The picture really tells it all. Count the number of times I tried to correct a slide, going faster, going faster, going faster until oh shit fuck fuck fuck that’s a pole.
I was lucky enough to emerge unscathed from the crash. (The car took the brunt of the impact above the rear wheel, wrecking the fender, but it did drive home.) I am deeply ashamed, and I am deeply sorry, not only for the nice people at Fiat Chrysler who lent Jalopnik this car, but also to my coworkers who were waiting to drive it, and also use it to record a video the following week.
That video shoot, I had to inform them, would be delayed.
Because of me. Because I was a moron.
Really, it seemed like I wasn’t doing anything that was too extreme, just a little slow slide for a picture. But that’s why it’s worth me giving three little reminders to myself. I would have wished I could have beamed myself back in time to scream them into my own ear, like a ghost of car crashes future.
Instead, I will just blog about them here, for public ridicule, as is Jalopnik’s customary punishment for crashing a press car. You break it, you buy it—or at least tell people about it.
Here’s what I learned.
(Full Disclosure: Fiat wanted me to drive a 124 Abarth so badly that they kindly dropped one off with a full tank of gas. I promptly drove it into a pole. I’m sorry, Fiat.)
Never Look At What You Don’t Want To Hit
It was all going so well. My coworker Kristen Lee wanted to take the Abarth out for a drive and asked if I wanted to come to help take some shots of the car while it was moving, rather than just the usual stationary pictures you get in a car review. Sure. Happy to come along.
We found some wonderful park roads about 45 minutes from New York City in a blossoming New Jersey swamp. It was a nice contrast to how most people think New Jersey looks. That is, a not-blossoming swamp.
A little corner cutting through a field was a perfect opportunity to drive by the camera slowly, and with an extra-slow shutter speed, make the car look like it was really going fast. I figured I would make two passes around the corner.
On the first pass, I felt the car load up and I let the tail slide out. Fun. On the second pass, I laid into it a little bit more.
Not as much fun.
I thought the car would drive out of the slide. It didn’t. It just kept spinning the rear tires, and kept spinning them whereupon I realized that things were getting too hectic.
I did what I know not to do: freak out, sharply let off the gas, and oh shit, there’s a pole. Never look at the pole.
There was a skip and a whack as the car, spun right around, smacked its rear fender directly into the wood. The fender took most of the hit, but the wheel was cambered wrong and looked toe’d out. It looked like I could drive out, but once the car cocked a wheel up into the air, it wouldn’t go anywhere. I sat down. This idiot. Let the car get away from me, didn’t keep my head.
I’d need to call a tow and, significantly worse, my boss.
Always Keep A Tow Rope In The Car
I was in the midst of calling AAA when a Chevy pickup drove up to Kristen and me, taking another look at the very sad man with the even-sadder looking sports car.
“You two are okay?” he asked.
“Yeah. Do you have a tow rope?”
All he had was a few yards of yellow nylon rope bundled up in the back seat.
“I do this all the time, pulling out stuck vehicles at work,” he said with a smile, and a bit of concern, warning us that we did not want to stay here long enough for a cop to drive past. A cop would not like the look of the scene.
But it didn’t take long to pull the car free, first back with a loop around the rear subframe, then over and away from the pole with a loop through the rear passenger-side wheel, then all the way out of the ditch again with the rope looped around the subframe.
The car was banged up, but it drove fine. Nothing looked bent in the suspension, and the wheel wasn’t even scratched. The only thing odd about it was the rear wheel was at enough of an angle to set the steering wheel at an angle while driving straight.
It would’ve seemed weird, but I had spent a whole weekend racing with a car that had all kinds of weird alignments up at the Mt. Washington Hillclimb. Mess with the alignment of the back of the car, and you’ll affect the front of the car, too.
If You Think It’d Be Fun To Gas It A Bit More, Don’t
The 124 Abarth, like the Miata on which it is based, is a wonderful-handling car. It’s a fun car, and it encourages you to push a bit harder on every corner you drive. You’ve got this, the Abarth braaps. It has a way of telling you that it’s getting up on its toes, that with a bit more power the rear would step out. This is the information that a driver craves. It’s information that gave me one fun slide and another less fun one.
It’s great to have an alive rear-drive chassis, happy to communicate back with you. You just need to not be an idiot.
That little voice in the back of your mind that asks if it’d be fun to just dip that right foot a little bit deeper down is best left unanswered, at least if you seek to keep all of a car’s body panels un-dented.
In the end, the car drove easily back to the city. Kristen got her pictures of the car (the shot of the first slide came out better than the shot of the second), though her time to review the car was cut a bit short. My boss, Patrick George, was glad to hear that everybody was okay, but disappointed the car was in bad shape.
“I was going to do roadster stuff this weekend,” Patrick lamented.
He would have. He should have. It’d have been wonderful.