The year is almost over. You aren’t working, and even if you are, you’re phoning it in as best you can. So why not take some time to catch up on some of Jalopnik’s best stories from 2018?
In a lot of ways, making selections for my annual end-of-year editor’s picks was tougher than it’s ever been. Amazing car heroes you don’t know about, investigations into deadly tires and shady shops, the joys of driving old analog Hondas, road trips into the fake apocalypse and the real stories behind The Fast and The Furious—we had a ton of strong work from our staff and contributors this year, and it showcased our most diverse array of story subjects probably ever. (Not to mention it was done under the cloud of yet another corporate overhaul; a note to new owners, imagine what we can do when we’re not under that cloud!)
Our mandate at Jalopnik is to give you something different than what you get in the rest of the car landscape, which is full of rewritten press releases, anodyne reviews and soulless buying guides. We aim to give you great stories about cars and the humans involved with them. I hope we pulled that off better than ever in 2018. In creating this list, I think we did.
I’ll start with an easy one that showed up late in the year, but one that I had been bugging Raphael Orlove to finish since at least January. He’s been researching the failed launch of Mazda’s luxury brand for almost a decade himself, and it shows in this great retrospective. Would Amati have survived and been successful? I don’t really think so, and I’m just glad Mazda is around at all these days.
When we sent Alanis to China, the goal was for her to examine what the country’s rising motorsport culture looked like—who’s doing it, why, and where it’s going. That’s... not quite how things went for her. She came back with a different story, albeit an equally mind-blowing one.
Here’s Justin Westbrook with the man whose life story is why Nissan.com doesn’t take you to a place where you can spec out an Altima. I wonder how he feels about Carlos Ghosn’s current troubles?
“Cars are boring,” the uninitiated often say. Bunk! The automotive world is full of bizarre and fascinating stories—and real-life characters, like the Dodge Brothers. Here’s Erin with a story from the early days of American motoring that’s often forgotten today.
Nissan, what happened to you? After decades of the Z, the 510, the 240SX and much more, its current sports car lineup is ancient and the rest is stuff like the Kicks and Murano. We asked lifelong Z guy Rob Fuller what he thought, and his sentiments echo how a lot of us feel about this once-great carmaker today.
God Can Always Track You Down and Kill You, but in a 300 Horsepower Toyota Camry You Get a Pretty Good Running Start
Let us pause for a moment and appreciate how, as sedans fade into irrelevance, the car that was once the poster child for boring now has a 300 horsepower V6 engine and optional red leather seats. Equally entertaining is Raph’s take on the surprisingly ridiculous new Camry.
As essayist David Obuchowski tells us, Jim Barbour comes off like any normal, humble older gentleman living in your neighborhood. But at war and on the track, he’s packed more into one life than many people would in ten.
Of all our investigative journalism this year—and there was a lot, probably more than ever—this was the most important. Ryan Felton shined a light on a Goodyear RV tire launched in the 1990s and now linked to multiple crashes and deaths, but has never been recalled despite numerous lawsuits. We must have hit a nerve since the company asked a judge to call us and yell at us for publishing documents in the case.
Even if Goodyear won’t recall these tires, this goes without saying: If you have a G159 tire on your RV, get it off. Now.
“You know what this list needs?” I said to myself after reading over a draft of it. “More goddamn Pao.” Jason’s new JDM toy may be the most delightful car in the whole Jalopnik fleet, and his stories on its adventures in America will make your day better.
It takes a special kind of person to keep vintage Ferraris running in top condition, and Jenni Helms is exactly that. She’s even more special when you realize what she and her family have been through to get where they are.
It’s easy to get jaded when you’re tasked with driving new cars all the time, especially in 2018 when so many new cars feel... the same. But this, this was truly special, and Kurt’s words and photos capture the magic of it all.
7's Day was one of the most fun and surreal events I’ve ever seen in my life. It was like Gran Turismo threw up in Times Square. To anyone who says there’s no car culture in New York: Let this prove you wrong.
Harley-Davidson’s problems are well-documented at this point: In doubling down on the leather-clad weekend rebel Baby Boomer crowd, this storied brand has been left fighting for its own relevance. But Erik’s visit to the Motor Company’s homeland sheds a new light on how this happened, and how Harley’s trying to come back from it.
The people we regard as heroes are just that—people. That means they’re flawed, complicated, troubled and in some cases not as heroic as we’d like them to be. I like this essay from Kristen because she’s a clear admirer of The Fast and The Furious and Paul Walker himself, once. And this is how she reckoned, like we all must, with the uglier side of who he was.
This dude’s lucky he lives in Chicago. If he tried this here in New York, I think we’d bring back capital punishment just for him. Here’s Mike with a nice dive into a really infuriating Turo move.
Trump’s Trade War Threatens BMW’s Biggest Factory in the World, but South Carolina Doesn’t Seem to Mind
On the eve of the 2018 mid-term elections, Erik went to South Carolina to find out what the state’s mostly red base thinks of the tariffs that could threaten thousands of BMW jobs at its biggest global plant. Like the issue at hand, the answer was more complex than it seemed on the surface.
Another good deep-dive into weird car history from Raph, this time examining Nissan’s racing efforts in the 1980s, when everything was just more interesting.
Ryan did a number of stories on the dark side of automotive financing that we were proud of this year. Here’s one: A look at how companies like Credit Acceptance set up their loan terms to saddle unsuspecting buyers with shocking levels of debt that, in many cases, they can almost never get rid of.
How a Subprime Auto Lender Consumed Detroit With Debt and Turned Its Courthouse Into a Collections Agency
And if you want to know how bad it is in Detroit alone, read this heavily data-driven story by Ryan and our friend Ishaan from GMG’s Special Projects Desk. This is the ugly downside to a society being as car centric as we are: People need to get around and get to work somehow, even when they’re broke and desperate. And when that happens shady companies are all too eager to exploit their desperation.
Yes, I am also personally thrilled that David has another Jeep. Just thrilled.
This, from contributor Jonathon Klein, is one of those stories about cars that really isn’t about cars, if you catch my drift. It’s about the healing power of a road trip after tragedy strikes, and how even that can fall short at times.
If you haven’t read Elizabeth Werth’s series on the daredevil women of early racing, you really need to. One thing I hate about car journalism is that it tends to center around the same (often white) dudes over and over again. But especially when motoring was new, a ton of amazing women got behind the wheel and blazed trails as they were smoking tires. Their stories deserve a lot more attention than they get.
Build of the Week is something I’ve wanted to do forever, and Stef Schrader delivered mightily on it in 2018 with words and on video. From custom four-seat DeLoreans to home-restored BMWs, we found some of the craziest and most ambitious projects in all of cars.
The series returns in January. Get excited!
Erin Marquis is probably the toughest person I know.
Over the last two years she faced down a very serious illness and ran much of Jalopnik’s day-to-day operations at the same time, always without complaining. (Well, almost always.) Cancer briefly took away this avid enthusiast and automotive historian’s ability to get behind the wheel, but here’s her tale of recovery and becoming mobile again.
Andrew Collins has the Jalopnik job you really want: He gets to drive cool cars all day. (My job mostly involves yelling at people over email, and meetings.) But like I said earlier, a lot of new cars drive pretty similarly, so it’s good to go back to the classics, like this 1999 Honda Prelude Type SH. Here’s how a Honda gem holds up today.
Spying on Employees, Screwing Buyers: What Went Wrong at One of America’s Biggest Euro Parts Companies
I’ll give troubled parts company ECS Tuning this: Based on everything I have seen, they have new management and representatives who seem pretty sincere about restoring customer trust and getting the business back on track. I hope they can do it. Us old Euro car snobs need all the options we can get.
Nuance! Nuance is good, as Mike Ballaban helpfully explains here. You can root for EVs, Tesla and American car companies, and think that Elon Musk should log off and take a real vacation every now and then!
As David describes it here, the Honda Ridgeline’s Wikipedia page is an “exhaustive love letter from a bunch of nerds” to a truck that doesn’t often get a lot of love. Their commitment and attention to detail is almost moving.
Also, I hate to even bring this up, but... why is Jalopnik the only former Gawker/GMG website that doesn’t have a Wikipedia page? We have 13 million readers a month. Someone make us a Wikipedia page! I’m not allowed to do it.
David Tracy goes to Hong Kong to visit his brother from time to time, and there he uncovered a truly bizarre aspect of the local car culture. This is what all of our broken dreams look like.
As Kristen explores in this great essay, just as the F&F movies had to move beyond street racing to go legitimate, the actual tuners and racers who inspired those movies had to do the same when the only other alternatives were jail time or the grave.
It’s hard to select the best Jason Torchinsky stories from any given year, because he’s a mad genius and all of his stories are incredible. But I’ll settle for this cross-continental road trip that I ended up being extremely jealous of. Add this to your bucket list.
The story that sent a million bro-truck drivers into therapy. Little cars are tougher than we give them credit for.
Yes, I’m trying to dial back the “Being an enthusiast in New York is haaaaard” stories for 2019. But this is just damn good advice.
We had a big debate on whether it’s OK to touch other people’s cars or not (I don’t think it’s that huge a deal but asking permission is always ideal) but I admire Brad’s brazen take here. The man helped give us Radwood, people. He may be onto something.
Speed, we believe around here, belongs to everyone. And as Brehanna Daniels says in this story, it matters that everyone gets invited to the party: “I don’t want to be part of something when I don’t see people who look like me there,” Daniels said. “But now others get the chance to see me in the sport and they’re like, ‘Hey, she’s in it, I can be in it too.’”
This story from Anna Merlan, with stunning photos from shooter Tod Seelie, is one of the wildest things I’ve ever seen. It’s also a nice preview of the probable future we’re all going to experience. Start building your rat rod tanks now, kids. Maybe hoard water while you’re at it.
Our man in Japan Ken Saito had too many great stories to count, but this one was a particular favorite of mine. Remember: If you can’t buy the car you want, build it. Even if it’s nine cylinders down on the real thing.
The best kind of history lesson, I think, is one that challenges the narrative everyone’s used to. The Porsche 959 is rightfully remembered as a hero car today. But we forget Porsche started out as a tiny company in a garage before it grew into the high-tech powerhouse it is today, and this car came out right in between those eras—with all the good and bad that came with that.
We’ll end this roundup on with an old-school Jalopnik story: A road trip in a classic car. Raphael and I had our doubts about the 1970 BMW 2500 we were trying to move from Seattle to New York, but the car was a total champion in the end. Everyone should take a long journey in a classic car at least once.