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Not the worst Award Toyota's P76 Appreciation Holden V8 Hybrid

 

 

 

Worst things first
First Published: The Sydney Morning Herald
Friday, November 26, 1999
26p761.jpg (19922 bytes) OK, so we all agree there are too many Car Of The Year awards. So let's redress the balance. Editor TONY DAVIS leads the Drive team in presenting the inaugural P76 Awards For Outstanding Mediocrity.

Magazines, newspapers and radio stations give out far more earnest plaudits than there are deserving recipients. But while others are back-patting, we feel it's time to get serious about tail-kicking. In this unique event where only losers win, there are 10 silver P76s and the supreme accolade, our superb trophy finished in a gold-plating so convincing it is almost certainly what the P76 designers themselves would have chosen.

 

Silver P76 for St Peter-like triple denial before the cock crows: Toyota.

The company that was at one with John Laws suddenly became at two when the "cash for comment" scandal erupted. When Drive asked Toyota's public relations company whether it had any photos of The Golden Tonsils posing with a car, the response after a pause was: "Ah, whatever the answer is, I think it will be no". The following call yielded: "Sorry, we have no photos of Mr Laws with a Toyota until further notice".

Toyota also gets honourable mentions for charging $45,000 for the new Celica while still making air-conditioning an optional extra and for having two launches for the Avalon during 1999, when it won't be on sale until well into 2000.

Silver P76 for services to motor sport stupidity: Mercedes.

When its Le Mans race car performed a terrifying flip in the hands of Australian driver Mark Webber, the company screwed on a couple of extra winglets and sent the young Australian back out - to flip again in equally death-defying fashion. Mercedes-Benz officials implied that the driving of the young Australian was to blame - until his Scottish team-mate managed to complete a triple back-flip on prime-time television. The company claiming to be the world's smartest and most safety conscious should have stayed at home.

Silver P76 for crookest embellishment: Holden.

When Holden this year released what was demonstratively the best big car it had produced - the WH Statesman - it decided one last touch was needed. Unfortunately, that touch was a great expanse of plastic wood which might have lowered the tone of a Lada.

The plastic-vaguely-pretending-to-be-wood phenomenon was rampant elsewhere. Hyundai's Grandeur was marketed with the slogan "Leather. Wood. Mettle" - despite the fact that the only real wood was in the head of the man who thought up the slogan.

But back to Holden, which deserves an extra brickbat for dumping the Holden Precision Driving Team after 30 years. (It will henceforth be the Hyundai Precision Driving Team but we're too polite to make further comment).

 

Silver P76 for most ill-advised literary debut: Dick Johnson.

The difficult thing about reading Joyce's Ulysses is that it contains more than 900 pages densely packed with multi-lingual puns, stream of consciousness passages and huge shifts of perspective. The difficulty with reading the autobiography of racing driver Dick Johnson, Don't tell me I can't do that, is that it's absolutely deathly boring, ineptly written twaddle. What could be the year's most unspeakably awful joining together of words in any discipline was the perfect companion for DJ's motor racing season.

Silver P76 for showing how not to launch a new car: Jaguar.

The Jaguar mantra - "we once had some quality problems but everything's all right now" - got its stiffest working out yet when the media was called to drive the new S-Type. One car filled with smoke while elsewhere transmissions lashed, windows whistled and power steering hoses popped. Jaguar officials announced after the fact that the cars were "pre-production" and that customer cars would be later-build, altogether better cars - honest. Business as usual, really.

26p764.jpg (25232 bytes)
26p762.jpg (20590 bytes) A special commendation also goes to Saab which tried to disguise the appalling torque steer of the over-powered, under-cooked Viggen by having the press launch on the arrow-straight road between Darwin and Alice Springs. When advertising the 9-5, Saab used the Photoshop program to increase the size of the wheels; pity the same program couldn't be used to add traction control to the Viggen.
Silver P76 for Himalayan PR snow job: Lexus.

How better to prove that the new Lexus IS200 was a credible sporting car than to enter it in the 1999 Targa Tasmania? In the hands of Neal Bates and Coral Taylor, the car scored a top 10 finish. Trouble was that in spite of the huge "Lexus IS200" signs along each side, the car in question was actually a Japanese market Toyota Altezza - a model with a completely different engine and a great deal more of the thing that the Australian spec Lexus most lacked: power.

 

BMW deserves a mention for PR hyperbole in claiming "The gull-wing Z9 stole the Frankfurt Motor Show". To most of us, the Z9 looked like an Audi TT with a 1988 Walkinshaw Commodore body kit. If it really stole the show, no-one saw fit to report it missing.

Silver P76 for ingenious numeracy: Indy 300 organisers.

The crowd figures for the Honda 300 Indy race at Surfers Paradise were given as 102,844 for race day and 250,817 cumulative over the four days. Organisers score a P76 not for attracting so many people but for so cleverly hiding them. Where did they put them? Certainly not at the October Long Weekend race at Bathurst.

26p763.jpg (26727 bytes)
 

Silver P76 for publicity stunt gone wrong: Volvo.

In its never-ending quest to eat with the grown-ups, Volvo loaned a high-performance V70R wagon to the Federal Police in early May and sent out appropriate media releases and "boys in blue and their new car" PR photography. Two weeks later the V70R was nearly written off. Volvo said it was good PR because the officers were not seriously hurt. We reckon it would have been better PR if the officers had missed the concrete pillar in the first place.

Elsewhere, Nissan's media skills were highlighted when it flew journalists from all around the world to Japan to tell them the company was about to sack 21,000 employees and shut seven factories ... because of a lack of money.

Silver P76 for creating a pig's ear: Ford.

For decades car-makers have taken bits of sedans to make their light commercial vehicles look more attractive. When creating the Falcon Classic sedan, Ford had to pull the grille off its utility to spruce up the appearance. All-in-all, it wasn't a pretty year for Ford: the new Fairlane/LTD drove well but looked like a hatful of Forte grilles while, overseas, Ford built the 3,500kg, 5.8-metre long Excursion 4WD, arguably the most irresponsible vehicle of all time. In Japan, its Mazda division continued its replacement of a style-leading range with whitegoods on wheels.

Silver P76 for lamest excuse for failure: Seat.

When the local distributors for the Spanish car announced they were pulling out, the number one reason given was the Asian currency crisis. Considering the cars were built in Spain by a German-owned company and sold in Australian dollars, it seems obvious really. After all, the brand's failure wouldn't have had anything to do with the fact that the cars were dour in appearance, much too dear and completely failed to get anyone excited except a 24-year-old woman living in Perth who has since calmed down.

 

And the winner is ...

It was a hard fought contest, but it seems obvious that the Gold P76 should be awarded for the pedal services to oral cavities provided by Mitsubishi Motor Corporation president Katsuhiko Kawasoe (pictured).

We all knew Mitsubishi was doing it tough in Australia but no-one was game to speculate that it might close down, on account of the huge damage this would do to buyer and supplier confidence. No-one except Kawasoe.

As the local PR people trumpeted that, despite falling sales, it was business as usual, Kawasoe was telling the US publication Automotive News that recently lowered tariffs meant that the Adelaide plant no longer could compete with cars and parts imported from Japan.

"This is a terrible problem for me ... It makes my head ache ... Although I hate to shock our Australian employees, it will be necessary to drastically restructure," he said.

When asked whether this meant a shutdown he said, "I cannot say anything further."

He didn't need to - he'd already given Mitsubishi Australia the year's worst publicity nightmare.

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They also swerved

Additional commendations to:

* VW for delaying the Bug so long it's no longer the New Beetle.

* Honda for furthering the concept of the daft show-car with the nightclub-inspired Fuyajo-powered wheelie bin.

* Alfa-Romeo for the most user-unfriendly sound system. Even changing radio stations takes several key-strokes.

* Land Rover for conspicuous consumption: topping Drive's Gas Guzzler Black List with the Range Rover 4.6 V8.

* Bugatti for ridiculous consumption: it presented three show-cars during the year and between them they had 54 cylinders.

* Subaru for redefining limited edition by bringing in another 400 STis. Yes, they were sedans but still ...

* Persons unknown for misguided larceny. In Western Australia in August, he, she or they stole a Kia Ceres truck.

TO ERR IS LEYLAND

It's almost 25 years since the demise of the Australian-built P76, a car which changed people's perceptions about the number of faults which could be added on to a fundamentally sound package. The fact that this frankly horrible car was an adventurous failure rather than a boring also-ran (and won the Wheels Car of The Year - which says a lot about something) increases our pride to be associated with it for these new awards.

 

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