The barbs didn't get pointy until our third meeting. By then, we'd whittled our list of coolest cars—this month's cover story—from well over 200 candidates to around 80. And what began as a lively and entertaining debate about the stuff we love shifted to heated campaigns to save personal favorites from the red pen.
One such car was the 1988 McLaren MP4/4. That machine, driven by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, was the product of designers Steve Nichols and Gordon Murray and was one of the most dominant F1 cars ever built. We just had its successor, an MP4/6, sitting in our lobby, on loan from Hexcel, the Utah company that helped produce its carbon-fiber tub. At least once a day, I caught Executive Editor Sam Smith standing next to it, staring.
Contributing editor and living racing encyclopedia Marshall Pruett nominated the McLaren. He must have anticipated the argument against the car's inclusion on the grounds that it was an overdog, because he finished his thoughtful case with a snarky rebuttal: "Only simpletons use statistics to justify greatness."
We cut it.
The funny thing is, now that I'm thinking about the car again, all I wonder is, how could we? That's the devil and the fun of these compilations—they're never carved in stone. Which, of course, prompts another question: Why bother?
The list is a way to contextualize what's happening right now. Cars don't just appear, they evolve, built on the technology and the style of what came before. Every now and then, it's useful to take a step back, appreciate history, and get a glimpse of how today's efforts stand in the pantheon of preceding hardware.
This response is perfectly logical. We're barraged with so many marketing messages, it's only natural that we strive to parse out what matters. List-making is human nature, and the very act forces you to take stock of what's important. As the Internet has shown, that transcends media or delivery method.
We also wanted to express what, at this moment, inspires us and the rest of the industry. That's one reason we limited the list to cars built after 1964, because these are the machines that current decision makers grew up with. Nostalgia is the invisible hand driving not just our passions, but our decisions. There's also the knee-jerk rightness to some of this—including race cars in the list, for example—that needs no explanation.
Into this maelstrom, we invited a group of outside experts. Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, a lifelong collector and the 2013 winner of the Road & Track trophy at Pebble Beach, thought we were bonkers to include the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, a la Smokey and the Bandit. "No, no, no!" he wrote from his home in England. "Surely this is not cool. Hollywood cool is anything driven by Steve McQueen. You must have taken a leave of your senses. What's next, Herbie the Love Bug?"
When I read that in one of our meetings, most nodded, except for Senior Ed Josh Condon and his menacing, buzzed head. "Burt Reynolds," he said, pounding the table, "and Sally Field jumping a river in that T/A is the reason I'm here. It goes, so do I. "
The 1960s: 51 Coolest Cars: 1966 Eagle Mark 1
The room was silent for a minute, no one sure how to respond. And lest you think we were bullied into keeping it, I'm the one who nominated that black machine and its wonderful screaming chicken.
Mason agreed with many of our choices, but added, "There are too many American cars that look great on TV but don't travel well. Kind of like Pamela Anderson or Lindsay Lohan." Funny and a little bit true, but with cars, passion can come from anywhere.
In the end, we hoped to make a starting point for another branch of this never-ending debate. We welcome your feedback. You can write, email (), or comment on the web via Facebook and Twitter.
The discussion only matters if it continues. We'll redo the list every so often as the mood strikes. Maybe, a year from now, we'll look at this issue, wonder what we were smoking, and start from scratch. Or maybe we'll just find a place for that McLaren.