By on July 28, 2012

After reading Jack’s “mean-spiritedly annotated” interpretation of Motor Trend’s Scott Evans’ rollover of a Cadillac ATS at a press event and then Scott’s safe-n-sane account of his unfortunate off-road adventure, I remembered 24 Hours of LeMons head honcho Jay Lamm mentioning that he’d rolled a Range Rover in spectacular fashion during his car-journo days. With all this talk about upside-down press cars lately, I decided to interview Mr. Lamm about his wreck and the effects it had on his subsequent career.
If there’s anyone who has car writing in his blood, it’s this guy. Jay’s father, Michael Lamm, wrote and edited for most of the car rags back in the day (and still writes good stuff for Hemmings nowadays), and Jay battled in the auto-journo trenches for a good quarter-century before hanging it up to become a race promoter. He’s refreshingly grumpy and cynical about the entire business (to the point of hanging a signed pledge to never write about cars again over his desk), so I knew he wouldn’t sugar-coat anything in this story. Here we go!

MM: A little background first. How long did you work as an automotive journalist before embarking on your current career as a race promoter, and what were some of the publications for which you wrote?

JL: The first thing I ever sold was a piece about Elvis’ metalflake-blue Maserati Ghibli, to AutoWeek when I was 16. Since then I did stuff for Automobile, Car and Driver, the late lamented MPH, Spy Magazine, Popular Mechanics, a bunch of others. And I was editor of Sports Car International in the 90s and Vintage Motorsport and a whole bunch of one-marque mags, some being pretty okay and some just appallingly awful.

MM: OK, now that we’ve got that stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the really interesting part, i.e., your glorious press-car-killing rollover. What was the vehicle, and where was the event?

JL: It was a Range Rover, and the event was The Great Divide Expedition. You still see those stickers sometimes on hooptie-ass Range Rovers from, I don’t know, it must’ve been the very late ’80s. Anyway, the deal was they had a bunch of Range Rovers and you flew into the Rockies and crossed the Great Divide in these sport-utes a whole bunch of times, taking pictures and ogling the scenery and all the while shoveling buckets of airlifted shrimp into your maw. Okay, I don’t actually remember the shrimp, so I’m projecting a little there. I do remember it was pretty swanky for a trip about grinding America’s nature under the British-built pneumatic boot-heel of a luxury SUV.

MM: On the Hella Sweet To Butt Turrable Continuum (HSTBTC), where would you place this vehicle?

JL: About mid-pack. If you accept that the First World’s soccer moms need a short-coupled, leather-lined safari wagon with gigantic hoppy springs under the chassis, it was great. If you think “Hmm, sounds like a great recipe for a rollover if driven by a guy with no talent (ie, me),” it was butt-turrible. So really, that’s open to interpretation.

MM: So, how did the wreck happen? Walk us through the chain of events.

JL: I needed to pee. There were about seven of us up in the high country on these gravel roads, and I DESPERATELY needed to pee.

So I come around a corner, and there’s about four other dudes on this deal all pulled over to the side of the road with their donkeys out, simultaneously studying nature and hydrodynamics. I think “ah, salvation.” I join ’em.

So now I’m standing there, one-handed for, like, eight solid minutes. Did I mention I really had to pee? Finally I’m done, and by then all but one of the other cars had taken off, and the last one was just piling in and going away as I’m zipping my fly. Now, I don’t want to get lost, of course, and–you know, since I’m an automotive journalist–God forbid I should actually look at a map and find my own way like a grownup, so I jump back in my Range Rover and tear-ass to catch up to the guy who just left. And as soon as I catch up with him, I realize he’s really flying. FLYING. We’re on these gravel roads, going over hills and creeks and stuff, and he’s just ripping. But I say, you know, those classic final words, “if he can go that fast, I can go that fast.”

Turns out “he” was zillion-time Baja 1000 winner Malcolm Smith. If I’m in a Range Rover, Malcolm Smith could outrun me in a golf cart. I could so NOT go as fast as that guy, and about two minutes later I totally bit it. The road went up over a rise and jigged sharp right just on the other side. For Malcom, no problem–he, like, teleported the car 50 yards to the right and putted happily down the road. I rolled mine about four times, corner to corner, and I distinctly remember thinking, as it was sliding along on its windshield about 60 mph, “Wait–who did that? That’s REALLY FUCKING BAD. I sure feel sorry for THAT poor bastard.”

Nobody was hurt, but the PR guy in the backseat got the entire contents of an ice chest down his shorts, which I felt kinda bad about. The guy in the front passenger’s seat was a Motor Trend dude who’d just rolled a new Saab on a press launch in, like, Öbberlikkenflickenhammer a month ago, so he couldn’t say dick…in fact, they were both really kind about it, considering how badly I’d just screwed them.

MM: How trashed was the vehicle?

JL: It was hella-done trashed. Bill Baker, who was the head of Range Rover at the time, came back eventually after we’d pushed it back on its wheels and said “Hey, these things are so tough, it’ll just start right up!” Yeah, um, sorry Bill, not so much. Every corner was rounded off, the roof was caved in, the wheels were exploring new forms of directional self-expression…that thing was messed up. For all I know, there was, like, a nest of endangered snowy plovers sucked up in the air cleaner. It was done.

MM: Did you get sweated by anybody (e.g., press flacks, editors, cops) about the wreck?

JL: Not a soul. Even Bill, who I’m sure would have been delighted to chuck my ass off the nearest cliff, was very polite about it, though he did suggest that for my own sake–you know, rattled and all, probably sore, snakebit, blah blah blah–I should probably take the next goddamn plane out of Wyoming and thus his professional life. Oh, and BTW, they’d happily pay for it. Which they did.

Now, I’ve never worked on the PR side, so this is purely a supposition, but I’ve always assumed that if you hand the keys to a zillion-dollar luxury vehicle to a 22-year-old kid and say “have fun!!” you probably already expect that it might not come back in pristine dealer condition. And that said, I’m not nearly as surprised that some press cars get wiped out as I am that so few get wiped out. Even if you’re talking about some given set of well trained, highly responsible drivers–and, let’s be perfectly clear here, we are NOT talking about a set of well trained and highly responsible drivers–then by sheer probability alone, you’d kind of assume that a lot more would end in a ditch. You’re just talking about hundreds and hundreds of guys who are out there driving constantly, in all kinds of weather, in unfamiliar cars, on all kinds of weird routes, traffic signs in Urdu and shit, and they’re all doing God knows how many tens of millions of miles a year between them. The fact that they’re not stacking them up ALL THE TIME is more amazing to me than the fact that some dude named Darth Bissoon-Vader occasionally shortens a Lambo.

MM: Did you ever mention the wreck in your writing?

JL: Yeah, all the time, in fact. I don’t even remember who I was sent by on that thing, and I know they didn’t say Boo about it, but it came up a lot for a while after that–you know, as in “…not wanting to roll yet another press vehicle, I declined Mr. Moss’s invitation to….”

MM: Did you get blacklisted with that manufacturer or otherwise suffer any negative, career-tarnishing consequences as a result of the wreck?

JL: Not that I’m aware of, but really, who knows? I did so little SUV stuff anyway, they could have said “we’re never letting THAT Jewish bastard in one of our cars again,” and I doubt that I would have noticed. Certainly nobody else seemed to care, except my mother, who is still kinda horrified to this day. But a week later, I was driving a Nissan Pathfinder press car and thinking, “Man, I sure hope Malcolm Smith isn’t around here anyplace.”

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22 Comments on “What’s It Really Like To Obliterate a Press Car?...”

  • avatar

    That sounds a whole lot more exciting than when I was in the ambulance that rolled. We had a guy inside who was already dead so no patients to sue us. Glad I was the attendant and not the driver anyway.

    BTW it appears Lamm is a natural at his race promoter gig.

  • avatar

    I think this is a fine counter-point to the Motor Trend witch hunt I’ve been reading about on TTAC/Jalopnik.

    The dude rolled a car, and he is being pretty lame about it, I’ll grant you that. But it is hardly the story of the century, and Mr. Lamm’s assertion that he is surprised it doesn’t happen more often is right on the money.

    These manufacturers drop you in a car, give you the keys and smile, and leave you to your own devices. Shit happens, can we get over it already?

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      It happens more often than you think. For each incident like this that gets publicized, there are a handful that don’t, and we’re only talking about manufacturer-sponsored events here.

      I can recall off-hand at least four cases in the last three years when a car I’d scheduled for a loan suddenly became “unavailable,” all with varying degrees of specificity, and I don’t get that many cars.

      • 0 avatar

        “I can recall off-hand at least four cases in the last three years when a car I’d scheduled for a loan suddenly became “unavailable,” all with varying degrees of specificity, and I don’t get that many cars.”

        While someone certainly -could- have rolled a car, don’t you think its more likely that you were just bumped for someone with a bigger audience? What Georg Kacher wants, Georg Kacher gets.

      • 0 avatar
        Byron Hurd

        Silvy, my fleet guys don’t mince words when it comes to those situations. If I get bumped, I get bumped. That’s how it works.

        When things are broken, it’s a different conversation. Names are changed to protect the innocent. Usually I can tell whether the journo was at fault by how much they’re willing to tell me about the accident. Hush-hush=PR covering the journo’s ass. Forthcoming with info=somebody else’s fault.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The point isn’t to crucify the guy for being an idiot.

      The point is to make the public aware that the information they are receiving about an automobile which they might, you know, SPEND A QUARTER OF THEIR POST-TAX INCOME TO OWN is compromised by back-room dealings and PR hush-ups.

      • 0 avatar

        Only 1/4 of post-tax income? Is this some budgeting guideline I haven’t heard of? With that as a guideline, someone who makes 90k could barely manage a base-model Sonic, or similar.

        I think as a percentage of post-tax income, a new car is a much larger purchase for most people. Of course, this does stress the importance of your point.

      • 0 avatar

        “The point isn’t to crucify the guy for being an idiot.”

        The tone of your last article would beg to differ. I know that TTAC, and especially yourself, have made it your mission to lift the veil of supposed objectivity of the mainstream automotive media to reveal the gobstuffing felators crapping out the plagiarized press releases passing for articles in buffbooks. But honestly, you guys have already done that job so well that piling on to a MOTOR TREND journo (of all things) for these kind of shenanigans is like singling out a porn star and calling her slutty for doing a 4-way.

      • 0 avatar

        One quarter of a single year’s post-tax income as a spending guideline would mean a very small new car market.

        Spending that much each year over five years of payments would take a buyer with $50K gross buying a new base 3-series BMW or an heavily optioned F-150. I’m sure both are fairly common.

      • 0 avatar

        Patrickj – That makes more sense. I wasn’t thinking in terms of financing and cost per year.

  • avatar

    Jay for Prez.

  • avatar

    When I’m lent a car to test drive, I try to be as careful as possible. No – I don’t do track time. No- I don’t drive in rain or snow if I can avoid it. I know I’ve got insurance and so does the company, but I don’t want a bad rep.

  • avatar

    Even today you’d be stupid to try to drive or ride as fast as Malcom

  • avatar

    Funny stuff. If Lamm was in that far over his head, the PR guy in the backseat should have tried to rein him in, no? Isn’t that why he was there, to babysit?

  • avatar

    Funny. Great interview, thanks.

  • avatar

    I can think of at least a couple of guys in the autojourno biz that seem to have their jobs based more on their birth certificate than on their resume (both work at the corner of the Fisher and the Chrysler) but the Lamm family is a treasure. Jay’s dad Michael is a great writer whose work has made our lives as car guys better (and he’s been very gracious towards me personally). You should check out his auto-biographical series, Cars I Have Loved And Hated, at either Hemmings, or Cars In Depth. I’d wager that the 2nd generation Lamm has done more to promote grassroots motorsports than the 2nd and 3rd generations of the France family.

    • 0 avatar


      ‘I’d wager that the 2nd generation Lamm has done more to promote grassroots motorsports than the 2nd and 3rd generations of the France family.’

      The (living!) Frances have as little to do with NASCAR as it was originally organized as the Ford family today has to do with building tractors.

  • avatar

    Jesus, I would love to read more stories about or by this guy. If he vowed to never write about cars again, how about just having him dictate articles to someone and then posting them up here? Rolling Stone does that with Ozzy Osbourne’s advice column and Adam Carolla did that for his books. Just a thought …

  • avatar

    Lord, lord: Lamm is a National Art Treasure for sure. Thanks for making my day. (And no, I was NOT the dude who rolled the Saab on the trip he alludes to, but if it was 1984 or 1985, I’ll bet I was on that trip and know who rolled the 9000!)

    As for the Saab 900 Turbo that was rolled on the AlCan in 1984, let’s not go there.

    Satch Carlson

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