The competition depicted in the following pages marks several milestones. First, it denotes the beginning of the second decade for Robb Report’s “Car of the Year” event (our 11th annual). While the methodology has shifted and been fine-tuned during that span, the atmosphere of passion, anticipation, pure childish fun, and (somewhat more seriously) connoisseurship has not only endured, but thrived. A decade ago, the judges in this uniquely heterogeneous face-off consisted primarily of a panel of journalist experts. Today, the franchise has expanded to include a noteworthy group of guest panelists, many of them collectors, who possess a love of all things motorcar and the historical knowledge and skill to lend to our final choices a refreshing consumer perspective. That their inclusion furnishes a tenable excuse for organizing the event around a two-day feast of fine food, fine wine, and much adrenaline in California’s Napa Valley has not been lost on some observers, yet the editors stand by their position that “Car of the Year” remains, as always, an unstinting labor in service to our readership.
Our 2004 panel included Dr. Peter Baenninger, president of Davidoff; Jean-Marc Bories, general manager at Breguet; Tom Davidson, owner of the Rainbow Ranch Lodge in Montana and an avid car collector; Bruce Hannay, an investment banker with Merrill Lynch; Bill Harlan, developer and proprietor of Harlan Estate; Herb Harris, attorney and car collector; Ron Jackson, president of Girard-Perregaux USA; James McElwee, general partner at Weston Presidio; and Jon Tamiyasu, CEO of ActSys Medical Inc. These gentlemen, who voted on the final ranking of the vehicles, have generously permitted us to include their remarks with our own reviews. They, like our staff, were asked to judge each vehicle on the basis of driving experience, performance, ergonomics, styling, and image—in other words, the degree to which they felt they would like to own the car. The panel was then instructed to choose as the winner the car that best fills its individual niche—whether Maybach or Morgan.
The second milestone signified by this year’s competition is the selection of automobiles itself. As Robert Ross, creative director and the automotive editor of The Robb Report Collection, noted at our candlelit inaugural dinner in the winery of Harlan Estate, not perhaps since the model years 1966 through 1968 has the industry yielded such an astonishing number of new designs from such an impressive array of marques (see this month’s The Robb Report Collection, page 3). Against a drab backdrop of the Cold War, the Viet Cong, and the grim Grant Wood–like vulgarity of Lady Bird and Lyndon, a generation of gifted visionaries on both sides of the Atlantic gave us spirited and playful symbols of a more civilized world in which the rational and the creative merged in compositions of style, strength, and wit. During this period, the studios of Pininfarina, Bertone, and Ghia gave birth to such masterpieces in motion as the Ferrari Dino 206, Lamborghini Miura, and Maserati Ghibli, while in the United States, buyers marveled at the eccentric beauties of the Chevrolet Corvette 427 and the AC Shelby Cobra 427. The comparison of our current contestants to this crop of cars is an ambitious one, but those presented in “Car of the Year 2004” have much in common with the productions of that golden era: They are, after all, highly individual expressions that depart from the accepted design vernacular, giving us a glimpse not so much of what contemporary society and its tastes are, as what they should be.
4. Maybach 62
6. Audi RS6
7. BMW 645Ci
9. Jaguar XJR
12. Cadillac XLR