cadillac and others. Since the Imperial was coachbuilt, though, its styling was beautiful, but not unique. To get traffic-stopping looks, world-beating performance and jealousy-inducing elegance all in one package, only the 1957 300C convertible will do. Beautiful and wild Virgil Exner styling and “Baby Hemi” power (including the optional hi-po 10:1 compression 390-hp version) made the 1957 Chrysler 300C the ultimate banker’s hot rod. The nearly identical 300D might be rarer (191 convertibles compared to the 484 300C drop-tops), but the changes included tail light styling that wasn’t as clean, and a hi-po option that switched to using a fuel injection system that was possibly the most troublesome FI unit ever produced.

Dodge – 2008 Viper SRT-10 Coupe: More horsepower than any Hemi, plus great handling. It’s the best, meanest, coolest Dodge ever.

Ferrari – Enzo Ferrari: With so many amazing sports cars in the company’s history, it’s tough to identify the best. What the early cars lack in modern performance capabilities, they make up with sex appeal. Some of the current offerings don’t deliver the connection between driver and car. I drove the 599GTB Fiorano and it’s 3.56 0-60 mph run was less exhilarating than a 4.6 second run in my old ’69 Corvette. Luckily, the Enzo supercar delivers the best performance of any Ferrari in history, while maintaining a good “seat-of-the-pants” feel. When my brother was treated to a 0-120-0 test in an Enzo, all he could say was “oh my god!” The Enzo isn’t the prettiest creation from Maranello, but it is certainly an incredible statement of function over form.

Ford – 1912 Model T: The original GT40 was Ford’s best sports car on the international stage, but most of the credit goes to English Lola. Then the GT tribute car came out a few years ago. Anyone familiar with my work knows I’m not a retro type of guy, but the Ford GT40 was such a timeless design, that simply by increasing the size, making subtle changes and changing everything underneath, the GT wound up a totally modern car by all standards. Performance in the Ford GT is unmatched by any Ford of the past, quality is high, comfort is exceptional, and fine details (such as machined toggle switches) show what the Blue Oval can do when it cares. So why do I pick the Model T as Ford’s high watermark? Simple, it was the most dominant Ford ever in terms of market share due to the vehicle’s quality, design, price, and performance. All too often people discount the level of competition in the marketplace in this era. There were far more automakers in the Model T era than in 2008!

GMC – 2008 Sierra 1500: It’s not sexy, but it’s GMC’s best all-purpose workhorse yet.

Honda – S2000: I’ll actually state that I was really torn between the S2000 and the Odyssey. Stop laughing – if you can find a better family hauler than the newest Odyssey minivan in the history of the universe, I’ll eat my hat. While the Odyssey delivers space, comfort, great pep and handling, and good economy, the S2000 simply ups the ante by offering a screaming fun vehicle. Think Lotus with Honda reliability. There’s simply nothing like life at 8500 rpms.

HUMMER – H1: The H2 and H3 are poorly-built image vehicles for people who think that adding plastic to standard GM SUV platforms somehow makes them cool or bad. On the other hand, the H1 was a highly capable, no excuses go-anywhere with room for its width truck. If the end of the world comes, a good diesel H1 isn’t a bad choice in which to navigate the carnage.

Hyundai — Tiburon: Ferrari 550-inspired lines in a cheap GT car. Nothing from Hyundai is great, but the Tiburon is its best creation to date. The company will release a V8-powered large sedan to compete against the Avalon and entry-level luxury cars next year, so that vehicle will certainly displace the Tiburon on this list…but then there’s also a new V8 RWD Tiburon to compete against Mustang on the horizon, as well.

Infiniti — M45: A great mid-size sedan with ample power, handling, luxury, and sweet looks. It’s also a great bargain compared to its contemporaries. I just wish it was larger, because it’s just a tad too small for a tall adult driver to haul three other people in comfort.


Jaguar – 2008 Jaguar XJ Super V8:
Combining the long-wheelbase XJ platform, Vanden Plas luxury and the supercharged 4.2-liter 400-hp V8 is a recipe for a great touring vehicle. The fact that it also outhandles and out accelerates an XKSS (and its lesser XK120/140/150 siblings, as well as E-Types of six and twelve cylinders) is simply gravy. Despite continued crappy quality, the newest Jags are better than those of the past with livable glitches and much improved ergonomics. If only someone would train the dealer networks, because Jaguar dealerships remain among the least competent at providing service.

Jeep — 2008 Grand Cherokee: Jeeps might be “Trail Rated”, but they rate poorly on quality, economy, interior size and overall ergonomics. If I was forced to take a Jeep, it would be the Grand Cherokee. In offroad tests, I’ve found the Grand Cherokee to be far more capable in most situations than the Wrangler, due to being much less bouncy. Plus the Wrangler’s driving position is like a medieval torture device.

Kia – 2008 Sedona: Gee Mom, do I have to drive a Kia? I suppose the Sedona is a minivan I could beat the crap out of without feeling bad.

Lamborghini – 2008 Murcielago LP640 Convertible: Trust me, I really, really, really want to say Miura. I’ve driven a 100-pt Concorso Italiano winning ’67 Miura, and it was a full-body experience. In my opinion, no other car in history has ever looked so impressive and turned so many heads when new, as well as when the years went by. Aside from looks, the 2008 Murcielago Convertible is a better car. It goes faster, has more secure handling, sounds just as good, is more comfortable to drive (although few actually realize the Miura actually has a very comfortable seat and ample legroom for the passenger!) Unlike the Miura, the new Raging Bulls are extremely reliable, courtesy of the Audi ownership.

Land Rover – 2008 Range Rover: If I ever need to get to the top of the mountain, the Range Rover is the vehicle in which I want to do it. I do have my reservations about the pick, though, as a good 1967-ish Land Rover is a heck of lot less likely to suffer a trip-ending electronic problem or mechanical break down. If you understand SU carburetors and the ultra-simple Lucas electrical system, nothing short of a lack of fuel can stop an old LR. I suppose, though, that the new Range Rover’s power, performance, braking, stability control, etc.. offset the fact that they are among the least reliable vehicles made during the last decade.

Lexus – 2008 LS 600h: Hybrids don’t really do it for me, but in the case of the Lexus LS series, the 600h offers more performance and better fuel economy than the standard gas-only 460. Either one is the best car ever offered by Toyota’s luxury brand. Even sports car enthusiasts need a car that they can hop into from time to time to go down the road without effort or noise. The LS 600h is a high-end living room on wheels.

Lincoln – 1964 Continental Convertible: Lincoln has been a miserable brand for the better part of the last three decades. Back in the 1960s, Lincoln was still considered one of the marques in the world, and one of the reasons was the Continental Convertible. With its suicide door configuration and opulent seating for five (or six in a pinch,) the ’64 offered the best combination of styling, wheelbase, engine power, and chassis improvements. Those questioning why I would pick a ’64 over a MKII from ’57, there are two simple reasons: 1) It was never offered in a convertible (despite plans to do so and a single prototype) and 2)it technically wasn’t a “Lincoln”, rather a “Continental” brand with MKII as the model.

Lotus – 2008 Elise: All the weight-saving no-frills formula of the Elite, Elan and Europa with construction enabling the cars to stay together for more than a year. It is amazing to look at the horrible build quality on a S1 Elan and realize people paid nearly the cost of an E-Type to buy one. The Elise is the perfect third car – wonderful on the track, winding back country roads and anywhere one can toss it around…but miserable as a car you have to drive every day.

Maserati – 2008 Quattroporte: We’re talking about the only Maser that has ever really had mainstream appeal. While the 3500, Mistral, Ghibli, and Bora were gorgeous vehicles, they were painfully under-developed. The Quattroporte actually has shown to be very reliable in daily use, which is fantastic, given that the car is one of the great performance tourers offered today.

Maybach – 2008 62: For a base price of around $385,000, you get a limo-sized vehicle that goes 0-60 mph faster than many GTs, plus offers a more comfortable place in which to hang out than most living rooms. The Maybach line isn’t selling nearly as well as Mercedes had hoped, but at least it has replaced Rolls-Royce as the best choice for old-school rich people who can afford to wipe their tushies with $100 bills.

Mazda – 1995 RX7: What a beautiful car! Great performance and handling (courtesy of springs so stiff that a three minute ride adequately mixes a standard can of paint.) The original Wankel-powered Cosmo was a luxury GT ground-breaker, the Mazdaspeed3 is a great little pocket-rocket, and the Miata continues to define roadsters, but the RX7 still stands as the company’s best work. If only apex seals didn’t wear so quickly!

Mercedes-Benz — 2008 SLR McLaren: Mercedes once made some sexy cars, including the pre-war 540K, the 300SL Gullwing, and the 300SL roadster that followed. Starting in the 1960s, the company moved towards heavier, more depressing cars. In the last decades most of the company’s cars have done little to raise my pulse. Finally the SL65 AMG came out, showing that a comfortable touring convertible could also be a fun, eleven-second quarter-mile rocket with great handling and brakes. I would have chosen the bi-turbo demon if not for the newest Merc supercar: the 2008 SLR McLaren. Unlike the last SLR, this one is a roadster. Enzo-like performance with Mercedes engineering and build-quality? I think we have our winner!!!


Mercury – 1968 Cougar GTE:
I’ve long held the belief that the Mercury brand should have been killed-off prior to the Reagan era. It’s a testament to poor management at the Blue Oval that Mercury has been limping along for nearly forty years putting out mostly mediocre products. One must go back to 1968 to find a truly remarkable Mercury – the Cougar GTE. The Cougar GTE was not a Mustang with a Mercury badge, rather a well-appointed, extremely luxurious GT in the Facel-Vega, Iso Rivolta mold, but with a 427-ci V8 producing 390 horses. The big block cars came with heavy-duty suspensions, which combined with the V8’s massive torque to make it a capable road burner. After ’68, the Cougars got too big and too heavy.

MINI – 2008 Mini Cooper S: The original Mini would be a no-brainer decision, because it was all things to all people: economical family car, practical city car, fashion statement, rally car, and racer, but in actuality, it wasn’t made by Mini, rather BMC under the Austin and Morris brands, which no longer exist. So basically, the only cars from which to choose are those under the brand since returning to America. The basic Cooper S is a fun vehicle in a surprisingly useful package. I wouldn’t want to have to fit my family in one, but I happily use a Cooper S to autocross, rally or commute.

Mitsubishi – 2008 Lancer Evolution: Sometimes the answer is just so simple! The Evo has been Mitsubishi’s best car for years, but it simply took the company a while to get it to the USA. It’s actually somewhat sad, because most of Mitsubishi’s other offerings have been junk, plastic sporty cars for kids, or in the case of the 3000GT, overpriced, overweight, underperforming fashion statements. The Evo, however, is a great piece of purpose-built machinery – a no frills fun car that delivers on its billing.

Nissan 2009 GTR: Its amazing performance, good looks and great Skyline history make it the Nissan that journalists and enthusiasts will talk about for generations. It takes a technological masterpiece like the GTR to keep me from selecting the 1970 240Z, which still is one of the best sports cars ever made.

Pontiac– 1965 GTO Convertible: I’ve driven plenty of Pontiacs over the years, and I’m always amazed at how little content there is to back up the image. The SD-455 and ’77 Trans Ams TA-6.6 SE are both guilty pleasures of mine, but TAs aren’t nearly as fun to drive as they are to look at. Later Firebirds were better to drive, but man those things had more tacky plastic than Joan Rivers’ face. So to pick one best of breed Pontiac is tough. A fuel-injected ‘58 Bonneville would be nice, but not as great as the wonderful second-year Goat convertible with Tripower and a four speed.

Porsche – 2006 Carrera GT: Just like with Ferrari, there are so many great cars from which to choose. Porsches simply keep getting better – and now we’re at the point where journalists are slamming amazing vehicles like the 911 Turbo for being too easy to drive at ridiculously high speeds. Indeed, if it weren’t for the existence of the incredible Carrera GT supercar, I’d choose a 2008 911 Turbo Cabriolet in a heartbeat. (C’mon, a droptop that can hit triple-digits faster than you can say “sorry officer”, what’s not to love?) As good as the 911 series is, it’s no match for the uber-desirable GT, a car that won’t be eclipsed by another Porsche in terms of performance and exclusivity for twenty or thirty years.

Rolls-Royce – 1965 Silver Cloud III Mulliner Park Ward “Chinese Eye” Continental Drop Head Coupe: It’s a mouthful, but the SCIII Continental DHC with limited-edition Mulliner Park Ward body (featuring slanted dual headlamp clusters, hence the “Chinese Eye” descriptive,) was one of the last great cars from the storied marque. The Corniche convertible that came after was more than 500-pounds heavier, plus significantly more complex (especially the braking system.) R-Rs from the 1950s and 1960s drove well, but those in the 1970s and 1980s felt more like numb, bloated Buicks. The current Phantom is nothing more than a caricature…in England a new R-R owner is viewed as someone with money, but no style, taste or class.

Saab – 2008 9-3 SportCombi: The only Saab I remember really liking was the mid-80s 9000. That car, however, turned out to be a maintenance nightmare. GM’s involvement with Saab hasn’t really paid too many dividends, but the new SportCombi is actually a heck of nice small wagon. It’s basically a step up from a Subaru in luxury, but maybe a step down in reliability. Still, it remains the best Saab yet.

Saturn — 2008 Sky: Who would have thought that Saturn would ever get such an amazing roadster like the Sky? The division was teetering on the brink when the Sky was green-lighted, seemingly as an afterthought in a plan to bank on the Pontiac Solstice. Whereas the Solstice seems odd looking, the Sky is a sweet blend of curves and taught lines. Better appointed than its Pontiac brother, the Sky is simply a nicer package, and by far the best product to wear the Saturn badge.

Scion — 2007 tC: I think I’d turn this into an SCCA racer or a car to beat-up on the drag strip. The tC is a good looking car…unfortunately, all the cars with the Scion badge are cheap pieces of tin.

smart — 2008 ForTo Cabriolet: People frequently ask me my opinion of smart…my standard response: “dumb.” Actually, they’re great for Europe and Asia, where city streets are tiny and congested. In America, they are almost useless, and more of a fashion statement. If you want to say you care about the environment, buy one of the many cars that get better fuel mileage. Since only two models are available in the US, I’d take the Cabrio.

Subaru — 2006 WRX STi: What’s more fun than a WRX? One with more power and a really, really, really gaudy wing on back. The new WRX is too soft, and I’m not a fan of hatches, so I’d stick with the now gone STi sedan.

Suzuki – 2008 XL7: I once compared 25 SUVs back to back on both road and off road courses. While other journalists were jabbering about the capabilities of the then-new Hummer H2 and Range Rover, I was pointing-out that the Suzuki XL7 tackled the same muddy hills and dips in rear-wheel-drive mode. Suzukis will always be junky low-rent transportation—vehicles for people who don’t care much about what they drive, but at least the XL7 was a competent SUV that offered just as much usability as other choices two and three times the cost.

Toyota –1968 2000GT: For a company that has become the world leader, it’s amazing how few impressive vehicles it has produced. The 2000GT was by far its best achievement, being both sexy and extremely high-tech. The car has never been easy to obtain, because its desirability has maintained since before it even debuted. The only other car Toyota has produced that even comes within a mile of the 2000GT was the final US-spec Supra Turbo.

Volkswagen — 2005 Phaeton: VW has produced many cars that I thought were cute (Karmann-Ghia), cool-looking (Scirocco), or fun to drive (GTI). Unfortunately, I’ve never thought any of them were well-built or deliver enough bang for the buck to consider ever owning. Since the amphibious Schwimmwagen was never a production vehicle, I suppose I’d choose one of the much-maligned now discontinued Phaetons with the W8 engine. The thought of such an expensive VW made them impossible to sell, but the Phaetons were, and still are great drivers. Boring, but nice.

Volvo — 1968 P1800S: Leave it to me to pick the one attempt by Volvo to produce a sports car. The P1800 remains the prettiest car Volvo ever designed. It also was built tough, and thousands are still on the road. One gentleman has over three million miles on his. Simple, robust, fun – although a little heavy to get too racy, the P1800 combines style, substance and reliability in a way that has definitely eluded Volvo since.