• Dec 3, 2006
No doubt by now you've heard about VetteGate, our name for the prank pulled by online buff book Winding Road in its January 2007 issue. To recap, WR took a Corvette Z06 and masked it up with tape, fake fender flares and a hood scoop made from cardboard. The result was a car that looked convincingly like a prototype for the "Blue Devil" super Vette currently being developed by General Motors. The fake "Blue Devil" was then driven around Metro Detroit, which led to the public taking pics of the car and unknowingly submitting them to other media outlets as genuine shots of the "Blue Devil". The shots were then published online by The Car Connection, AutoWeek, MotorTrend and other sites like this one.

We were curious how professional spy photographers reacted to finding out that someone had driven around a faux prototype, perhaps one they themselves could've shot and sold for money to their clients. We asked both Brenda Priddy and Chris Doane, two names you should know if you follow spy shots that we've covered on Autoblog, to give us their take on the prank Winding Road pulled.

You can read a statement prepared by Chris Doane and a short interview with Brenda Priddy after the jump.

CHRIS DOANE

It is not uncommon for the prototypes we see in spy photos to be deceiving. Some cars may be comprised of fake body panels, others may be covered in rolls of tape that appear to be inspired by a zebra. Sometimes even the entire shell of a current model car is shoehorned over a chassis that's still in development.

On Friday afternoon, word started getting around on several automotive websites that something was awry with a few current spy photos of a silver corvette purported to be the Blue Devil "super vette." When these photos first hit the web some weeks ago, I knew something wasn't quite right with them. The most glaring issue was the lack of a manufacturer license plate. To me, something also didn't look quite right with the camouflage material. As it turns out, an online automotive magazine, Winding Road, fabricated a mock-up of a test car and drove it around the metro Detroit area.

I'm struggling to see the point of this stunt. I'm sure I will get responses like "Lighten up, it was a joke," but hear me out. If you read the story in the Jan 2007 edition of Winding Road that tells the tale of the fake prototype, the point of the ruse was to deceive other publications into running the photos. The story also chides "Irresponsible speculation has been put forth by Corvette fanatics, magazine editors and competing manufacturers."

If I had to guess, Autoweek, Motor Trend and The Car Connection aren't laughing. All of these outlets published the photos of the fake car on their websites believing it to be an authentic GM prototype. It was, after all, a fairly convincing forgery. Needless to say, this obviously doesn't make those outlets look good in the credibility department. Some of you may think these media outlets don't have any credibility to begin with. That's fine if you think that, but we're talking solely about this particular incident.

I know competition gets fiercer by the day among the various automotive publications, but purposely tricking your competitors borders on something that is less-than-professional journalism. It's certainly not a trend I want to see continue to the point where we have magazines warring with each other much like election time, TV attack ads. In the end, however, whether this stunt is equally or more "irresponsible" than printing speculation is up to all of you to decide.

The bigger issue for me, however, is that the fake corvette hurts the credibility of people like myself, Brenda and others who make their living shooting prototypes for everyone's enjoyment. It didn't take long after the fabrication was revealed for people to start asking if the photos of the black powertrain mule that I photographed back in October were fake as well. Let's answer that right now. No, they are not fake. We have very credible information that this black prototype I shot is a development car for the "super vette" program. For all those worrying that the program is a pipe dream, rest easy. It's very real and it's very loud. The black car I shot wore a typical blue "Michigan Manufacturer," license plate, was with a large group of other GM test cars and was driven by a person I know to be a GM engineer.

Needless to say, we certainly don't want people in the automotive world getting the idea that we fake our spy photos because that is something we NEVER do. If our clients thought we were giving them fabricated photos, we obviously wouldn't be in business very long. We were even offered photos of the fake silver corvette test car by someone via email, but we passed knowing something wasn't quite right with the car. I'm sure it may sound a little funny to hear someone who spies on large corporations for a living talking about his ethical business practices, but we do play by the rules. That is something even the OEMs themselves would tell you.

On a lighter note, the Winding Road crew did a pretty good job making a convincing mock-up. If I'd seen it go past me on the road, I would've turned around to shoot it. I just wouldn't have sent the images out after I got a good look at it on my computer screen. The spy photography business puts me in the unique position of being able to shoot first and ask questions later.

Overall was this meant as a joke? Yes, I think so. I hope so. Were there some unforeseen negative effects? Unfortunately, yes. Hopefully Winding Road and I can agree to disagree on the staging of this prank. I'd hate to lose them as a client. Especially since I'm selling a kidney tomorrow... how else can I afford the plane ticket to Australia to photograph those Camaro prototypes?

-- Chris

chris_doane_auto@yahoo.com


BRENDA PRIDDY

AB: What was your reaction to hearing that the Corvette prototype in these spy photos was faked?
Priddy: I was a bit disappointed when I heard about the "prank". Frankly, my major concern was that our actual "spy photos" would lose their value - their creditability. I've already had dozens of e-mails from readers questioning our Blue Devil / Stingray photos, which are in fact actual General Motors' prototypes.

AB: Do you think the prank will negatively effect your business in any way?
Priddy: I think publications will be more careful with "reader's photos" -and several may no longer want to deal with them anymore. It will be harder for the guy down the block to sell a pictures to XXXX Magazine in the future, as the publications will likely only want to deal with the professionals in the future - hoping to avoid such issues.

AB: Why didn't your company buy photos of the Vette in question when they were offered to you?
Priddy: Let's just say that we carefully examine each and every image that arrives in our mailbox. And although we want to distribute more images than any other company, we tend to be rather selective on the photos that we agree to work with.

AB: What do you want auto enthusiasts know about the way you take and screen spy photos before they're sold?
Priddy: When "spy photos" are offered to us by other photographers - professional or amateurs - I ask a lot of questions. Basically I want to make sure that the pictures weren't taken "on the other side of the fence" - and I want to make sure that no laws were broken - such as trespassing. Depending on the circumstances, I tend to ask a lot of questions! As for the photos we personally take - again, we never trespass. Nor do we ever touch the vehicle, or break any laws while getting the perfect shot.

Chris Doane is a spy photographer who works with Brenda Priddy & Co. scanning the globe for the latest, greatest cars that have yet to hit the showroom. Brenda Priddy is the queen of the long lens and one of the most accomplished spy photographers in the world. In the interest of full disclosure; Autoweek, Motor Trend, The Car Connection and Winding Road are all clients of Brenda Priddy & Co.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 29 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      Your comments: 7. Does anyone know if Winding Road has connections to
      the
      manufacturers? Is this a ploy by the industry to get readers to stop
      looking at or lose interest in spy shots? Or is this an attempt by
      Winding Road to stop the competition (in other words, stop the need
      to compete with other publications over spy shots) in this arena?
      Interesting thoughts. Or was it juvenile and unprofessional? While
      this charade won't stop the interest in spy shots, it certainly does
      make one pause when looking at them. I guess they didn't have
      anything better to do than to sit around and think of things like
      this to do. That is also very telling.Posted at 2:43PM on Dec 3rd
      2006 by Tom 0 stars
      ================================

      Good grief!Why can't a rose be a rose?
      Doesn't anybody have any fun anymore?

      This outrage is ridiculous!
      There was no "plot" to "humiliate" others (good
      grief!)--it was just a prank.

      WHY DOES EVERYBODY HAVE TO BE SO DAMNED
      SERIOUS ALL THE TIME?
      • 8 Years Ago
      Brenda-
      Didn't realize that article was so old! Those kids do grow up fast, I've got twins that are now 16, yikes! Anyway, I had a chance to talk to Glenn Paulina at Automobile Mag's Sideways Challenge a few years ago, and it was really neat to hear a few "spy shot" stories first hand.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Bravo!
      • 8 Years Ago
      Quick show of hands: How many here knew about Winding Road before this? I thought so. Like I said before, excellent publicity stunt.

      That said, I think that Brenda and other pros can only benefit. Readers will know that when they see Brenda Priddy's name on something, it has credibility. It's the gold standard, as it were.

      I've known Brenda for many years from when our paths have crossed on the automotive press circuit and she's definitely a class act.

      That said, my list of winners and losers:
      Winner: Winding Road; massive PR score at the cost of minor disgrutlement factor. Net gain.
      Winner: Pro spy shooters, whose value rose at the expense of those with less credibility.
      Loser: The "victims," who put themselves in their own predicament.
      Loser: Spy shooter wannabes. They'll have to work harder to establish credibility.

      Finally, we at http://www.carbuzzard.com (Lunch of Champions) are proud to say that we have never published a phony spy photo.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I can see a couple of yahoo's doing this but not a publication trying to be professional. Just doesn't seem like a smart idea.
      • 8 Years Ago
      If WR was looking for a new subscriber by doing this prank, I can state categorically that I will not subscribe to it. Nor will I frequent that site.

      Actions have consequences.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Pop Quiz: Why is everyone freaking out about a Corvette with a shoebox and a couple Hefty bags duct-taped to it? Since when did photographing cars become such a holy and untouchable enterprise?

      Since when did anybody insist that photographers photograph LEGITIMATE PROTOTYPES ONLY? The photographer's job, as I understand it, is to supply the publications with material that they can pick or choose based upon the interests of their subscribers. I don't think anybody heard this "scandal" and said "What is the world coming to? I REALLY can't trust automotive journalism if they can't provide me with accurate spy shots!"

      The problem with much of automotive journalism (and I should say I am discussing the printed, not electronic here) is not the inaccuracy of the predictions or the validity of the photography. It's the neutered criticism, desperation to praise rather than condemn, and boring writing.

      That's why so many enthusiasts enjoy Top Gear (and I might recommend the excellent "Car" magazine), because when the Brits review some completely crap car they don't pussyfoot around--they say that a Perodua Kelisa handles worse than a refrigerator. Watch an episode of Top Gear and then an episode of Autoweek, and try to stay awake during the latter. "We feel the Ford Five Hundred could use a little more power, and perhaps if it handled a little better that would be nice too. Not to criticize; it's really a very comfortable car. It is. Its styling is very mature."

      I, for one, don't care if they get wined or dined, provided they stay objective. It would also help if Car and Driver wasn't half-full of MacNeil and TireRack ad-pages. Oh, yeah, and hadn't fired BROCK YATES.

      Printed automotive journalism is an aging dinosaur, especially when there are so many great, FREE blogs like this one, updated multiple times daily. I applaud Winding Road for generating a little controversy and interest. Stop acting like car spy shots are so much different from, say, celebrity paparazzi.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I really like WR, and have been a subscriber since issue#3. This stunt however, undermines their credibility a bit. While not quite "Jason Fortuny" in scale, it has the same flavor to it... an ill conceived prank with no point other than humiliation of others. Just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD.

      --chuck


      • 8 Years Ago
      Surprising that one of the most balanced statements would come from someone who's actually involved, while everyone on the internet who doesn't make his/her money on spy photos is outraged.

      This will likely also spark some public interest in who spy photographers are and how they work. Who'll print that story?
      • 8 Years Ago
      Does anyone know if Winding Road has connections to the manufacturers? Is this a ploy by the industry to get readers to stop looking at or lose interest in spy shots? Or is this an attempt by Winding Road to stop the competition (in other words, stop the need to compete with other publications over spy shots) in this arena? Interesting thoughts. Or was it juvenile and unprofessional? While this charade won't stop the interest in spy shots, it certainly does make one pause when looking at them. I guess they didn't have anything better to do than to sit around and think of things like this to do. That is also very telling.
      • 8 Years Ago
      14. If the New York Times purposely fabricated a story about, let's say, U.S soldiers engaging in some malfeasance, and that story was later picked up by other publications, and later the NYT pulled the cover off and said "Ha ha! We all taught you a lesson about checking your facts, didn't we," I do believe there would be quite a bit of public outcry about it. Advertisers would drop out, subscriptions would plummet, and the whole industry would be tainted.

      This is the same thing. While it may not play in as big a market or have national implications like the example above, it is the same idea, and I think that those in charge of the decision to do this should be fired, and that readers and advertisers should avoid Winding Road.

      Posted at 5:31PM on Dec 3rd 2006 by AutoFan 0 stars
      ================================

      Illiteracy knows no bounds!
      THEY DID NOT MAKE UP ANY STORY.

      They taped-up a car and drove it around and around.

      Your over-active imagination told you that this was a "Blue Devil" and everybody bit.

      GM DOESN'T EVEN ADMIT THE CAR EXISTS!

      There were no lies told. Nothing.
      They taped-up a car and drove it around.
      Jokes on YOU!
      • 8 Years Ago
      Let's all remember this: I'd wager that if Jeremy Clarkson and his boys at Top Gear did something like this, we'd all have a good guffaw and think "Those wiley Brits!"

      If nothing else, this whole thing opens up a valuable conversation on the validity of spy shots and how much stock magazines and readers put into this.

      If Priddy and Doane were offered these shots and passed on it, their B.S. detectors did their thing, and they upheld their judgement and integrity.

      The Winding Road's prank is something that harkens back to the "gonzo journalism" spirit of early Car and Driver, and I for one welcome a return to balls-out car writing. I imagine half the people getting all frothy-mouthed over this are those who now think the entire Blue Devil program is a sham, and I don't think that's what the folks at WR think, nor what they were going for. They were just having a little fun... and if their actions have the unintended consequences of "checking" the spy shot industry, all the better.

      Brilliant stuff, blokes.




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