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Performance Car of the Year 2004 - Behind the Scenes: classic MOTOR

By Paul Cockburn, 01 Jan 2020 Performance COTY

Performance Car of the Year 2004 Behind the Scenes feature

PCOTY is recognised as the industry standard for responsible performance evaluation. Cockburn, as usual, went to another event entirely

"Power is like a woman you want to stay in bed with forever,” said writer Patrick Anderson – an accurate, if unappealing, summation of Tim Robson’s current condition.

This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s April 2004 issue

Because power beyond mortal comprehension is the very essence of Performance Car of the Year… but, having let the role of Fat Controller slip away, it is no longer Robbo’s to wield. The Hat of Hatred now adorns the innocent Marcus ‘Herman’ Hofmann, still smiling sweetly as the ex-Sydney convoy gathers at Marulan Roadhouse. The big fella can only watch, wracked.

Human suffering is hard to bear on an empty stomach, so I gamble on the Fried Surprise and the company of this year’s Lucky Bastard reader, Matt Cass, being uplifting. It isn’t. He surveys the glittering mischief awaiting our attention and offers “I wouldn’t be here if my wife hadn’t turned into a lesbian” as an opening line.

So I briefly indicate aching compassion and return to the danse macabre of Herman and Robbo (think Seinfeld, think Newman) in which the lamb-like Thin Controller will surely be crushed. I can’t look. I must.

Day One/Avalon

A drizzling sky greets us at Avalon Airport as the $2,594,801 convoy arrives in all its aural layers – the fizzin’, poppin’ littlies, the metallic zing of the BMW sixes, the whipsnarl of the Lamborghini and the rumble of the Bruiser V8s, all capped by the earth-moving hammer of the CSV and, finally, crowned by the infrasonic bass pressure of Morley arriving fashionably late in the Bentley.

The fire trucks and blood wagons are all conspicuously in place as the Thin Controller reads the pre-emptive riot act with such conviction that many among us are briefly moved to actually consider the responsibility of… nah. But it’s a good start. Less pleasant is the news that Robbo has been promoted overnight to Deputy Controller, no doubt a pacifying move by Herman but one that leaves the brute just one heartbeat away from total power.

Unattracted to bloodshed, I decamp to the top speed timing station, where chaos reigns as Art Ed Brendon Wise, traditional ruler of the radar, has stayed home to breed this time. Well done. Surprised us, too. But now the desperates here can only point the gun and pray.

Despite any number of cars whapping past, the only thing recorded, and therefore currently official FTD, is a hare ambling across the track. Finally, thank God, veteran mule Stu Orford and newcomer Andrew Hockley somehow succeed in making a two-man job of it and we are spared further radio reports of, “I’d guess the Alfa at 250 that time, Base. Stuey says so, too.”

With the science thus secured, we enjoy the spectacle of headlights burning out of the misty distance and the phenomenon of sound identifying the cars long before sight, the M3 CSL’s incredibly hard, knuckly howl being unquestionably Din of the Day.

It slams past with the bow wave you might expect, but this is as a gentle zephyr compared to the Porsche Cayenne’s ludicrous attack on physics. I make a mental note to assume the foetal position off in a ditch somewhere when the Bentley deploys.

But the real tension is with the Lamborghini, which holds the honours with half a dozen runs at 288km/h until Pro McConville lifts it with a 292. Equally pleased with proceedings is CSV’s Peter Dichiera, who’s addressed the aero thing by stuffing his Mondo with more horsefire than is in all of Kentucky and, having scored a second-place 282km/h, loudly points out that each of the Gallardo’s extra kays costs $29,000, so there.

However, if raw power still rules on the runway, technology is taking over in acceleration world. Big-inch, pushrod stomp, manual ’boxes and rear-wheel drive are only fun for photography nowadays. You want numbers, you go computerised, and the more hands-off the better.

No more compelling proof exists than the 367kW, 1450kg Lamborghini being convincingly spanked in the 0-100 and 400m runs by a car with 10 percent less power and 400 more kilos. Ladeez and Gentz! Acceleration king of the event! The automatic, AWD Audi station wagon complete with roof racks. Bring on the salts, Billy Bob.

But big thump still has its fascination. In the interests of research I grab the Bentley and a helmet and head for the top-end strip to see for myself exactly what it’ll do. Coiling onto the straight, I floor the pedal and am instantly overwhelmed by an unearthly force as the thing lunges forward at roughly re-entry rate.

As the needle blurs through the lower third, a thud draws momentary attention to a rear view suddenly bisected by the spoiler’s rising, but I’ll not be looking backward again. My attention to the rising numbers is absolute, and as the wind shears past and the ferocious thrust continues, I watch the gauge with awe. It’s been a long time since I drove a car right off the dial. The fuel consumption only reads to two figures, so 99L/100km is the best I get. But somehow that seems enough.

Day Two/Winton

The heat of the northern Victorian dawn is already threatening, and no less pregnant with malice is Winton’s awaiting track as this year’s 4890kW parade is prepared for battle.

The judges emerge from wardrobe and are immediately corralled by Herman for the traditional spray: “Only Cam will be timed so there’s no need for ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME TAYLOR M AND PERHAPS YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WHATEVER’S SO FUNNY WITH US DEAN!”

But of far greater import are the Golden Dollar bets now being taken among the mules as the first cars swish out. These are, as ever, the less ambitious entries, a policy that allows familiarisation while limiting its effect to merely acres. This is wise. Misplacing the Bentley would probably involve Geelong.

By the middle of the day the middle of the pack emerges. And while Mr McConville does the adult thing, a surgeon among slashers, certain others compete by comparing how far each can flog a Big Domestic in anything other than a straight line.

Attempting more decorum is our Foreign Correspondent Greg Kable, out in the Euroboomers, but even he soon concedes that belting 2.4 tonnes of tipple-tower around a racetrack is the dream of a damaged mind.

Speaking of which, Robbo has assumed control of the pitlane exit and I fear for Herman should he step near the chute. But the Thin Controller has quite enough to occupy him elsewhere as the Jaguar’s intermittently losing its transmission, the Cayenne’s lost its chips, the Subaru’s lost its oil and the Crossfire lost half its console when Jesse pulled the gearstick up for reverse.

But there’s a win for the Chrysler as well; its non-functional wing vents pick up the Bogan Award for one of the dozen stylists who, I’m guessing, were each given a square metre of its exterior to ornament on the condition that they didn’t talk to each other. Ever.

Art of another form exercises the photographic elements, and while the glaring daylight is just fine for Glenn Ridge’s The Car Show film team, still photographers Watkins, Mueller and Wielecki are praying for cloud, smoke or sundown to enhance the scene with romance and making do with the plentiful eruptions of dust and sod generated as our betters demonstrate that AWD is not infallible, but that it’s a sovereign boon in getting back to the bitumen.

And when the heavy hitters are finally let loose, Cameron also demonstrates the value of a clever transmission (and tricky tyres) by besting the Lamborghini with the M3, despite the latter carrying 5.23kg per kilowatt compared with the Italian’s 3.95.

Only the finest of minds can appreciate such nuance, of course, and the very finest of these is revealed over dinner as the Golden Dollar Award, crafted once again by the impossibly chipper mule Martin Doxey, is presented for the most accurate prediction of results. The winner waves away ovation, just as he did last year. And, once again, modesty forbids further.

Day Three/Roadwork

The final day begins with a road loop through the wine country of King Valley, and I, for one, would be happy for it to end there, and soon. But no. However, the value of the exercise is undeniable as the cars address the issues of reality and either lose credibility (M3 CSL), finally gain some (Liberty) or enhance a bucketload even further (Gallardo).

And if the Lambo is charming the judges, its effect on the civilian world is downright devastating. The phwarrrr-fest peaks for Our Deano when, while fettling its tyre pressures in Wangaratta, ‘his’ Gallardo attracts the attentions of a young lady of such shattering loveliness that he gets brainspin and can’t think up a return line ’til playlunch.

For the benefit of all, the caravan withdraws from general scrutiny to the base camp of MOTOR’s very secret hillclimb route, an 8km climb to the clouds at which the Glory Boys select their HotWheels while the rest of us discover that, having used chemicals last year to kill marchflies up to the size of cats, we’ll need rifles to deal with this year’s crop.

The ever-perky Glenn Ridge accepts a Thunder Run with Taylor (M), from which the broadcaster emerges relieved of the need for further excitement. Undaunted by this is local mum Sharon McNeill. She and her family are avid MOTOR readers and, on receiving her offer to swap any member of her brood for a similar rocket ride, we quickly arrange a run in the Lambo with Judge Jesse. She comes back on high beam and stays on to co-pilot in whatever else amuses her, asking only that we get photos to drive her menfolk crazy.

Finally, with everything run or rooned, the fleet chases golden light to Benalla’s airstrip, where the judges go into final debate and the photographers inventively compose the cars to get both group and cover shots with a single set-up, an economy which Young Doxey proudly informs us “kills two dogs with one bird” before returning to assist, aglow with his mastery of metaphor.

And then it is over. And at last light the announcement is made. The Lamborghini’s win is a defensible choice… but it is not the only triumph we have witnessed. Not only thwarting the insidious Robbo Rebellion by keeping the brute in plain sight, Herman has beavered away in the background cleverly enough to allow us to accomplish in three days that which normally takes five. The sweetie has become our new Man of Steel! Huzzah! It is an achievement that, Robbo sighs, raises only one question: “How on earth will you ever get Boxhead back in the bottle now?”

PCOTY 2004: The Packers' Pick

While the Chosen Ones are harvesting numbers, the hard yards fall to the mules. And when at last this thing is done, they will leave unrewarded.

But if they could take just one home with them as a keeper, which would it be? The M3 CSL is the first call but gains only two votes. The Alfa 147 draws a surprising nomination but, again, has only two adherents. So does the Bentley – a serious one, for which I won’t apologise. The Lambo does better, winning three voters, two of whom swear its pull factor isn’t the reason.

But there is only one winner. By the clear majority of seven votes: the Audi RS 6.