2014 has been, if anything, a confused year in the automotive industry. If anything, we have not so much lost our way, as we have found a few dozen others. The path before us, as automotive enthusiasts, is so splintered that we’re not quite sure what the future truly holds.
On the one hand, more and more manufacturers are buying into the ideals that Audi thrust to the forefront back in 2006 with the R10 TDI, showing that efficiency and excitement were not completely mutually exclusive, contrary to what Toyota had been demonstrating. Efficiency can help the fun, not hurt it. When racing, it means less time in the pits and more time spent out on the track. Out in the real world, it means more time spent carving through the mountains, and less time spent stopped at the gas station, making sweet love to the back of your Mustang.
The problem is that so many auto manufacturers seem to treat them as two separate divisions of the same company. There’s the fun department, where a damn-the-torpedoes-and-dead-dinosaurs-full-steam-ahead mentality prevails. Then there is another department where they make these bland, uninspiring, heavy, depressing hybrid or efficiency-focused cars. The two departments never speak to each other, and we the consumer are forced to choose between something fun, or something we can afford.
And yet, somehow, in 2014, that all started to change. Volvo abandoned V6 and V8 engines altogether, focusing on more powerful, more efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engines. Ford continued full-bore into its EcoBoost program, proving it wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan marketing gimmick, and the EcoBoost Mustang, while still not even competition for the Coyote-powered version, is not bad at all, with plenty of fun to be had in an efficient package. Toyota even took some teetering, tentative steps forwards into the realm of making cars that
don’t just suck horribly are a bit more fun. And then, at the biggest race in the world, the three front-running marques were all hybrids, with the Audi R18 e-tron quattro doing battle with a 2.0L V4-multi-turbo-multi-hybrid lightweight Porsche, and a mutant one-seat Toyota Prius with a bad attitude. It’s a good year to be a dead dinosaur. You may yet have a chance to escape being turned into smoke and noise.
Oh, but wait. On the other hand, this was also the year Saudi Arabia decided to remind the world who’s really the boss in the oil-production business, and as a response to the Alberta oilsands and American shale oil extraction programs gradually pushing them out of their position of dominance, the Saudis opened the taps. All the way. Full production, full speed, a giant sandy middle finger aimed at North America. And when we received this huge slap in the face, we all cheered, because our gasoline prices started to drop faster than Yahoo! shares. And all of a sudden, efficiency didn’t matter. And all of a sudden, lustful eyes were turned away from EcoBoost Mustangs or sexy Lamborghini hybrids, and turned towards big blocks and noise.
And into this, perfectly timed, Chrysler introduces the Hellcat. A huge, Victorian-era monstrosity that goes as far in the opposite direction of efficiency as it possibly can. It’s made of cast-iron and lead with blocks of concrete for downforce. It’s an old platform, lazily designed, barely updated, and largely irrelevant. But designing an efficient platform is ridiculously expensive and time-consuming. Hybrid systems require research; energy-retrieval systems require space to accommodate them in the car. Lightweight materials, advanced composites and higher-strength steels usually require kidnapping European specialists in the middle of the night and smuggling them out in burlap sacks. If a fumbling company like Chrysler, who is finally starting to get its mojo back and produce some respectable vehicles, desperately needs to get some attention from the automotive press without actually developing anything worth reporting on, how do they do it? The equivalent of an autojourno handjob; stuff the biggest engine they can find into anything they can find that will take it. And the magazines and blogs all lapped it up like a kitten to milk. Fuck fuel efficiency! Nobody ever liked that shit anyhow!
And then, as the price of gas plummeted, we all looked at this crude spiky club of a car, and thought the sleek efficient rapiers looked pretty boring.
So now, as we cross into 2015, the industry looks poised for a shakedown. All the money has been in efficient cars… and suddenly the demand may shift in the other direction. One thing is for certain; if you’re an old car enthusiast, like all of us here at Hooniverse, you’re probably salivating just a bit, because you know that in a few years, there is going to be an incredible selection of interesting used cars out there to snap up for cheap prices and cannibalize for project cars. I can’t wait to see what the first Hellcat hot-rod looks like.
But that’s enough navel-gazing for one year. It’s time to review the candidates and choose which most deserves the title, which nomination most deserves your nod as representative of the year that was. And what do you know, not a hybrid in the bunch.
Tanshanomi started us off by pretty much ignoring all the rules and guidelines I’ve handed out behind the scenes over the years. No new cars, no motorcycles, no bone-stock production vehicles. But honestly, if you’re going to break the rules, doing it with a car that does break all the rules is not a bad way to do it. I got a slew of texts, Facebook chats and iMessages when that post went live. “WTF is that? It’s a new car nominated for HCOTY?” Yeah… but you know what? He’s right. It is pretty goddamned awesome.
This was followed up by ol’ Rusty, Chris Haining, playing to the audience the way Chrysler played to the autojournalists. I’m saying he gave you a handjob, ladies and gentlemen, in case I wasn’t quite graphic enough on that. He nominated the car in your garage right now. A more shameful show of pandering to the populace I’ve scarcely seen. Although… it has to be said, I am quite madly in love with the Corrado that’s sitting directly underneath me in my garage at this moment. So if that’s the car he’s referring to… oh hell, I’ll vote for that.
And then, with the nuclear bomb equivalent of a throwdown, Brendan tossed the Targa Truck into the ring. I mean… it’s just hard to argue against that. It’s fame comes from Targa Newfoundland, my personal favourite race series anywhere, because that’s what the Corrado is being built for. It’s big, mean, and bitch-slaps Ferraris. And it’s self-built, ran with almost no support, and involved a father-son team. I mean, come on. That’s almost not fair at all.
If you’re going to follow the Targa Truck, you’re going to need to bring some heavy weaponry. And a military vehicle is probably the best way to do it. Kamil, then, nominated the BlipShift Volvo C303. I admit, I have a huge soft spot for one of these. I’ve always wanted one, and if I couldn’t find a Unimog, I’d be giving this some very, very serious thought. Now, the question is, does even a military vehicle have the stones to stand up to the other nominees, because it’s a tough field.
And then… Jeff nominated the Hellcat. Seriously, it was a great handjob. I mean, did nobody read the memo I sent out?
In classic OleLongRoofFan fashion, the next nominee made me genuinely laugh out loud. It’s a daily-driven ’88 Buick Skyhawk wagon. And you know what? Why the hell not? It’s awesome, in exactly the way we want cars to be awesome at Hooniverse; precisely because they ARE awesome, not because of fancy paint, not because of celebrity endorsements, and not because of any posturing or drama. It’s awesome because it’s doing exactly the job it was built to do, and it’s still doing it long, long, LONG after it should have died a horrible death.
Now, if you’re going to step up to the plate against the Targa truck, and if you want to slap the Hellcat around with more authority than a Navy SEAL confronting a schoolyard bully, you’d better bring something big. Something beastly. Something… like the Beast of Turin. And if you want to watch someone try and word-wrestle against Brendan’s Targa Truck nomination, I don’t think anyone did it better than Alan Cesar. Seriously, just go read the nomination. That’s some great writing. I seriously can’t wait for that documentary.
You know, at least Antti had a valid excuse for nominating a new car. I’m not sure it’s enough to win my vote, but it’s not my vote that matters. His choice of his Challenger road-trip car is awash in nostalgia, and emblematic of an experience that will likely never be forgotten. I think we’ve all had a car like that: something otherwise mediocre or insignificant, in which we had one of our great adventures, that earns that car a place in our heart. Hell, I’m convinced the Camaro marque is still around mostly because so many kids lost their virginity in them in the 1980’s.
Just when I think I’m well decided, Jim Brennan steps up to the plate ticking all my fancies. It’s a work car, a vehicle with a purpose, which somehow always makes them better. It’s an old AMC, which has been my brand since I rebuilt the engine in a Rambler back in my teens with nothing more than a socket set and a pry-bar. And it’s a generally unloved and derided car. Let’s face it folks, this is the essence of Hooniverse. I… am actually having a hard time even considering any other nominees, because this Gremlin is so perfectly Hooniverse, it would feel wrong to choose anyone else.
It takes some balls to step into the ring after all those nominees have been thrown out, but Jason Connor didn’t shy away for a moment, and the racing Apache he nominated makes… one hell of an argument. It has all the elements of most of the other vehicles nominated, bits of the Targa Truck, bits of the Beast, bits of everyone. So really, it’s the compromise candidate. If you can’t decide between the other nominations, the Apache awaits you.
So what say you, ladies and gentlemen? Who deserves the coveted
green participation ribbon Hooniversal Car of the Year Trophy?
Choose the Hooniversal Car of the Year for 2014!
- The Hurst System Rescue Gremlin (20%, 35 Votes)
- The Beast of Turin (16%, 28 Votes)
- The Targa Truck (16%, 27 Votes)
- The Hellcat (13%, 22 Votes)
- The car in your garage right now (12%, 21 Votes)
- Blipshift Volvo C303 (9%, 16 Votes)
- Buick Skyhawk Wagon (6%, 10 Votes)
- Racing Apache (3%, 6 Votes)
- Antti's Challenger R/T (2%, 4 Votes)
- Polaris Slingshot (2%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 173
Voting will be open until January 1, 2015 at 23:59:59 California Time. As per all previous rules, I remain the arbiter of fair voting. So share this post as much as you like, but if we start seeing cheating or foul play (as defined by me), I reserve the right to disqualify any contestant. So no running off to forums to get 10,000 people to separately click the button for your choice, or any sort of jerk moves like that. Got it? Good.
Ready… set… GO.