EACH month, Wheels invites its readers to submit their feedback to the magazine. We also scrape our social media channels for the best feedback; you know, the stuff that takes a story forward, raises an interesting point, or even just piques our interest.
Like clockwork, each month we trawl through the mire to find the one shining example that stands tall from the crowd. The one letter that makes us take pause and think, looking nonchalantly into the air, and then say, ‘yeah, that’s the one’. The Letter of the Month.
But for every monthly winner, there’s the monthly almost-theres; the ones that caused our fingers to hover over the mouse before we cut-and-pasted the one letter to rule them all to the hero spot in Inbox.
This is their story, too.
Late in 2016, Wheels published a tribute to the ‘70s-era Lelouche film Rendezvous. In a modern-day twist, writer Stahly retraced the infamous route through Paris in a Mercedes-AMG S63 L, a distant cousin of the Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9. That’s all the prompting reader Geoff Butterworth needed to regale us with memories of the time he owned one of the 6.9-litre monsters. It was a bit of a love-hate relationship, we should note, but it left us impressed at the stories it generated – and the depth of his pockets. Ouch.
Our late-2016 deep dive into the first fully imported Commodore sparked mixed results. Some readers liked it – here’s looking at you, Richard Chester, Anonymous Bob and Cliff Morham spring to mind – while others … let’s just say they were less than impressed.
Also less impressed was Steve Nagy, firing in feedback on our story on the reveal of the car that would become our first imported Camry in four decades. He wanted to know if the new sedan would include a coathook for his cardigan, and room for lawn bowler’s bowls. “Anyway, I’d better get off this fandangled Facebook,” he wrote. “Beryl is calling me for tea.” Snap.
This was our bumper edition Wheels Car of the Year issue. Instead of Inbox, we gave you 196 pages of extended coverage. And news that the HSV GTSR W1 was coming.
Wheels voted, and you responded. The Mazda CX-9 was named the 2017 Wheels Car of the Year, and once more it split readers. Some, such as Glenn Stewart, Allan Janmee and Peter Stokes were all behind the decision – only the second time a high-riding SUV has earned the award. Darren Prior, on the other hand, was more humbling.
Allan Mills steered us to Tasmania’s other missing tiger, a V8-engined Strike Me Pink LJ Torana GTR prototype fettled by GM-H Experimental Engineering. Yeah, we’ll catch it one day.
And John Szabo gave us the first sign of how readers were reacting to the Kia Stinger, a front-engined, rear-drive sports sedan that could potentially fill the Falcon/Commodore void. “This stylish interpretation of how a rear driver should look elevates Kia to new heights,” he writes. The Kia Stinger is one of the cars fighting for 2018 Wheels Car of the Year glory, so we’ll soon know how right he is.
We have no idea what prompted Brett Pember to write in about the 1970s supercar scare, but write in he did. With a feast of 250-400kW cars now available for Aussie car enthusiasts to snack on, where, he asked, had all the naysayers protesting the “bullets on wheels” mentality of Aussie car makers gone?
Ian Duncan held us to pause, our triple-shot espresso coffee cups halfway to our mouths, with his recount of a holiday in Europe. He drove 4000 kays at speeds that in Australia would have him locked away with hardened crims while his car was torn apart, and then wondered why we could not do the same here.
And then there was Sean Byrne. Oh Sean. He’d seen a story on wheelsmag.com.au about Porsche developing a Mark Webber track mode for its future vehicles. “Will Porsche do a Mark Webber flight mode,” he quipped, recalling that time True Grit’s Merc inverted on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans – not the last time Webber would be airborne in a race car either, we should add. He carries his bat proudly back to the pavilion.
Our previous month’s story on the Chevrolet Camaro taking longer to arrive in Australia than respect for Donald Trump had David Aralette venting his spleen. “Do the brains at GM really think that delivering a Chevrolet Camaro in 2021 – four to five years away, with project delays – is seriously a winning strategy?” he asked. We now have the answer: Walkinshaw will convert the current car to RHD and flog it here from next year.
Our first ever foray into the world of cashed-up tradies had a mixed reaction. Look online, and our mega crew-cab comparo rated its virtual socks off. While the digital community relished it, readers, it seems, hated it. John Samuels, Michael Mageros and Michael van Kempen all gave us a bullet for even looking at the “steaming piles of automotive excrement”. Yeah, thanks for that vision.
But everything the trade ute haters dished up couldn’t be matched by Rod Davies, who clearly doesn’t like the hunched-over, angled looks of the Toyota C-HR. “We’ve been trying to keep those cane toads out of Western Australia,” he sprayed.
Wes Ripper is clearly an Aussie muscle fan. We know this because he took time to give everyone a spray for not appreciating the HSV GTSR W1 for what it is; a mighty fine example of locally made products that “have character and are fun to drive and listen to”. “Well done, HSV, on having the balls to produce such a weapon,” he wrote. His sentiment was mirrored by Michael Raymont, who lamented a future with a “useless, soulless, bland SUV that the boring masses drive”.
Our story on wheelsmag.com.au about BMW dumping dual-clutch gearboxes for torque converter autos saw readers come out on both sides of the three-pedal camp. In the red corner, Colin Suttle said he would never buy another manual again. And in the blue corner, Chaise Delia said it’s not always about what tech is fastest, he’ll stick with the fun of a manual. Don’t think we’ve quite settled that argument yet.
And news that the next-gen Mercedes-AMG A45 was squaring up to have more than 300kW was prompting Richard Chester to ask where we draw the performance line. “Elon Musk has a lot to answer for,” he mused.
The start to the second half of the year was dominated by Stephen Corby’s special investigation looking at the rising road toll. Graeme Horsnell nailed it: “If [newly licensed drivers] are not trained to think about the knowledge, skills and suitable attitudes towards surviving every road trip, then they cannot be expected to instantly turn the situation around when they start driving.” Reason, though, appears stacked against us.
Scott Muir had a shot at us for describing SUV buyers as “misguided” and “soccer mums”. He rationalised that if we applied the same critical thinking Wheels applied to SUVs and culled the cars everyone wanted rather than needed, we’d be living in a pretty boring world – one devoid of Astons, Ferraris and Lamborghinis and the like. He makes a point.
Bev Hall had us all worried. Hardened crims, she mused, could step in front of cars with automatic emergency braking, halting them in their tracks. They could then be robbed with ease. Well, as long as the sharp-eyed crim could recognise a car with AEB.
James Canning had us reaching for the tissue box with his nostalgic account of why the locally made large sedans would be missed once they were gone forever. “While latte-sipping inner-city types have long ago abandoned the Aussie large car for hybrids and small-capacity turbo Euros, and the ‘suburban family’ has ditched large sedans in favour of SUVs, nothing is more comfy and at home on a rural road than a Commodore or Falcon,” he wrote. Oh no, there’s something in my eye.
Stephen Trenowden asked where all the modern-day styling classics had gone; a dig at the bland styling resulting from the chase for fuel economy via aerodynamics.
And Ian Gibson came out in praise of the Subaru Forester, the surprise winner of a Wheels mid-size SUV mega-test. “Far too many vehicles these days have an unacceptably harsh low-speed ride, and this is a deal breaker for me,” he said.
This month’s winner was down to a game. Reader Dean Richardson, and his sons Xavier and Callum, used Showroom to divine a dollars-for-thrills shortlist by scoring individual cars on performance. Alongside the KTM X-Bow? A Suzuki Ignis. “We own two Suzuki Swifts, so it was a big grin for the Ignis,” he said.
Editor Inwood’s column the month before suggesting Australia hates the car enthusiast elicited a big “yes!” from nice-car driver Alex Coslovich. “Just last week a driver gesticulated at me, suggesting that I was a wanker because I dared to find a gap in traffic as I merged from an on-ramp,” he huffed. “Would I have received the same response if I was in an old Corolla?”
Peter Moore weighed in on what he thought was the loss of in-car comfort as designers and engineers chased other priorities, namely handling and aerodynamics. As an example of what worked for him, he held up early Peugeots and Citroens as offering a “sumptuous ride”. “Where have all the comfortable cars gone?” he inquired.
Mark Cooper touched on a topic that will require further investigation; why we don’t have uniform car compliance rules. “Every time I move interstate my cars are at the mercy of dodgy compliance rules,” he sprayed. “While my car is hauled over the coals for its window tint, driving by is some piece of crap with no indicators and smoke billowing out the back, but at least it’s registered, hey?”
This edition of Wheels came out shortly after Holden and Toyota closed their doors on decades of Aussie manufacturing. We dedicated Inbox to the readers who wrote in describing what their Holden Commodore meant to them. Pride of place went to Damien Smith and his story of the 1979 VB SL/E 308 he co-owns.
Lisa Edwards lamented the loss of her HDT VK SS Brock Commodore, sold only because she was having her fourth baby and needed a bigger car.
A month on, and we were still mourning the loss of Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry. “Friday, October 20, 2017 marked a very sad day in Australian history as the last ever Australian-made cars came off the production line,” wrote Vic Mazzone. Australia would never be the same again, he said.
Brian Colton was all het up over the tachometer. “Only a few years ago they were found only in exalted sports cars and grand tourers; now they are in the cheapest Suzuki and Hyundai models,” he wrote. Same goes for spoilers.
Yep, just like last year, Wheels is producing a yearbook. This year’s version is dedicated entirely to the future of the car, giving hints as to what automotive advances we can expect before too long.
That’s on sale now, so if you want to see what other Wheels readers think this month, head down to your local newsagents or supermarket and grab a copy. Even better, there’s still time to visit MagShop online and buy yourself the present every car enthusiast really wants; a 12-month subscription to what is possibly the best motoring magazine in the world.
That, or you could chance your arm like everyone else featured here and write in to Wheels for your chance to win a 12-month subscription. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.