Analyzing Tesla's Roadster and Japanese Car Culture: My Top 5 Favorite Stories of 2017
It's been an eventful year for car news. Here's what made 2017 special for Rob Stumpf at The Drive.
With 2017 coming to a close and reflecting back on stories we've covered here at The Drive, there have been some events during the year that were exciting enough that we'd want to live through them again, and others that we'd rather leave as distant memories. For me, 2017 has been one of the most eye-opening years in automotive journalism, seeing up close the car culture that I once knew change for the greater good but also seeing the auto industry itself trip over its own feet to get ahead of the competition.
This year also marks my first writing for The Drive, which is fun knowing that I'm pumping away stories in the same publication that names like Alex Roy and Matt Farah have touched. But now that 2018 is on the horizon, here's a look back at some of the stories this past year that have been the most influential to me.
This story was a fairly recent one, but it resonates with me because it's the epitome of what early '90s Japanese car culture was all about: Pure bliss and wild innovation. Smokey Nagata brought his insane Supra to life by using what he had (the motor from a $100,000 luxury car), and making it even more obnoxious by slapping turbochargers on the car and cranking up the boost. Let's face it, in 1999, what other street cars on the road had 900 horsepower? Two decades of motorsports innovation has since trickled down to the public and made that number fairly accessible, but Smokey's car was ahead of its time, and that's what makes it all the more interesting.
I'm boasting about this a little bit because I'm proud of correctly calling another vehicle launch alongside the Tesla Semi (albeit being slightly off about the Model Y being the vehicle), but what I'm really pleased with is the hype that came with the reveal. Just when you thought the reveal of an extremely impressive commercial vehicle is over, Tesla CEO Elon Musk borrow's the late Steve Job's "one more thing" to show off one of the most impressive feats that will go down in electric car history. You can call it vaporware, or hate it because it doesn't have a screaming exhaust note and three pedals, but you can't deny that it's impressive on paper.
Time for an article not written by yours truly, but it's about Japanese car culture again! This video combines my two favorite things in cartopia: German cars and JDM culture. I've owned at least one German car every year for the past decade (my peak was four at once), and had a particular affinity for stance-flavored scheißkästen: stick a set of slanty wheels on BMW, slam it on the ground, and I'm in European euphoria. This particular article explores a slant-nose converted Porsche 996 and an S54-swapped e30 BMW, both of which are impressive machines before the blood and sweat were used to forge the final products.
Let's talk a bit more about German cars. E36 BMWs are my guilty pleasure. I'm currently in the process of building a turbocharged $600 drift missile, but instead of working in my cold garage right now, I'm at my warm desk writing this. But, despite me liking the (arguably) most cheaply-made platform for BMW's entire lineup, I've driven and helped build quite a few swapped e30s in my time, I absolutely love how raw they feel with a set of solid suspension bushings and a more robust motor. Now, back to the story. Originally written for the /BORN A CAR short-series, the e30 was picked up to beat into the ground, and it did it quite well. The article and its corresponding video show just how much fun and heartbreak one of these little monsters can be, and it wouldn't be German without both.
Lamborghini is one of those manufacturers that today's youth look at and enjoy as a marvel of modern engineering (which they are), but few rarely look back at the classics and appreciate what once was, rather than what has taken its place. This story covers a Countach and its original wrangler, Valentino Balboni, a man who only aspired to be a test driver for the Italian company since he was a boy. After working his way up the ranks and illicitly driving these cars, he quickly became less of an apprentice and more of a full-fledged driver. This story was a really close pick between two Lamborghini articles, and the runner-up deserves your attention anyway because of how great the Countach was when it was birthed, and still is to this day.
That's a nice little recap on some of the articles which have spoken to me on some level or another over the length of 2017. I hope that by sharing these, you too can experience some of the emotions that I have wrapped up in these articles, all the way from awe, to joy, to relatable frustration. Here's to another great year in 2018, with even more beautiful cars to look at.