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The Enthusiast Rules

Venture into any car related discussion on line and you’ll quickly uncover assumptions and bias among the enthusiasts present. We all have our definitions or rules for what makes a “real” car enthusiast. After nearly a decade of doing the show, Paul and I have seen most every variation, and even had our own blind-spots revealed.

What I find most interesting are the assumptions many have about the background and legitimacy of car journalists. Somewhere along the way keyboard warriors spread a false list of skills that every car reviewer brings to the job. Inexplicably, as the web has created more people getting into press cars (ourselves included) this list survived. So I’m here with a needle to burst the bubble.

First off, every car journalist isn’t an engineer. In fact, over the course of car journalism it has been the exception and not the rule. Very talented folks like Csaba Csere, Kim Reynolds, and Jason Fenske have engineering backgrounds plus a great ability to explain intricacies in clear and relatable ways. However their background is not only rare, but so is the ability for an engineer to speak engagingly about their discoveries.

Many of the writers and reviewers enthusiasts know and love have journalism degrees, while others have educations which seem to offer no path to critiquing cars. Paul has an extensive education and background in car design, as does long time automobile contributor Robert Cumberford, but even this is a rarity. Among our car reviewing friends I can think one PHD in journalism, as well as a photographer, a film graduate, and a self-taught freelance writer. It would be impossible to guess who I’m talking about from those descriptions, and yet every one of them is a well respected reviewer and skilled driver.

If car reviews were limited to those with an engineering degree, enthusiasts would have far less informative and entertaining car content. And the comparative sensations of a car can be gleaned and described without knowing the engineering behind it in the same way a film reviewer can dissect a film without being able to make one.

Secondly, all car reviewers aren’t mechanics. My grandfather was a mechanic with the uncanny ability to take apart any engine and rebuild it without a shop manual. But he bought terrible floaty american cars that were as engaging to drive as an oil tanker. I do get a great sense of accomplishment when I have the time and ability to change out the brakes, shocks, or plugs on my car. More often than not, however, I lack the time or proper tools to conquer a job, and a good mechanic can do it far better and faster than I can. I doubt most food critics can do half the work of a great chef and yet they have trained themselves to decipher what makes a good meal. Similarly, most journalists can’t tear down a car at a moments notice, but they can tell you what feels correct and engaging about a vehicle.

And on this subject. Ask a LeMan or Formula 1 driver to rebuild his engine and you’ll likely get a confused look before they retire to their jet. Mechanics have specialty skills just as drivers do, but one does not require the other.

Lastly, (for now) a car reviewer doesn’t have to own a certain car to know what they’re talking about. This is the most common go-to dismissal of keyboard warriors everywhere. If a journalist doesn’t own a stick shift, fully caged, drift car that somehow also wins autocross and runs time attack then they aren’t a “real” car enthusiast. Witness the mixed reaction to Paul’s recent purchase of a Cayman GTS with the PDK gearbox. We’ve both driven and owned stick shift cars for most of our driving lives, and we almost always prefer them in test cars. But having experienced the PDK in many cars, including the GT3 on the Ring, Paul embraced our discussions of new experiences and now owns one. To some, this has somehow revealed him as a fraud and non-enthusiast. Never mind that cars like the GTR aren’t even made with a manual and so few Ferraris were being bought with a manual that they aren’t even offered any more.

In these moments I often wonder if the commenters making the “rules” even meet their own standard. Car reviewers aren’t infallible, but they generally have a much broader experience base than their audience. Yet in any one specific area there are folks with greater skill and knowledge than those of us comparing cars. Paul and I always strive to share the sensations and experience of the cars we drive. Giving our audience the feeling they’ve driven the car is far harder then restating the stat sheet. And, like anything else, we’re better at it now than we were when we started.

Of course, this is the internet. The price of entry is low and many people revel in the anonymity of the comments section. We, and everyone putting themselves in a car and doing a review, have put ourselves out on display. Along the way, we work to improve our driving ability, our range of car experience, and our ability to describe our discoveries in a way that’s helpful to anyone who gives us their time. Yet, we will continue learning, improving, and working to be better than we were a year prior.

But no matter what, I know some enthusiasts will declare any review without slow motion drifting followed by a mechanical teardown of the engine as proof the reviewers are idiots.

To those people I say, come see what these idiots do next.

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