By on May 20, 2010

The auto-journo world has been a-Twitter all night about the journo’s kid who crashed a 997 Turbo.. The actual “crash” doesn’t amount to much (about fifteen grand in damage to car and house, most of it covered by insurance) but the article Peter Cheney wrote to describe the incident provides some near-priceless insight into the manner by which automotive “journalism” has become PR by another name.

The opening paragraph of Cheney’s article is smug, quasi-Boomerish writing at its less-than-finest:

That day began with deceptive perfection. I woke up in a sunlit bedroom next to my beautiful wife. We had celebrated 26 years of marriage just the day before. Our cherry tree was in full blossom, and in the garage, locked away like a crown jewel, was a 2010 Porsche 997 Turbo, the latest (and costliest) in a long series of test cars.

In the paragraphs to follow, we learn that Mr. Cheney “transitioned” to automotive journalism from news reporting some time ago. It’s probably safe to read “transitioned” as “demoted”, perhaps due to an overabundance of cherry-tree imagery. An afternoon hackin’ it around Mosport with a Porsche rep holding his hand from the suicide seat had led him to describe the Turbo to his friends as “a tiger in an Armani suit”, possessing a “killer chassis” (the 997 Turbo is the softest of the upscale 997 choices) and “unbeatable power” (the 997 Turbo has less power than nearly every other car in its class).

And then we have the central feature of the story — the lie direct. According to Cheney, his son had merely turned the key, intending to demonstrate the stereo, and the car had launched out of the garage. I happen to have a 997 Turbo in my garage right now. It isn’t courtesy of Porsche — they save their loaners for the cherry-tree crowd — but still, it’s a 997 Turbo. I put the car in first gear and turned the key. The radio came on. It turns out that you have to put the clutch in to start the car. Oops! I wonder what really happened.

What happened next, however, was predictable to anyone who has ever dealt with print journalists. Porsche fell all over themselves to assure Mr. Cheney that he would be in no way censured for letting his kid screw around with the car. Cheney’s friend sent him a note,

There must be just a touch of parental pride that he has the sense of adventure, the stones, and the good taste to give it a try.

Only in Canada, I tell you. My father would have punched me in the face until I didn’t get back up for a stunt like that. Mr. Cheney decided instead to punish his son by, um, making him eventually pay back the insurance deductible.

The story concludes with Cheney comparing himself to Frank Sinatra (I kid you not) and with the news that the little garage-rammer will be treated to a complete performance driving course this summer, “based on his schedule”. Said performance course will prevent this incident from happening again, presumably because there’s a garage-driving section involved. And let’s keep it on his schedule, because the kid has other stuff to wreck.

If you’re waiting to hear that Mr. Cheney is going to lose his $180,000 free-car privileges, you will wait a long time. This is the cozy “inside baseball” world of auto journalism, where writers whose contributions influence precisely no one are treated to an endless string of luxuries. Has anyone ever decided to buy a Porsche based on a story in their local newspaper, written by a guy who isn’t even competent to drive alone on a racetrack? Of course not.

Oh, it’s a lovely life beneath the cherry tree. Here at TTAC, we scrape and struggle to rent, beg, and borrow whatever we can get for you. Occasionally, a manufacturer will have enough guts to let us drive and appraise one of their cars, and we’re grateful for that opportunity. Furthermore, we know that many of our readers make personal decisions based on what they read here. Don’t look for your humble author and his compatriots to ascend to Mr. Cheney’s lifestyle any time soon, but should that happen, Porsche can take solace in one thing: my son is only 14 months old.

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43 Comments on “The Porsche Was Damaged, But The Smugness Is Intact...”

  • avatar

    Too many floormats?

  • avatar
    Brian E

    Are you sure this particular 997 Turbo wasn’t equipped with PDK?

  • avatar

    Porsche can take solace in one thing: my son is only 14 months old

    You’ve got two years, maybe three. I say this from experience, having watched my four-year-old engineering a way to work the pedals. He already scarfed my keys.

    • 0 avatar

      I took my first solo drive at 3! My mother had left her 1950 Willys Jeep wagon in neutral with the brake on. I accidentally kicked the brake lever, and went out the driveway in reverse, across the street, and stopped on the neighbor’s lawn next to the oak tree. No damage except to Mom’s nerves!
      It would be a few years before I tried again.

    • 0 avatar

      I got Dad’s 65 Polara to move down the drive when I was only 5!

    • 0 avatar

      Mine is only 2 mothns older. And some days ago he walked, positioned besides my wife (who was loading some DVD for him to watch) and closed the door by pushing it. No one taught that to him.

      He also makes a “podium” with the play yard mattress, climbs into the sofa, kicks a soccer ball….

      I can only guess what is he going to do in some years.

    • 0 avatar

      Similar tale here, I was 4 years old, and I was playing with the automatic shifter in Mom’s Mercedes, knocked it out of Park and it rolled into a brick wall for the first of three front end jobs on that car. In my defense this was a ’66 with the zigzag shift gate and was a massive departure from the push button shifter on our ’64 Valiant.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendon from Canada

      It happens quickly; I let our 3 year old steer our LR3 around at walking pace on a peice of private property – I’m obviously working the pedals, but she has no problem with the actual steering (though I have intervened on a few occasions when she wanted to trade wading the truck through a pond). She’s also already noticed that there are thee pedals in daddy’s car, and I need to move the stick shift around a lot; while she can never remember the word “clutch”, she understands “gas pedal” for go and “brake pedal” for stop, and that when we see a car in front of us with the brake lights on that it’s slowing down and that the driver has their foot on the brake…. they just sponge this stuff up!

  • avatar

    From the story: :”My son has agreed to do a minimum of one week’s labour for Mr. Bye”

    I guess the moral is – wreck a Porsche, get to do an internship with a race car driver? Wish I’d driven more recklessly in my teen years.

  • avatar

    At the 2007 New York Auto Show, I criticized Porsche’s color choice for their new (at the time) 997 GT2. It was a heinous color that I think was supposed to be an interpretation of Guard’s Red, but looked like lipstick pink under the Javits Center Lights. Of course the GT2 is an amazing piece of machinery, which I acknowledged, but apparently the guy who chose that particular color for that particular show car is also the guy who’s in charge of the US Press Fleet. My color criticism got me banned from Porsche test cars for life.

    Clearly, not everyone gets a free pass….

  • avatar

    And I thought music journalism was bad (I usually contend most music journalists are failed musicians and failed writers). OK, I still think music journalism is bad, but the writing in the linked article rivals some of the more painful passages I’ve seen. I’m not surprised by the treatment on either side, however, since I regularly deal with both journalists and PR people.

    I’m also not sure what my dad would have done if I had taken the keys to a car that wasn’t ours, let alone damage it, but it would have likely been fairly inventive and pretty painful.

  • avatar

    Ignorance is hard to punish if there’s no reasonable way the kid should know better. If he lived in a house of automatic-equipped cars, he probably knew he was pretty safe doing just about anything as long as he didn’t touch the gearshift. If he had no exposure to manuals, he probably didn’t know what the third pedal did and just might have activated the correct sequence of events to produce the end result out of dumb luck. You punish the carelessness, but fix the ignorance.

    I did drive a rented manual-equipped Mercedes in Europe a few years back that either had a stuck or non-existent clutch lockout switch. You could turn the key in gear and it would move on the starter motor.

    As for the writer, he works for one of the largest newspapers in Canada, so gets first-class treatment all the way. That’s the case with just about everything, not just cars. The Prime Minister takes calls from The Globe and Mail, I guarantee. Trash his work all you want, but it’s in the automaker’s best interests to get good ink where people can see it, though honestly I don’t give newspaper reviews much weight. Too watered-down for the non-enthusiast reader.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      If he doesn’t know how to drive stick, how would he know to put the clutch in to start the car? My guess is that he knew how to some degree and was trying to “mock” driving the car, when it took off. Otherwise I’d have a hard time believing that he was able to start the car, disengage the handbrake, and launch it into the garage door accidentally.

    • 0 avatar

      I edited my original post, so I should warn people about that.

      I’m under the impression the Porsche has a clutch-lockout switch, but that mid-’90’s Benz in Europe did not, or at least didn’t have a properly functioning one. Canada’s safety regs are similar to the U.S. but only coincidentally.

      If the car were parked only in gear without the e-brake on (a common practice) and the kid turned the ignition key one stop too far clockwise, the starter motor could make the car jump just forward enough to do what it did.

      Maybe that’s why Porsche was so easygoing.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      “If the car were parked only in gear without the e-brake on (a common practice)”

      I think we found the problem. If you don’t know how to park a car, you shouldn’t be driving one.

    • 0 avatar

      US certified cars are required to have clutch lock-out switches. Turning the key to any position without pressing the clutch pedal to the floor will not allow the starter motor to turn. Period. I can’t certify that this Porsche clutch-lock-out switch was working. But I have a manual shift car and the starter motor will not run unless the clutch pedal is depressed. There are only three ways this Porsche could move, by gravity (down a slope) or the engine was running – the starter motor cannot move the car unless the safety-clutch-interlock is broken/bypassed or it was pushed by hand – the extent of damage seems to indicate the engine was running.

  • avatar

    Here, here. Flagrant manufacturer-pandering is so prevalent in automotive print journalism these days largely due to lack of revenue in the digital age, but it’s particularly sad to see the practice online. Keep scraping and stay hungry, TTAC. Hopefully embracing the difficult path will keep your own reporting raw and real. We appreciate it.

  • avatar

    Considering the politically correct/kiss-ass society we all currently enjoy, is anyone surprised by this?

    I don’t dare share with the world what the consequences would be if this had been my son; CPS would come a-knockin’.

  • avatar

    Actually it’s not that hard for a manual car with a powerful engine to lurch forward like that. Most people leave the car in 1st gear when parked, so you just have to forget that the gear is engaged, drop the clutch, and bam!

    It’s not that hard to do. Put the clutch in to start the car, forget to take it out of gear, drop clutch, car lurches forward. Hopefully the parking brake is on so the car doesn’t go far before stalling. I’ve never driven a car with an engine as powerful as a Porche, but I’ve had my car lurch forward a foot or two (with the parking brake set) once or twice when I was distracted and forgot the car was in gear.

    I think it’s quite plausible that the kid turned the engine on and rev’ed the engine to show off (which teenage boy wouldn’t??). He forgets the car is in gear and drops the clutch — car goes through garage door. You don’t have to know how to drive a stick to do this, you just need to know what a clutch is for and that the 3rd pedal has to be down to start the car.

  • avatar

    “My father would have punched me in the face until I didn’t get back up for a stunt like that.”

    As my father used to say when I came even close to pulling a stunt like that: “How would you like to have my foot surgically removed from your a$$?”

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      My father used to say to me, “Don’t forget what happened to Marvin Gaye.” I was never sure if he was kidding.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t kid yourself…real dads never kid. A bit off topic, but germane: as a teenager my best friend’s old man had a stereo he’d picked up in Germany. The centerpiece, and the old man’s pride, was a top of the line Dual turntable. We’d go over to play records but could never use the Dual. His old man looked at us and said that if he ever caught us fooling with the Dual, he’d kill us. I knew that I’d have a better chance if the SOB caught me in bed with his wife than if he caught me with my hands on the Dual.

  • avatar

    Smugness? I see only self-effacement. Must be a Canadian thing. *shrugs*

  • avatar

    A sense of adventure, eh? Interesting. I wonder what Cameron Frye’s old man had to say when the California went off the cliff? Too bad for Cam that that wasn’t a loaner…

  • avatar

    I think the son will grow up to be just as big of a douchebag as his father.

  • avatar

    Jack actually left out one of the more galling issues here: the G&M ran a 997 review today from a different writer, who apparently had a PDK version in the garage while Cheney was hosting the “purist version” with manual transmission. I realize how jealous and petty this might sound, but seriously, how many Porsche Turbo reviews does one newspaper need?
    On the other hand, while Cheney was lapping Mosport and handing his son the keys to a press car with a “purist” transmission the kid didn’t know how to use, his colleague did come up with some quality copy:
    You guessed it: the 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo is more of everything: more comfortable, more powerful, more capable, more fuel-efficient and only a little more expensive. The perfect storm of fast-car joy.
    At the heart of it all is the Turbo’s powerplant. Sit down before I tell you this. Okay? Seated? It makes an astounding 132 horsepower with each litre of displacement, or 83.3 hp per cylinder. GULP!

    Anyone who knows enough to be impressed by power-per-displacement numbers would know that they’re basically meaningless in the realm of forced induction, power-per-cylinder doubly so. A naturally-aspirated V8 making over 105 hp per liter is actually impressive on paper, but even then, a good reviewer points out that on-paper numbers do not necessarily an excellent car make. Which is why road tests exist in the first place. Yet another case of automotive content that, intentionally or not, leaves the reader less well-informed than when they started.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Strangelove

      Maybe some kind of compensation. Porsche absorbs the damage, and G&M runs a few extra features for them.

      Anyhow, the standard at the G&M is consistent, no need to gripe about individual items.

  • avatar

    You got me there. That’s the most galling thing out of all of this, not the kid, the fact that the automotive writers for one of Canada’s largest newspapers seem to know precious little about cars.

    That, unfortunately, seems to be the case with most non-enthusiast publications. If they gave the Toronto Maple Leafs beat to someone who didn’t know hockey, that person would be exposed immediately by a knowledgeable public. Far too often an automotive-related story gets messed up by people who don’t have a clue. And anyone who calls them on it is treated like a social outcast.

  • avatar

    I don’t see what the big deal is… I thought it was a well written article and I enjoyed reading it.

    As for the accident, it sounds like the kid didn’t know that cars with a manual transmission lurch if you take your foot off the clutch while in gear.

    As for the parenting, the spankings for me tended to be for little things. At home when something actually serious happened, my parents would get quieter than usual, not louder. I’m in no hurry to find out what it’s like.

  • avatar

    I’d be happy to drive a Porsche through a garage door if that’s what it takes to have a paid vacation at a driving school. I didn’t have my first accident until I was 21, and that was some moron backing out of a parking space into the side of my car.

  • avatar

    Spoiled…. brat…. just like his dad. What else is there to say, really?

  • avatar

    Wasn’t Porsche a hedge fund not too long ago? Now they make cars?

  • avatar


    Yet another 997 overdriven,

    Shocking, I tell you. Simply shocking….

  • avatar

    Crazy 911 handling…

  • avatar

    I see they have addressed the clutch lockout switch over the years. I am pretty sure this is not the way they used to be. I did in fact drive my Mom’s ’89 Audi through the garage door when I was 15 because it was in 1st and I forgot to push the clutch. Back in those days they didn’t have the interlock switches though most every other make did. And the radio worked without needing the key too.

  • avatar

    Why would he bother to put a press car in the garage? No driveway?

  • avatar
    Bunk Moreland

    Ed, it’s not jealousy. Sadly, the mainstream magazines have a near-monopoly. If Car and Driver or Motor Trend gives a nice, glossy advertisement, I mean, review, then the companies will happily give them as many cars as they can take.

  • avatar

    I read Pravda for 10 years and I can honestly say that on its good days it was better than Globe And Mail. What a pathetic excuse for a newspaper. It used to be even worse but it improved slightly in the last 10-15 since National Post came out (and went away).

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