A little over a month ago, I got a call from Jonny. Something was up. He was excited and anxious, and before the words "MacKenzie offered me a job, and I've accepted" came out of his mouth, I knew he was off to greener pastures.
I'm proud of a lot of things at Autoblog, but getting Dr. Lieberman on board is near the top of that list. And now he's gone, taking the Senior Editor position at Motor Trend after the buff book's editor-in-chief called and said, "We need to talk." Plenty of people have moved on from Autoblog over the years, but given Jonny's penchant for prose and never-say-die attitude, we asked him to pen a farewell letter before heading off to do some ludicrous comparison test for MT. You'll be missed, sir, so the floor is yours... one last time.
Damon Lavrinc - Senior Editor
Working at Autoblog has been one of the best experiences of my car-writing career. As you may or may not know, if there's a website about cars, odds are it's hoisted my byline at some point. From The Truth About Cars to Jalopnik to Clunkbucket and most points in between, I've cranked out some auto-centric virtual ink nearly everywhere. But Autoblog was the feather in my digital cap. No car website commands more respect, is more widely read or opens as many doors. And yeah, a pretty big door just got opened for me.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful men behind the screen. I've worked at some sites filled with mega-friendly people that weren't capable of pouring piss from a boot. Other places were hyper-competent and staffed almost totally with assholes. Autoblog combined near-ruthless professionalism with the kind of positive working environment you only dream about in any job. It really is a wonderful operation, one that sent me Japanese whiskey as a wedding gift. Thanks to Damon Lavrinc for always being in my corner and John Neff for not only giving me the chance, but for running such a tight ship. I'd like to thank especially Drew Phillips, "my photographer," for putting up with my right foot on all those canyon runs.
But of course, it's not all roses and sunshine. There are quite a few things I regret. In true Butthole Surfers fashion, allow me to quote, "Well son, the funny thing about regret is, it's better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven't done." Sadly, while there's nothing I regret doing at Autoblog (well, maybe SEMA), there's a whole slew of things I regret not doing. With that in mind, here's a small list of stuff that for one reason (lazy!) or another (extra lazy!) I never got around to sharing. Read on...
Jonny Lieberman's Heretofore Unpublished Regrets
Before you blindly yell "ugly!" let me say that if you look at the Panamera as a descendant of the Tatra T77 and T87, it actually looks freaking beautiful. Moreover, who cares about the looks – the car is very close to perfect. Big, relatively light, great handling and with one of the world's finest, most luxurious interiors, I think the Panamera is the world's best sport sedan, period. This is what happens when gifted engineers are given a clean sheet of paper and told to make no compromises.
Alpinestars Tech 1-T vs. my dirty old flip flops
Not since Emelda Marcos has a pair of shoes caused such consternation. Of course, I'm talking about the infamous Flip-Flopgate. If you weren't around to insult me for driving a Nissan GT-R in flip-flops, you missed out. That said, Godzilla wasn't even close to the most powerful car I drove in flip-flops. The good people at Alpinestars (who were obviously upset about my choice of footwear) sent me a pair of their Nomex-lined Tech 1-T shoes so as not to have to endure anymore cyber-razzing. Sadly, the review just never happened. Quick summary: While the Alpinestars are in fact better for driving and much less likely to (*ahem*) get caught under the throttle, they are very uncomfortable to wear when it's hot. And I live in sunny, Southern California. So, we'll call this one a tie.
Subaru WRX with SPT parts
This one became a running joke between Drew and I. Subaru let us use this car – essentially a WRX wagon with fifteen more horsepower, a touch more torque and a droppier suspension – during last year's SEMA show. As SEMA takes more energy out of me than cycling does out of Lance Armstrong, I basically drove the WRX to Las Vegas and back home. No hooning, no dusty desert power slides, nothing fun. As such, I never really had much to say other than, "Ferries five full-size auto journalists to the Wynn buffet with ease!" Drew, however, spent a lot of time on the photoshoot and would bug me almost weekly about the review. SEMA happens in October. Drew finally dropped the subject around May. Sorry, Drew.
Wine Tasting at Beverly Hills Lamborghini
Yeah, rough life, I know. A friend of mine is a lawyer-turned-wine-critic, and he got me in touch with a wine guy named Dan Fredman who just happened to be putting together a wine tasting at the same Beverly Hills Lamborghini dealer where I got to meet Mr. Valentino Balboni – easily the most interesting man in the world. Would I be interested in attending? Um, yes! I should also mention that all of the wines were from Lamborghini's home turf, Sant'Agata Bolognese. And... I lost my notebook. Which is terrible, as the wines were delicious. One modest note, however: I'm a BJCP Certified beer judge, so I'm used to tasting booze. However, with beer, you swallow everything you taste (we figure it's part of the experience). Not so with wine, as many dozens of people spat out hundreds if not thousands of mouthfuls of delicious wine. That seemed in bad taste to me, so I just drank it. Drew, thanks again for driving me home.
Mazda CX-7 review
This was the non-turbo, front-drive version of Mazda's rakish CUV. As such, my hopes were quite low. Still, my then-fiance and I took the white high-rider on a 1,500-mile trip up to Sacramento and Reno, and I was shocked by how much I liked it. What an inherently great little-big vehicle. One of the finest road trippers out there, especially with about 30 mpg on the highway and a starting price of less than $22,000. Quick enough, with great luggage capacity and enough baked-in handling to allow for the occasional ill-advised moment. The CX-7 was wonderful. Rest assured, I've recommended it to many folks.
Jaguar XKR Convertible
This one totally baffles me. How could I not write this one up? My only excuse is that I drove it just prior to getting married, which was an eventful time. Anyhow, the 510 horsepower supercharged XKR Convertible is my dream daily driver. Other than an old Taurus-look grille, the car has no real faults. You saw pictures of the car during Burnout Week and the eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that the Jag and the Mustang GT were shot on the same road. Well, Drew and I drove both cars up there together, me with the Ford and Drew in the XKR. Now, while I love the guy, Drew's not exactly known for his propensity to shatter speed limits. That said, I was in front of him in the Mustang, driving within an iota of my ability. Power-shifting, heel and toeing, trail-braking, late apexing – everything I could do to stay out in front of the big cat. No matter what shenanigans I pulled, there was the Jag filling up my rearview, along with Drew's smiling, unchanging face. Once we go to where we were going I asked Drew how hard he was driving. "Maybe six-tenths." What an utterly fantastic car.
Hennessey Twin-Turbo Ford GT
This was going to be the last thing I ever wrote about for Autoblog. And whatdayaknow, it is. Only due to some logistical nonsense, I never got the chance to drive it. Sitting under a lift down in Hennessey's Orange County candy store sits a Ford GT. It still has the factory supercharger, but those crazy Texans saw fit to strap on two turbochargers. Our conversation with them sounded like this, "Well, it makes about 980 wheel horsepower – on 91 octane. It can do 250 mph in the standing mile. Anytime you want to drive it, just let us know" It was a very one-sided conversation what with my jaw and Drew's jaw on the spotless shop floor. Sadly, I still haven't driven it. But rest assured, I will.