In the words of the great Detroit-area bard, it seems like yesterday / but it was long ago. On Tuesday, September 23, 2008, I drove over to Midwestern Auto Group in Dublin, Ohio and signed the papers on my vaguely-famous lime-green Audi S5. As excited as I was about the car, it was just one in a long string of deliveries from that store, starting with my four-speed Fox in the spring of 1990 and encompassing about a dozen cars in the eighteen years that followed. Volkswagens, Rovers, Audis, a Saab, a Bimmer. My mentor and business partner of a decade ago was an even more dedicated customer, signing at least one but usually two leases per year there. It wasn’t just his company cars, of which he usually had three at any given moment. Every time he broke up with a woman, this deeply sentimental fellow would lease her a BMW or Volvo convertible as a parting gift, leading to no shortage of jokes on my part about these chicks “upgrading their rides”. My father, too, was a frequent flier at “MAG”. We knew the general manager, the service writers, the top-performing salespeople, and the occasionally fascinating dealership owner. It seemed reasonable to assume that I would continue to be one of the store’s best customers for a long time to come.
Do you remember / the twenty-third day of September, ten years ago? I do now, because that was the end of the party, and I never bought a car from Midwestern Auto Group again.
It wasn’t their fault. Not entirely, anyway. Sure, their VW service department repeatedly set new standards for feckless inadequacy when it came to my Phaetons, and the general manager flat-out refused to help me when I need a dealership to CPO-approve the aforementioned green Audi for sale to its next owner, but those were venial, not mortal, sins. In truth, I was the one who drifted away from them, not the other way ’round. My son arrived, I got a divorce, I traveled more. It no longer seemed terribly important that I be seen behind the wheel of a respectable automobile. After covering ninety-one thousand miles in a 2009 Town Car that I’d picked up on a whim, I realized that I didn’t miss the “imported driving experience”, whatever that was. The fifty-eight months I’ve spent driving an Accord Coupe have solidified that personal sentiment. The idea of buying or leasing a new Benz or BMW now seems approximately as attractive to me as the prospect of signing a balloon-payment mortgage for one of the quick-bake McMansions going up a few miles north of my current house.
Which is not to say that I’m not interested in buying new cars and/or trucks. I didn’t need any encouragement to buy a $59,000 Silverado crew-cab last year, and I’d gladly take a shot at something like a GT350R or ZL1 1LE if the right deal popped up. Maybe it’s more a case of feeling near-total disinterest in the current Euro-manufacturer lineups, which have never been more diverse, more comprehensive, or less compelling. Instead of the old “same sausage in three different lengths”, BMW, et al. now offer a panoply of bloated porkers with mandatory automatics and dubbed-out running gear. To make matters worse, even though there are now seven or eight form factors in each lineup, the powertrain choices have dwindled to either an asthmatic two-liter turbo paint mixer or some outrageously boosted 400-horse-plus gas-guzzler with auto-stop engaged by default.
Make no mistake, this is all in direct response to the wishes of the customer, and I do not pretend that my desire for something like a stick-shift, six-cylinder A6 with vinyl seats and a reasonable price tag is morally superior to my neighbor’s (or my father’s) interest in purchasing a 450-horsepower, 5500-pound panzer. But if you limit my choices to 450-horsepower, four-wheel, drive, 5500-pound panzers, I’m going to buy mine from the Chevy dealer and save thirty grand. Land Rover would be foolish to bring back a ladder-frame, stick-shift Discovery like the one I bought in 1997 — but until they do, I’m not going to spend any more money with them.
This past weekend I drove through the MAG parking lot for the first time in a few years. It was mostly filled with chunky crossovers that differed only in the particulars of the equipment and the marque badge SuperGlued to the tailgate. Bentayga, Urus, Q7 — isn’t that just like the choice faced by upscale GM customers in 1976? And didn’t the Germans seem like iconoclasts back then, with their quick-witted, sensibly-sized compact sedans and rear-engined ‘bahn-burners? How could we have known that their truest, their deepest, desire was to re-create the malaise-era Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, minus the paisley upholstery, the pleasing proportions, and the carefree style?
I truly envy the people who can get excited about what’s at Midwestern Auto Group right now, whether that “something” is the Audi Q-whatever or the BMW X-whatever or the Porsche PanaTayCayMeraCan GTS2RS Carrera 4 Targa Turbo T. I’d like to feel that excitement again, that hot shot of narcissistic self-satisfaction that accompanies the signing of a four-figures-per-month lease on some neighbor-slaying metal like the massive crystal-clear headrush you get snorting a double-thick line of coke off some stripper’s rack in a nightclub bathroom. I don’t expect to feel it any time soon. Maybe ten years from now. So to my old friends at Midwestern Auto Group, I can only say this. Keep the lights on, fellows; I might be back.
This week, Brother Bark was feeling the malaise himself.
Last but not least, I drove a turbocharged Mazda 6 to the top of America’s highest road. While it’s considered uncouth for a writer to say so, in the case of this particular piece I feel compelled to note that the edited product differs significantly from the draft. In particular, there is an assertion that the photographers on the top of Mount Evans were there to spot bears — a charming change made because the overseas-based edit team was not conversant with the American phrase “loaded for bear” and didn’t think to ask me what I meant by it. I’ve had worse individual edits in my career — earlier this year, some deranged fellow decided to insert a phrase about sniffing cheese into one of my reviews, leaving it in place despite my direct and unambiguous request for its removal — but the bear-spotting thing is just one of the sawblade marks on this particular hack job, so I’m not going to be entirely silent on the matter. As always, thanks for reading!