Jason Torchinsky is, in my opinion, the greatest automotive journalist of our time, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my friend. I’m saying that because he redefined what automotive journalism can be, and in so doing, helped make the car world more inclusive than it has ever been. Let’s celebrate his contributions to Jalopnik on his 50th birthday.
Growing up, I found the car world a little intimidating. Even as someone knowledgeable about cars, there was something serious about it all. I’d read the normal “buff book” publications, and often see a well-groomed dude at the wheel of a car talking about steering feel, brake fade, body roll, and NVH. There were usually a few jokes chucked into the reviews for levity, but by and large, this was serious business. The car world was for tough guys, and not dorks. Though I may have fancied myself the former, deep down, I knew I was the latter.
That’s why, when I discovered Jalopnik, a publication dedicated to all things car culture and published by people who have historically had no shame, I felt at home. And no writer made me feel more at home than Jason Torchinsky, an artist and comedian with a lifelong love for cars — a man who somehow found what seems like his perfect role in this world as a blogger for a car website. Jason makes cars fun in a way that very few others can, and that has had tremendous value for car culture at large.
Other than maybe a few rabid Tesla stans, everyone loves Jason. He’s authentic, kind, hilarious, a genuine automotive expert with real comedic and artistic skill, and also one of the hardest working people I know, regularly cranking out stories late into the night. He’s one of those people about whom I tell my friends: “Dude, you gotta meet Jason. He’s like nobody else you’ll ever meet.” He’s that special.
Anyway, enough gushing. It’s time to list some of Jason Torchinsky’s “Greatest Hits.” Many of these stories fall into the category “Torchlopnik,” which is literally a story type that’s defined as “An article so weird, only Jason Torchinsky could have written it.” The fact that such a story type exists in our company’s software (see above) should tell you how special Jason has been to Jalopnik, and to the car journalism world.
One of my favorite Torch stories sought to explain how Disney’s Pixar’s Cars universe functioned. Confused about why human-focused elements like door handles and standard languages existed in Cars, Jason laid out the foundation for what would become one of his most timeless articles, writing:
Now, we could just take this at face value and accept this is just a universe with sentient cars, but there’s some small details that suggest there’s more going on here, that perhaps the Cars universe isn’t a different universe at all—perhaps it is our own universe, tens of thousands of years in the future, and perhaps humans are not gone—just very, very different.
The main hint is that the cars still retain details like windows, doors, and door handles, which would only be needed if there were beings who would need to open the cars and get inside them—in short, humans. Us.
There’s also the fact that the cars in Cars all speak known human languages;
That’s when Jason published perhaps the most disturbing image I’ve ever seen on Jalopnik (Okay, maybe second to “The Bag,” which I’ll let other colleagues mention below). Here’s how he reconciled the human elements in a universe filled only with cars: The cars were human electromechanical exoskeletons :
My other favorite Torch story was “Can You Use A Canned Ham As A Bumper Guard?” This article is totally pointless. Nobody asked this question, and even if the answer had somehow turned out to be “yes, it works perfectly,” nobody would have gained anything from having learned that.
The article’s top image is a work of art. There’s a gif of a dog licking a canned ham zip-tied to a bumper. Why? What does the dog have to do with anything? Nobody knows. But that’s Torch.
I also have to mention the Changli, because he and I did those videos together, and they basically broke the internet, especially in China.
My all-time favorite Torch post is still, now and forever, “If Squids Ruled Earth, What Would Their Cars Be Like?” from 2015. I used to love citing that when people asked me “what is Jalopnik?” Not just because of its perfect opening line: “It’s a question a child might ask, but not a childish question,” or the wonderful illustrations and GIF, but for the way it opened my mind to just how abstract car blogging could be. Honestly, reading that post was a formative moment for me as a writer. It really inspired me to think wider and weirder, and I’ve been having a lot more fun in this biz ever since.
Sorry if this was supposed to be a “roast,” by the way, I’m not good at being funny-mean so I’m going to stick with earnest-wholesome. I work with a lot of cool and creative people but Jason’s personality is a delightful blend of humor/whimsy/practicality that yields some truly unique and fun comedy. Never change, JT!
Jason has done a lot of outstanding work for the site over the years, but this video is my favorite because it is a joke that is efficiently told and conceptually perfect. All killer, no filler; pure, uncut Torchinsky. Put it in my veins.
You know that old cliche about there being a fine line between genius and madness....that is Torch, but it the best possible way. There is no one else in the auto-blogo-sphere that brings the same level of off-beat creativity to their work.
And while we all love reading his Changli adventures, wonderful and weird automotive history posts, and excellent tail-light commentary...my favorite is when Jason uses a combination of logic and humor to call out and expose bullshit. I like to call these Torch-burns!
Jason is truly one of a kind and I hope he continues to do what he does for another 50 years.
At the end of the day, Jason’s best work is about poop. I may endure too many “ToRcH sHoUlD wRiTe AbOuT” comments about weird cars, old Volkswagens and weird old Volkswagens said to me, another writer who loves all of those things. Fine, dude, you write delightful articles about Volkswagen minutiae, but any dummy can go out and drag home some unloved hunk of air-cooled crap if they really want to live their best life.
No, Jason’s best work is pushing the boundaries of the genre in under-covered ways. Jason Drives shed crucial light on the dingleberries of automotive history — the weird, the exceptional, the sorta-forgotten and the innovative. It’s a great narrative of how we got where we are today, as told by cars that weren’t so common. “Will It Baby?” was an invaluable source of information for parents looking at cool cars from the very common perspective of a parent. That’s how parents use cars, it’s not a perspective us non-toddler-having writers can give, and it’s also not something that JunketBot 9000 can necessarily test out when he’s whisked away to Spain far, far away from the fam to be pumped full of shrimp and press jargon.
Babies poop, though. Everyone poops. Jason’s best work is frankly...number two. He bought a car you can poop in: a glorious vintage RV. He’s driven several fascinating microcars that look like porta-potties. Yet the true apex of transportation journalism for me was him trying to poop like an Apollo astronaut.
Maybe I’m biased as “space pooping” is my favorite topic, and it is my life’s dumbest but most awesome goal to drop a deuce in space. We’ve put up with a lot of crap to push the boundaries of technology and send humans off this earth. Actual, physical floating crap. I don’t know of many other people who would try out pooping in a stick-on baggie, but by golly, Jason did.
Next step: send Jason into microgravity to test it out further. Godspeed.
Also, his hair is FINE. You people are mean.
Although I have admired, appreciated, and read so many of Jason’s stories over the years, when I think of Jason Torchinsky the very first thing that comes to mind is him driving the Hoffman in this 2015 Jalopnik YT video:
I recently spent some time at the Lane Motor Museum and I encountered the Hoffman, and truly all I could do was think about Jason and his experience with this thing, with his hilarious remarks ringing in my mind even six years after I saw this video. Jason has always made me laugh, but the Hoffman segment was just so absolutely hilarious, and Jason was absolutely THE perfect person to describe everything about how terrible it was. Jason is a master of weird and quirky cars, and it only makes sense that he would review possibly the weirdest/quirkiest/worst one of all.
Happy birthday to Jason — I’m thrilled that I once counted him among my colleagues, and I’m excited to continue reading (and hopefully watching) more Jason in the future!
Of all the close friends who have ever shown up at my house with a box of condoms, some duct tape and a milk jug marked “WARNING — TEPID URINE”, Jason is surely among the top five or six.
The true fact about Jalopnik, especially in the earlier days, is that we have no idea what we were doing. It was mostly one long improvisation with a guiding principle of “do what seems honest.” The exception to this is Jason Torchinsky. Jason always knows what he was doing. He always has a plan.
One of the best lucky tricks we ever pulled was getting an Airbnb up in the hills of Carmel Valley for Pebble Beach week. It wasn’t close to anywhere, but it was cheaper than a hotel and we had a pool, a hot tub, and a great view. We had so much room we invited Jason and our friend, stunt driver Sera Trimble, up for the ride. Jason scored a press rental van for the trip and this was a great idea because it meant we could all get fancied up in hats and suits and take one vehicle to the Concours.
I get in the back of the van, all dudded up, and there’s a clear plastic gallon water jug with crossbones drawn on it and big, black Sharpie block lettering that says “WARNING: TEPID URINE.”
At this point I knew Jason well enough that I was almost sure it wasn’t tepid urine. Almost.
I picked this story about how to pee in your car because Jason is of course obsessed with his own bodily fluids. When we somehow got a Jalopnik edition long-termer we didn’t know what to do with it. But Jason did. Jason always knows what he’s doing.
The shitting in a bag was definitely my favorite written Jason story. It’s so unabashedly Jason. I remember sitting in the Moon Week pitch meeting and Jason volunteered to shit in a fucking bag because he’s Jason. I also regret not speaking up about the tape catching onto his ass hairs because I thought he’d think of something like that, but alas. Sorry Jason!
But my favorite blog I did with Jason was filming a hate-mail reading. Jason has a beautiful speaking voice that causes angels to cry, but especially when he reads in verse. I think of Jason reading his hate mail whenever I’m feeling down and the world becomes just a bit brighter when I do.
Jason’s first stories here at Jalopnik were so interesting and creative that they instantly changed the whole place. I don’t even know what Jalopnik is without his on-the-fly illustrations he does every day. With that said, there is one story that does stick out as particularly wonderful, particularly bold, particularly emblematic of Jalopnik as an extended thought experiment. That is, of course, his detailed plans on how to steal the space shuttle.
[Raphael also mentioned the Lincoln MKZ debut sketch and the decision charts below]
I’m off today, but I’m checking in to share a post that while it may not be my “favorite” in the Jason Torchinsky oeuvre, it’s the one that sticks with me. His homunculus cars theory for the Cars cinematic universe is utterly horrifying and the illustrations make it so much worse.
Over the last four years, I’ve seen every Cars movie and short hundreds of times. I’ve even seen Planes. Of course you wonder what’s going on with those little guys. Here’s how I square it in my head: I imagine there’s a world where cars are people, more or less, and then stop thinking about it. Jason on the other hand, devised a truly grotesque explanation and then wrote about it at some length on Jalopnik.
When given the opportunity, he cornered Ray Evernham and my good friend, Pixar creative director Jay Ward to you know, see what they thought. I could not have imagined how uncomfortable it would get. I’ve thought of pulling shit like this in interviews, but I’ve never gone through with it, definitely not to the degree that Jason did here.
Jay, I’m sorry Jason made you look at those drawings. Jason is one of a handful of real originals to have ever made a living writing about cars. He’s a brilliant guy, but more importantly, he’s endlessly curious, always digging for little bits of joy to share—then sharing those bits in perfectly endearing, funny, entertaining ways. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the part of car culture that’s focused on the weird, esoteric, goofy and half-assed has come a few steps closer to the mainstream because of his writing. Jason has a great big heart, and I know his fans can sense that in his writing. It will be a real shame when succumbs to the effects of his advanced age in the very near future.
Ok, picking a Torch story favorite. Impossible, because they are all terrible, and he is terrible and he shouldn’t be allowed to do what he does. That said, I’ve found his thoughts on autonomous cars very helpful, and have quoted his book several times, because he is an expert, because he wrote a book! A terrible terrible expert.
I have always been impressed with J’s ability to track down a story, to look at a small detail everyone else just accepts and ask, “What the hell, how did this happen?” (something I’m sure Jason’s parents and spouse say to themselves often.) For example, the gas filler arrow. I think about this story often as an example of not only noticing a detail, but pursuing its origins.
Jason is also disgusting. He’s a repulsive man with no shame about anything and that is why he once wrote a detailed and well-researched story about shitting like an astronaut. This story made me laugh very hard and also gag a little. Sign of a good story!
Lastly, and I hate to admit it, because I wish to have nothing in common with such a horrible human, but Jason and I share an obsession with car faces that of course is healthy and sweet on my part and borders on fetishistic on Torch’s. Still, I find myself relating to his work on the subject, most recently, last year’s piece on running car photos through an AI face generator. The Bugeye Sprite, as one would expect, was adorable.
Anyhow, Jason’s continued existence is a horror for everyone and I love him very much and wish him a happy birthday.
The first time I met Jason was at a Lynk & Co brand launch event in October 2016, we’d invited him to cover the launch of our exiting new brand for the youth, Lynk & Co, but we also force fed him before he entered which he didn’t like at all; in fact he wrote about it at length. Sorry Torch.
Jason managed to pull holes in the business plan around Lynk & Co, and was highly curious about the sharing aspect, and as he eloquently put it “Where will you put all your personal shit that you keep in your car before you share it? So, we brought him back to Sweden to dream up a locked box for ‘your shit’ that sits in the car.
Another time he reached out to me to ask for Greatwall Coolbear badging, as the car was heavily inspired by the Scion XB. The Torch’s own XB had recently been in a crash and he was rebuilding it slowly – so I sent him a bunch of Chinese market bumper stickers and of course the Coolbear badging, he never did use the ‘turn off your fucking high beams’ sticker though, perhaps in America freedom isn’t actually free.
Probably the most bizarre Jason experience was when I was in bed flicking through my phone and turning over the pages of Chinese social media channels when Jason’s face was beaming back at me with pure excitement that you would only find in a toddler on Christmas day as he unboxed a cheap electric car he had bought from China via the internet. The title of the video was “American man buys cheap Chinese old man’s mobility car”.
As I flipped from Weibo (Twitter) to Bilibili (Youtube) Jason had become an unintended viral star, and he didn’t even know he was big in China until I told him via Twitter direct messages. One video of him fawning over his Changli car had millions of views, combined across different channels it was tens of millions. Chinese viewers had fallen in love with Jason’s enthusiasm and child-like excitement for a dangerous death trap that has been banished to all but the deepest parts of the Chinese countryside. He even made it onto Chinese State TV. One of my favorite video titles for these videos of Jason that had been lifted and reuploaded to Bilibili.com was “Chinese old mans mobility car conquers the heart of an American man” which I guess is true.
I honestly can’t believe that Jason is heading into his fifties, it won’t be long before he’s wearing cardigans in summer and spending all day in his basement fixing old electronics. Oh wait. Happy Birthday Jason – please keep being you – an excellent journalist, father, husband, and unofficial diplomat to China.
[Note: I pulled this one from the comments after initial publication, since I forgot to reach out to Travis. Sorry Travi! -DT]
The most fun I have in this gig isn’t going to exotic places to drive fabulous cars or having drinks at auto shows with all my wonderful colleagues, it’s getting to edit Jason Torchinsky. Every day, Jason presents an editorial challenge the likes of which I never considered in my years in the automotive press, like when we had an in depth conversation about how a seatbelt would work in a car for Centaurs or when my encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek comes into play, and we have to debate the finer details of transporter technology.
I thought the endless hours I’d devoted to a decades-old television show would never be useful! But here’s Torch, making it happen. I also love his Cars From Imaginary Counties series, which is off the wall on so many levels, Torch is the only human alive who could make it work.
Despite being a wise elder, he’s always up for learning new things or having his way of thinking challenged. Here’s to the man who makes every day at work entirely too much fun. At 50 years old, he still has plenty of decades to confound and delight Jalopnik editors and readers alike.