It has now been 13 months since The Autopian launched on March 32, 2022, and my how this place has grown. Our small staff has been working flat-out to bring you all fresh, entertaining, and educational content, and you have all been reading and supporting us day in and day out. Thank you! To celebrate 13 months of growth, let’s take a look at the best stories Autopian writers have penned since this mighty vehicle launched at the proverbial Christmas Tree.
A normal website would probably have written this after exactly 12 months, and to be clear: That was our plan. But for the same reason we launched our website on March 32nd and why our Mercury Monday features are often…not published on Mondays…we’re doing this after 13.73 months. What exactly that reason is, I’ll leave to you to determine, but in any case, we’re here to thank you and to show you the best Autopian Stories of the past 1.14 years. (Click the subheadings to reach each story):
My friend Bobby stepped up to the plate to help me start The Autopian, penning what may be my favorite story on the site. It’s an absolute riot about how he, a young pilot, desecrated his Calvin Klein underwear and ended up with a hilarious callsign as a result. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the piece:
This is the point where I’d like to extend a firm thank you to Mr. Calvin Klein. Shockingly, as I peeled off my flight gear (g-suit, vest, flight suit) I noticed that there wasn’t anything there. The high thread count and durable construction of your Cotton-Stretch underwear is incomparable. I will wear your underwear for the rest of my life. It kept pounds of brownie batter completely contained through high-g maneuvers and an aircraft carrier arrestment. Your underwear is tested, sir. Thank you.
I get that the story is a bit crude, but Bobby’s ability to make light of a rather serious situation involving a $1 billion+ machine is what really makes this piece special.
The 2022 Ford Lightning Is Just A Standard F-150 With An Electric Powertrain And That’s Why It’s Going To Change The World
A few months back, someone who works as an automotive media data analyst told me that my Ford F-150 Lightning review — a deep-dive into an electric version of America’s best selling vehicle, and a huge step for the U.S.’s transition towards electromobility — may be the longest automotive review ever written. I believe it; the thing comes to a total of 6,300 words, and features lots of photos and videos.
I wrote the whole thing in about a day, maybe a day and a half, and I just remember being exhausted afterwards. At the same time I was excited, because this new website Jason and I had created alongside our partner Beau was now seeing over 150 comments on a single article! That was a big deal, and as this Lightning review gained more traction among folks in the automotive industry, and as more and more folks became aware of our fledgeling operation, Jason and I became more and more motivated to keep building this site into a site that car enthusiasts love.
‘The Worst Set Of Brakes I Have Seen In My Career’ — A Mobile Mechanic Shares Why He Intentionally Disabled A Customer’s Car
Some of my favorite stories are what I call “medium length stories.” They usually involve talking to an individual via telephone, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and just telling their tale. It’s a great way to get someone else’s perspective, and bring a new character onto this website — aside from just the regular writers you’re all used to hearing from.
Thomas did a great job reaching out to the mobile mechanic who found himself in a conundrum: Do I repair part of this dude’s car if he’s unwilling to have the brakes serviced properly given that there are no brake discs left? It was a moral dilemma that actually led the mechanic to debate immobilizing the car to keep the driver from jeopardizing the safety of himself and of other road-users.
Luckily, this story ended positively, as the car’s owner eventually came around to having his brakes properly fixed.
Man Buys Most Reliable Minivan Ever, Takes Annual Photos Of His Children Growing Older In It As It Accrues 330,000 Miles
Hey look, another “Medium Length Story,” this time about a Michigan man named Jamie. He’s been handling maintenance of his Mazda MPV for over 200,000 miles, and clearly he’s doing a great job, because the 3.0-liter V6 under the hood refuses to die.
Our young weekend writer Rob’s article features a giant spreadsheet of all the work Jamie has done, as well as photos of the extensive bodywork he’s had to do to keep this thing looking good after being sideswiped and after dealing with Michigan’s salt — salt that eats up even the best automotive-grade steel, and trust me, Mazda’s has a reputation for being far from the best.
Here’s the saga of my miraculous five-week adventure to Australia. And I do mean miraculous.
The goal was to fix a completely-dilapidated 1969 Chrysler Valiant ute, but when I arrived in Australia I realized that the vehicle was far, far too far gone, having clearly been used as a beater (“paddock basher”). Luckily, my friend Laurence had purchased a parts car for us to use to get my cheap sub-$1000 ute back on the road, and as luck would have it, that parts car’s body was in significantly better shape than the paddock basher’s.
So I set out to fix the completely stripped-down parts car, and get it not only through Australia’s strict roadworthiness inspection, but over 400 miles to the biggest ute show on earth, the wild Deni Ute Muster. Read the story and watch the video above to see the incredible journey.
Autopian cofounder Jason Torchinsky is an American hero, not just because he’s one of the only true comedian-auto journalists on earth who can actually consistently make people laugh while writing about cars, but also because he finds the most amazing things in brochures and online. He reintroduced the world to the in-car hotdog sizzler, and we’re all better for it.
There Was Once A Company That Literally Dragged Cars From The Junkyard And Turned Them Into New Trucks
One of our most popular recent stories was about Powell, a California-based company that built some truly fascinating automobiles, including a truck with fishing rod holders built into the bedsides. More fascinating than that, though, was the fact that the truck — and other Powells — were built on recycled chassis scoured from junkyards. The idea of a new car being built of recycled material is not that novel these days, but that recycled material is almost always only plastic panels or fabric for the interior, never structural parts. So this is just wild; combine that with the super-rare photos Jason managed to find for this piece, and you’ve got a really captivating article.
I always love letting people write about their passions, and Thomas Hundal is a total modern-car geek, especially when it comes to in-car electronics and audio systems (and also ECU coding; he, more than anyone, has been advising me to buy Bimmercode. As a result, I’ve already coded my new BMW i3 so that it can run on the gasoline engine on the highway even before the battery has depleted). So when he said he wanted to write about how many of the car world’s premium audio systems come from the same supplier, there really was nobody who could stop him.
Mercedes Streeter is a woman of many talents; she owns an awesome collection of cars, she rides motorcycles when it’s cold, she drives old junkers off-road, and she’s the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to RVs/campers. Her coverage of that segment of the vehicle world has been awesome for our site, and among the big hits that I enjoyed was the above article about the current state of RV quality. It’s bad.
Mercedes walks us through her parents’ RV, which isn’t that old, but is plagued with all sorts of issues. She expertly wraps that specific example into the context of a wider problem that has gotten worse as RV demand spiked post-COVID. It’s such a well-written and interesting article, and a showcase of Mercedes’ immense talent.
Mercedes always has an eye out on the camper/RV space, and always manages to teach people about some cool piece of kit they didn’t know existed. I’m especially intrigued by modular/LEGO-ish things that camper and overlanding companies build in order to maximize the limited space a vehicle offers. When it comes to living out of a vehicle, clever packaging is everything, and Mercedes always finds some of the coolest contraptions out there that minimize packaging space but maximize utility.
This is a story Jason has been telling me for years. It’s a sad one, but one Jason laughs about; he has an amazing way of finding joy in everything, and the way he communicates that joy through his writing is what makes him in my opinion one of the greatest automotive journalists in history.
This story is about how he used to shut off his VW Beetle and coast down a hill so he could pick up and drop off his girlfriend, whose mother was apparently antisemitic — someone who would be displeased to know that her daughter was dating Jason. Jason talks about how he had to shut off his car because it had such a unique sound that his girlfriend’s mother would recognize as coming from a Beetle.
Jason delves into why the Beetle sounds the way it does, beautifully blending humor, human sociology, engineering, and history all into one. It’s beautifully done.
Huibert Mees was a key player in the design of the 2005 Ford GT’s rear suspension, and he was responsible for the vehicle’s most significant recall — one that required all owners to stop driving their cars immediately. Huibert walks us through how this happened, discusses how Ford rallied to find a repair, and ultimately shows how this type of thing isn’t uncommon in the industry. His lede is captivating:
At the beginning of the 2005 Ford GT program, I made a decision that turned out to be the biggest mistake of my career. It led to a recall of all cars produced up to that time, a stop-build order, a stop-sales order, and a stop-drive order. In fact, a man who bought one of the first production cars for a very large sum of money was at a track day, and we had to call him to tell him to stop driving the car immediately. Talk about embarrassing!
It’s a truly enlightening article that provides a look into how automotive engineering happens at a major OEM, and also a look into material science, manufacturing, and so many more elements of the car world. It was one of The Autopian’s most popular stories in the early days, and a key part of putting this publication on the map.
David Tracy Promised Us A Nice Car For Our 5,000 Mile Honeymoon Road Trip. He Gave Us An Old Jeep Farm-Truck Instead. Here’s How That Went
Earlier this year my two German friends Andreas and Josi (the ones who bought a rare diesel manual Chrysler minivan on my behalf back in 2020), flew to the U.S. for the very first time for their honeymoon. I’d promised them a press car. When that didn’t pan out, I promised them my nice Jeep Grand Cherokee. When I sold that, all I had left was a dilapidated 1985 Jeep J10 farm truck to offer.
You have to realize how far this machine is from what Andreas and Josi — citizens of a country with a strict vehicle inspection program, and one that just likes order— were used to driving. The fact that the two were arriving in frigid February added risk to the whole Detroit-to-Los Angeles roadtrip, so it’s no surprise that the couple was worried. And yet, somehow the two made it work, driving through this vast country and learning so much about it along the way.
I’m A Former Tesla Suspension Engineer And I Need To Tell You Why The ‘Double Ball Joint’ Suspension Is So Incredible
Huibert Mees was the lead designer for the Tesla Model S’s rear suspension, and between that, his work on the Ford GT, and just his decades working on vehicle dynamics, he’s amassed a wealth of knowledge that amazes me. He’ll sometimes talk about why certain suspensions offer certain advantages, and I don’t think he fully realizes just how amazing his mind is. Take the article above, for example; it’s about a Double-Balljoint suspension setup historically found mostly on European cars, but also on Chryslers, Teslas, and more.
It seems like a nerdy, niche topic, but the way Huibert breaks it down — along with my photos and video from my local junkyard — just brings it all together into something palatable and cohesive and, to the weird among us, fun.
I Bought A High-Mileage Electric Car With A Bad Battery. Here’s Why That Was Actually A Stroke of Genius
Jason Torchinsky, The Autopian’s Chief Creative Officer, is probably a bit peeved by how much I half-assed the topshot above. I’m not even using the right font! And yet, that article about the BMW i3 was absurdly popular. Why?
Well, first, the i3 is a fascinating car. It consists of a carbon fiber body bolted to an aluminum skateboard chassis. There’s an electric motor in the back that’s bolted t0 a small two-cylinder scooter motor that acts as a generator to charge the high-voltage battery after it goes flat.
Speaking of going flat, that’s what happened to the battery of the i3 you see above. I knew I wanted an i3 as a daily commuter now that I have an office to go to, but I had a tight budget, so I ended up buying the one you see above, which had 134,000 miles on the clock and a battery that promised of range of a paltry 48 miles (the cost was just $10,500). The BMW dealership told me I was out of luck because BMW’s eight year, 100,000 mile warranty was up.
But little did that dealership realize: The state of California requires automakers to warranty their Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles for 10 years, 150,000 miles. And thus, through this “loophole,” I ended up with the cheapest BMW i3 in America with a brand new high-voltage battery which probably would have cost me $20,000 to replace on my own.
I’d like to shoutout our amazing video team for filming the hypermiling test above (that video was technically part of a different article, titled “Watch Me Drive My High-Mileage BMW i3 For The First Time To See If The Dealer Actually Replaced Its Dead Battery). They did an amazing job, as always.
Finding the coolest stuff on the internet and then introducing that stuff to you, dear readers, is Mercedes Streeter’s expertise. This article about a jet fuel-or-diesel-powered motorcycle expected to yield 100 MPG for the U.S. Marines is just awesome. Great find, great story, and of course, great bike.
You Could Get A 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS With A 350 And A Manual Transmission, But There’s A Catch: Holy Grails
Speaking of cool stuff, Mercedes has done an amazing job with the Holy Grails series — far surpassing what I expected from it. She falls into deep rabbit holes, and every now and then we editors have to ask “Hey Mercedes, uh, what’s going on? Bueller? Bueller?” Mercedes eventually surfaces from these rabbit holes with pure gold. She teaches us about some of the world’s most obscure, coolest vehicles — many of which I never knew existed.
Having Adrian Clarke among us has been an absolute joy. He’s a real car designer who worked on Land Rovers back in the day, and though his ability to break down vehicle design is second-to-none, it’s the way he blends those breakdowns with hilarious humor and sharp writing that makes him such an ace. If a new car debuts, he’ll disappear off the face of the earth for a few hours, write up a design breakdown, and teach us all a thing or two about why designers made certain choices; it’s this type of expertise — also shared by Huibert and some of our other contributors — that we champion here at The Autopian. People who know their stuff are the best car journalists.
Why Did The Wheel Come Off That Chevy Pickup That Launched A Kia Into The Air? Let’s Look At The Tech
You may have seen that video of a Kia Soul running into a rogue wheel that fell off a pickup truck driving in the adjacent lane on the highway. The video, shown below, went viral largely because the Kia didn’t just bang into the wheel, it launched itself overtop of it, flying high into the air and eventually flipping over.
— Anoop (@Anoop_Khatra) March 25, 2023
Many folks wondered how that wheel even fell off that truck, so in the article above I dig into it and get nerdy.
The Autopian is lucky to be able to share the talents of one of the world’s foremost experts on car culture in China. Tycho de Feijter is currently based in Europe, but spent many years living in China covering the country’s incredibly varied and unique car culture. He’s written about the Chinese EV sports cars you’ve never heard of, he’s written about how China builds special “parade cars” for dignitaries and military leaders, about how China’s EV battery-swap program works, why China still believes in hydrogen-powered cars, and my personal favorite: “A Deep-Dive Into The History Of China’s Bizarre Jeep Cherokee XJ Clones.”
Meet The Adults Who Build Miniature Worlds So Their Meticulously-Crafted Toy Cars Will Look Real. I’m One Of Them.
Mark Tucker is a diehard remote control car fan, and also our daily Shitbox Showdown writer. He does a great job with that, though my favorite piece from him was this enrapturing look into a community of people who create miniature, life-like worlds so that their miniature, lifelike vehicles appear real. The truck above is a tiny toy; pretty wild!
‘Who is The Bishop?’ you might wonder. Well, he’s a trained industrial designer who loves cars so much he’s volunteered to use his skills to draw up custom, extremely wild car ideas. Many of those ideas are vehicles from an alternate universe, like the 1980s Saab Sonett above (the Sonett went away in 1974) or the 1985 Jeep Forward Control (the Forward Control died in the mid-1960s), and then there was: “A Look At An Alternate Universe Where The Cadillac Allanté Got The Respect It Deserved.”
The Bishop is a genius, and possibly also a little bit mad. I hope he changes nothing, because his work is gold.
Here’s a bit of research I did into the string of ICCU failures that have been plaguing one of the world’s most beloved EVs, the Hyundai Ioniq 5. I discuss what the ICCU is, I talk about how it’s failing (with input from Hyundai), and I dig into customer complaints lodged onto the U.S. government’s DOT site.
At The Autopian we love to go One Layer Deeper, so when a news story broke about how a Rivian owner allegedly paid over $40,000 to repair minor damage incurred during a fender bender and numerous media outlets covered it, Jason waited.
Jason wanted to get the full story, so he spoke with the owner, a Rivian-certified body shop, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Munro and Associates and more to figure out how any of this story makes sense. Great work!
Mercedes did a great job covering the Hyundai/Kia USB-theft saga, which involved thieves using a USB cable and a few basic tools to drive away in Kias that lack immobilizers. It’s been a big story in the U.S., and Mercedes has done a great job digging into it and breaking down what’s going on.
What a great story by contributor Kevin Williams. It discusses the plight of a Toyota Mirai — a hydrogen-powered car — and how it ended up stranded in Ohio, far away from the nearest hydrogen filling station. It’s a hilarious but odd tale of a car that somehow ended up in the wrong place.
The Autopian is lucky to have Stephen Walter Gossin. I’m currently unable to wrench as much as I could when I wasn’t a manager, but luckily, in Stephen we have another car hoarder who loves nothing more than Saturdays at junkyards. He buys cheap cars, fixes them, sells some, keeps some, but always stays covered in grease and always keeps us all apprised of his shenanigans.
While The Autopian’s speed when it comes to breaking news may not yet be industry-leading given the diminutive size of our team, we’ve had some big wins including Thomas’s Ram Revolution debut story, my Ford Ranger story, and Matt Hardigree’s Toyota Prius debut story. Recently, Mercedes flew to Hawaii and gave us a first-look at the new Toyota Tacoma, and her writeup of the new truck is incredibly thorough.
Jason and I are honored to get to work with Matt Hardigree and Patrick George — two of the best car journalists in the business, and former Jalopnik EICs who have seen some things. Their editorial talents are innumerable, their wisdom deep, and their leadership is strong. To have them help us steer this small vessel, and to help build it into a larger ship, is a godsend. You know what’s also a godsend? Them writing The Morning Dump each morning; that’s the name of our morning news roundup, though Matt and Patrick are not fans of the name Jason and I came up with. Torch and I don’t want to give it up until PG and Matt come up with something equally as funny, but in any case, Matt and PG are true professionals who are aces in their craft.
Their news coverage is beautifully written and insightful, and though we’re a bit tight-staffed to be the first on a lot of automotive news, PG and Matt tend to have a strong eye for what our readers care about, and they have an ability to contextualize that news and write it in a way that makes you want to keep reading. Like I said, they’re aces. And Matt does so much more behind the scenes, as well.
The Autopian is cranking up its review game; I just wrote up my thoughts on the new Porsche Cayenne, Matt just wrote about a Subaru Forester Wilderness, and Thomas wrote the above excellent review of a vehicle I was hesitant to even have us review: a Chevy Trax. It turns out, according to Thomas: The thing is actually a great deal! And there are few more Autopian things than great deals.
Our Marvelous Other Contributors
Right now on our front page we have a great story by Tim Stevens about what it was like driving his childhood dream car, a Lamborghini Countach. The concept for the story may not exactly be the most novel one, but Tim rules, and I knew he’d produce something great, just as he did when he wrote about restoring a vintage pinball machine. In my inbox I’ve got a draft from Manuel, a French aerodynamicist who wants nothing more than to teach you about how vehicle aerodynamics works. You should read his first story titled “I’m A French Aerospace Engineer And I’m Going To Teach You About Car Aerodynamics: Drag Coefficients.” We’ve had stories by MIT engineer Charles Guan, by talented technical writer Emily Velasco, by an experienced service writer named Andrea Petersen, by a young engineer named Robert Petersen, by electric-scooter-tinkerer Doug Kingham, by AMC expert Joe Ligo, by Kansan-who-likes-to-write-about-rural-car-culture David Wilson, by our secret car designer from a major OEM, and by history buff/Petersen Automotive Museum employee Jonee Eisen.
Above All, Thank You!
It’s been a challenging 13.73 months, and we still have lots more work to do on the business side and still on the editorial side. But we cannot communicate how much we appreciate you, dear readers. Your support, whether you’re a member or not, means everything, and as our partner Beau Boeckmann has made clear: Our focus will remain on serving our readership.
This week The Autopian leadership is involved in The Autopian Summit: A 2.5-day meeting in which we make strategic decisions on how we want to move forward as a website. We’ll be asking for your thoughts in a post tomorrow. It’s been a great start, but we know there is so much we can improve upon; we’re already bigger than The Truth About Cars and Autoweek, but we’re still not quite at Road & Track-level — so we’re excited to take on that challenge. I have no doubt we’ll manage, as we have the greatest writers, business partner, and readership in the world. Thank you!