The topic of press cars comes up from time to time. How do you get one? What can you do with one? Isn’t this really just a big scam? The last answer borders on Yes, but you have to solve the first two riddles to get there.
Back in the 1990s I wrote articles and helped edit a magazine called Michigan Explorer. The magazine was a cool project but none of us quite understood what the internet was going to do to the print medium. So, as we struggled to keep the issues coming out, we looked around for fun things to write about.
My brother, who had come up with the idea for the magazine in the first place, found a neat angle. He would suggest to car manufacturers that they ought to let us test drive their vehicles - particularly if they were “Made in Michigan.” It apparently made enough sense to someone because he managed to get us three (3) different press cars for extended periods of time. Including this beautiful Viper GTS coupe, which we had for a week.
Sadly, this was in the day when film still ruled the photography world and all I have of this - proof-wise - is photos I recently dug out of a box in storage and a copy of the magazine itself. Since I was taking pics of the car, I am not in any of my pics. (That’s how it worked back in the day, kids, before some gen x-er invented the selfie. And trust me: a selfie with a big old Nikon film camera is not as easy as it sounds.)
I am in the passenger seat of the car on the cover; Rick, my brother, was driving. And Steve Brimm, a professional photographer, took the pic from the back of a pickup truck driving in front of us.
We took the Viper to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for two reasons. Brimm had shot all our cover photos to this point and we thought it would be nice to have him shoot the Viper. And he lived in Copper Harbor. This gave us an excuse to make a once-in-a-lifetime road trip.
We headed north on I-75 late one night and saw the sunrise in the rearview mirror while on the Seney Stretch. We eventually wandered up to Copper Harbor and spent a day or two photographing the car. And seeing how well it stuck to winding roads like the one on the cover. We got some great pics and I took notes which I turned into an article later. Among my observations:
The Viper GTS Coupe will draw waves and thumbs-up from pedestrians and other drivers - motorists at gas stations will want to give you a high-five. Let them, and wave back to those who acknowledge the car. Not everyone gets to drive one; those who do should be polite to those who don’t.
It was true. Everywhere we went, no matter what time or how out-of-the-way, people would materialize to ask us about the car. Some of it was certainly because the Viper was still a relatively young car then - it being 1997 and all.
That trip was over 1,200 miles and I’m sure we put more than 2,000 on the car in the week we had it. From what I have been told, the Viper will hit 150 MPH with such little effort it might not even wake up your brother in the other seat. But the really cool part was what it would do from a dead stop. The thing accelerated like something in a cartoon. I would take my friends for rides and then ask if they were ready; I’d stomp on the gas when they foolishly said Yes. Passengers often climbed out of the car giddy from the ride. A few had headaches from when they bounced their head off the headrest.
So, how do you get a press car? Go back to 1997 and publish a magazine. At least, that’s how we did it. I suspect they may have tightened their criteria up a bit in the last few decades.
Now if I can only find the pictures I took when we drove the Hummer through the flooded quarry on Drummond Island . . .
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 24 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
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