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An Oral History of That Car Review You Read on the Internet Last Week and Almost Immediately Forgot About


Doug Whittle (first person in America to read the review): I was just sitting there, watching the coffee machine make a pot, when I saw it on Twitter: The new Blorpia J50 X-Cross was out. So many reviews, all published online at the same time! I thought: I liked cars, as a kid, for about five minutes. And I needed something to mindlessly scroll past for 30 seconds while I stood in the back yard and waited for the dog to finish pooping.

T.J. Clark (adjunct contributor at large, I spent 13 minutes trying to think of a good adjective for the steering feel. I eventually settled on “truculent.”

Driving in Hawaii
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Dan Congdon (Senior/top editor, Motor Burp): Our standards are pretty high, but that’s only because of the fast pace, the fact that we have the best team in the business. And T.J. knows some good words. We use a lot of spellcheck around here. It’s the only way to keep up.

Adeline Heller (copy chief, MB): That’s the thing about working with talent: Most days, it’s just better output than you get from average folk. But the peaks blow you away. When he trotted out the phrase, “gearshift falls readily to bland?” It’s like Kinison said: When you’re undeniable, you’re undeniable.

Ellington Scott (editor-in-chief and publisher, MB): Manufacturers run these things we call press trips. They pay to fly everybody—journalists from around the world—to one location, to drive and review a new car, because it’s easier and cheaper to bring 50 journalists to 10 cars and 12 engineers than it would be ship all those cars and engineers to 50 separate addresses. The rest of journalism calls these “junkets,” but we don’t like that term. Cheapens what we do, I think.

T.J. Clark: Blorpia’s agency is pretty good, chooses classy hotels. Can’t say that about everybody. The minibar on that last [carmaker redacted] trip gave me a mild case of explosive, ah…

Dan Congdon: What you have to understand about writing car reviews is, not everyone can do it. I mean, sure, you can sit down and say what you think about the car, but can you tell me about the handling of the new Toyota minivan at the eleventh tenth? Do you like watches? Are you prepared to drive a Rolls-Royce through a McDonald’s drive-thru ironically and then whip up an Insta post at least three days later showing #todaysoffice? That kind of instinct can’t be taught.

Ellington Scott: We get a lot of pretenders, but this stuff is hard to fake. I always fall back on this: can they tell me the unique origin and appeal of the Porsche 911? You take the time to learn that story, join that air-cooled cult, it’s a sign you’re different. That’s when you buy the Leica, you start the Insta, we pay attention.

Adeline Heller: T.J. is just one of those people who says what he means, pulls no punches. Absolutely gutted the last Corolla we had in here. Said the dash vinyl felt like the hairy stomach of a space monster’s mother-in-law! The X-Cross review was no different, guns blazing. And the site stood by him.

Doug Whittle: I really like when they tell me how the plastics feel. I like reading about that.

Car Glove box plastics
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Veronica Tuttle (global comms and PR head, Blorpia Motors): X-Cross is a landmark for us. It’s what we call “all-new,” in that it’s a first-ever redesign of a reengineered platform with ground-up capabilities and an unprecedented, disruptive rethink of the all-wheel-drive paradigm shift. I mean, the first iteration of this platform set was globalized into a series of local-market manufacturing events in 2004, but this is a totally different product. That’s why we chose Maui for the launch event. It’s a good fit for the brand, for our ambitions.

Ellington Scott: You know it’s gonna be a good car when they send you to Maui.

David Kapono (valet, Royal Lāhainā Resort): These mainland jerks, they never tip. They just steal the robes from the room closets.

Veronica Tuttle: That’s actually fair. We end up paying for a lot of robes.

Ellington Scott: And, I heard, at least one television.

Veronica Tuttle: Didn’t find out until I went to level the books a month after the event, saw the Four Seasons had charged us for it. How do you even get that on a plane? But the review was very kind, and the writer worked for a big paper, so, eh. What’s an old Trinitron, give or take, in the long run?

Senior man wearing tuxedo using old tv
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Adeline Heller: You’ve maybe heard about the changes here. We just killed our union local, de-organized the shop. Feels pretty good. Management is like family around here.

Dan Congdon: We have a few editors who take the long way around—they’ll spend seven or eight days writing and editing a 300-word review. If the story is really important, then it gets another five or six days in fact-check and top edit. But most of our pieces are around 5000 words, especially with a writer like T.J., who’s really sharp, just better the longer he goes. In that case, when we trust the reporter, they go up on the site about 20 minutes after they submit the review. We can fix anything after it goes live, so there are basically no wrong facts.

T.J. Clark: Who are you and how did you get in my house?

Ellington Scott: You wouldn’t believe the phone calls I got after the X-Cross review went up. Clark pissed off a lot of folks at Blorpia. As an Editor-In-Chief, though, **** can’t flow downhill, you protect your people. And journalism is a give and take—there aren’t a lot of options. People trust advertising, know we wouldn’t work with companies we don’t respect.

Veronica Heller: We love our influencers.

Ellington Scott: We’re doing a special homepage takeover next week at We gave Blorpia the site’s banners, expanding to a whole skin, for five days. In exchange, as an apology. It’s not pay for play, not at all, but some people think T.J. crossed a line with that review.

Veronica Heller: Listen. The car going into limp mode in some parking lots is just normal operation. I can direct you to our lawyers. But more to the point, the anecdote he used to illustrate it—how do you call a small child that word?

David Kapono: I am never bringing my son to work again.

Paul Verlasser (road test editor, MB): I dunno, man. I’m tired. I’ve been doing this a long time. You know how many people I’ve seen join this staff to write who then decide they really want to be on YouTube instead? Everybody leaves to be in PR or talk to camera, everybody has family money to fall back on, nobody cares about hardware any more. You don’t have to know who Stirling Moss was or how to drift a Lambo. I’d be happy if you didn’t understeer that SUV loaner into the barrier in the parking garage again.

A Vehicle On Fire
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Paul Verlasser: You want me to say good things? What good things? I’ve been an autojourno for 45 years. I wrote my dissertation at Northwestern on hegemony in exploitation of the press. I haven’t had a raise since Bush was in office. If I quit, in this economy? Where would I go? I hate cars. I hate my life.

Paul Verlasser: Clark couldn’t diagram a sentence with a gun to his head. He only has a following because he was on this awful MB YouTube show we did for a bit. Half his facts were wrong, but he was loud, so nobody noticed.

Adriana Hodges (senior editor, MB): Everybody has a T.J. Clark story.

Doug Whittle: Who?

Adriana Hodges: The X-Cross is a pretty dull car. Most SUVs are these days, and most new cars these days are SUVs, so there you go. But that review was proof—when he’s on his game, you don’t mess with TJC.

Doug Whittle: Does he know Mr. Beast?

Adriana Hodges: The metaphors! And the way he laid out those braking numbers … ending with that little anecdote about his childhood love of cars, the personal pronoun in repetition? Have you ever seen a writer more artfully use the words, “But enough of that, how’s it drive?”

David Kapono: Seriously, no tip? What’s that about? I just parked your car at an expensive hotel, man! You own an X-Cross! You’re not broke!

David Kapono: Oh, wait. He doesn’t own it?

David Kapono: So he’s on this trip to Hawaii for free? And he can’t spare ten bucks?

David Kapono: They call that a job?

Doug Whittle: I got about 20 percent of the way in the review, then skipped to the end, where they said the cupholders were like a “METAPHOR TK,” whatever that means. Then the dog was done, so I went inside.

Big pile of fresh dog poop in green grass
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T.J. Clark: I don’t like saying this, but it was one of my better pieces. Right up there with that time I drove a Formula 1 car on the limit during a track day, in that Subaru event. And Ellington was on Twitter after, saying the story made him proud. You want that sort of public feedback, from your boss.

Dan Congdon: If I’m honest, T.J. crashes a lot.

Ellington Scott: We have some staff cuts coming.

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