Never Stop Driving #60: Sometimes wrong, never in doubt
Dodge Viper owners love retired auto executive Bob Lutz. And for good reason. Without Lutz, their cherished V-10 sports car would not exist. Last Saturday, The Motor City Viper Owners Club (MCVO) turned a yearly Viper gathering—usually held at Lutz’s southeast Michigan home—into a Motown celebration of the man who never forgets that the car business runs on passion. (For a primer on Lutz, check out our interview from last year.)
MCVO member Jon Block conceived a car show that included not just the Viper but all of the cars that Lutz willed into existence during his five-decade career. Some 300 people, a mixture of colleagues, employees, and folks like me who were lucky enough to have spent time with Bob, attended the invite-only event held in a pair of aircraft hangars at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Block and seven volunteers assembled 400 cars and a stage where speakers could share their favorite Lutz stories. “I wanted to honor Bob,” Block said, “and do something he could see and appreciate.” Everyone in attendance shared that sentiment.
I met Lutz several times in the early 2000s during quick hand-shake moments at press events (I was a tech editor at Car and Driver.) Around 2010, I had an idea to turn the Detroit City Airport into a motorsports complex and called Lutz, who had recently retired from GM. I wanted his opinions and perhaps connections. Looking back, I’m a bit embarrassed by my quixotic quest, for its naïveté. I thought I might have the chops to pull it off, but I didn’t. Surprisingly, Lutz remembered me from GM media events and didn’t dismiss my idea, instead inviting me to lunch at his Swiss-style home in nearby Saline, Michigan.
There were a couple of other auto executives in attendance. Lutz wore an apron, cooked, and served us on a deck that overlooked the driveway. We talked cars, the business, my idea, and laughed a lot. I returned whenever I could. A couple of years later, when I took the helm of Road & Track, I asked Bob to answer reader questions via a monthly column.
By then, I’d gotten a much fuller picture of Lutz. Since he served as a Marine aviator, flew a helicopter to work, was often in the press, and openly smoked cigars, his outward image was of a macho and autocratic executive. Maybe there was kernel of those traits, but I also found him to be insightful, open minded, generous, humble, and above all passionate about cars. Of course, he had strong opinions, and he joked that he was sometimes wrong but never in doubt. We called his column “Go Lutz Yourself” and he hand-wrote his submissions, which rarely needed a word changed. Lutz is a gifted writer.
Judging by Saturday’s crowd, my admiration for Lutz is widely shared. BMW sent over a fleet of cars and four employees including Franciscus van Meel, the CEO of BMW M. Perhaps you were not aware that during Lutz’s three-year stint at BMW he started the motorsports division, established the numeric models 3, 5, and 7, and even had a significant hand in the famous tagline “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” BMW has not forgotten Lutz’s contributions. Don Runkle, who was once GM’s VP of engineering, suggested that he gave Lutz the idea for the Viper when he said the Corvette needed a competitor to revive flagging sales. Designers and engineers spoke of how Lutz championed their ideas, cut red tape, and helped them do their best work. There were tears of gratitude. The event raised some $22,000 for the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.
I called Lutz on Monday to ask if I could share the experience. He said that the event was not the cringe-worthy affair he feared and asked that I explain how it was not his idea. Lutz didn’t ask to be honored, but there was a palpable feeling that folks hugely appreciated the opportunity to do so. Lutz deserves his special legacy. We love you, Bob.
There is even more to celebrate this week. Our Redline Rebuild crew finished a multi-year project to resurrect a historic dirt-track racer. The film (below) includes a time-lapse engine rebuild and is capped by footage of host Davin Reckow sliding the finished object on a northern Michigan dirt track. Heaven. Cammisa explained the opposing views on the Acura NSX and Henry Catchpole celebrated the machine that I think everyone needs to drive at least once: the Mazda Miata.
Hagerty’s Steven Cole Smith was once a cop—for real!—and he shared his first police chase. I challenge you to find a better written and photographed piece than this one on Porsche and Pontiac. Finally, the Land Cruiser is coming back!
We regularly post new material, all produced by the best in the business, so check back often. If you’d like to support us, please sign up for the Hagerty Drivers Club. In the meantime, join me in celebrating this period of positivity.
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