Seas, Ships, Old Men and Butter Knives

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson
seas ships old men and butter knives

[Edit: sirwired mentioned in the comments I should have been a little more clear. I’ll take that advice. As of today, with the departure of Derek, I will be taking the helm at TTAC.]

Last Wednesday, I did what amounted to nearly nothing for the day. It was by design. There was much to contemplate. Much to … think … about.

What if I make mistakes? I’m not talking about the type of mistake where you put mustard on your significant other’s sandwich, who’s always hated mustard and you’ve obviously known this for years. I’m speaking of irreparable mistakes. We all make them at times in our lives and we usually regret one step, one move, or one word that could have changed everything.

To ensure I don’t make any egregious foul steps, one only needs to take lessons from history; but, to learn from history I must first know it. It is my duty to take a condensed lesson in TTAC History 101.

So, I ventured into The Truth About Cars time machine, a task that’s not particularly easy, and started reading my way forward.

What happened? I wondered. Where did the voice of TTAC officially become adversarial and tarnished? At what pivotal moment in TTAC’s history did it go from cheeky car blog to automotive OEM’s enemy

Upon browsing to the first post to ever grace TTAC’s masthead, I was somewhat confused at the underwhelming title. Instead of a post bearing a headline to the effect of You Know What Grinds My Gears?, a review for a Jaguar XKR is offered: “ Paramount XKR Review”, dated November 14, 2001. It was published 16 days shy of my 17th birthday.

“The Jaguar XK8 is a classic. Six years after its debut, the design is still fresh, bold and dramatic. It’s one of those cars that somehow looks fast standing still. Okay, viewed from the side, the boot is about two feet too long – thanks to US regulations requiring all expensive cars to accommodate two golf bags. Even so, the Jag rules. Freshened Porsches, Mercs, Beemers and Lexi still can’t compete with the XK’s svelte aggression. Slinking into the club’s parking lot, the Jag proclaims, ‘Look out boys, this cat has claws!’

“Except it doesn’t.”

Farago’s prose, while damning of the Jag’s requisite need to provide for corporate stick-and-ball excursions, had not yet become hostile. Eventually his view turns about-face on the car he’s actually testing. This isn’t any normal Jag anyway. This post isn’t answering any questions.

Page after page, I flick through Robert’s reviews and editorial features. The first year of TTAC’s infancy is mainly written from the point-of-view of an American expat in England. But, interspersed in Anglo-centric editorials, articles would come to the fore with a much more inclusive world view.

I click ahead some more. The language is still on the line but nothing a public relations person wouldn’t take further than sucking their own teeth. In my head, I imagine a boardroom of teeth-sucking PR folks reviewing the day’s coverage, collectively sucking their teeth at Farago’s articles.

It wasn’t until the early GM Death Watch articles, after Farago had made his way back to the United States, when he thought it important to deliberately interject his thoughts. Early pieces in the series were almost formulaic in their simplicity, but incredibly effective in their purpose. In short, Farago told a story of an elderly man bringing a knife to a knife fight; but, while his foes brandished freshly sharpened Gerber blades, this old man was holding a butter knife, built by overpaid people, and engineered down to a price.

It’s not like I didn’t know this history. Everyone who’s read TTAC for a month or more knows the Cliff’s Notes version, either by references in later pieces or through conversations with others. But, actually reading and mentally processing it in the way Farago’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions were intended — it’s almost like magic.

Calling a corporate citizen out, day after bloody day in a war of words, is an exhausting exercise. It requires steadfast determination, a sharp mind (like those who routinely get called up as “experts” on 24-hour news programming), and a black-and-white view of the issues at hand. Farago made very complicated issues incredibly simple to conceptualize.

But, by simplifying complicated issues down to a point where they’re digestible quips and potshots … is that being true to your purpose and to others who are part of the public discourse?

Since then, Ed Niedermeyer, Bertel Schmitt, Jack Baruth, and Derek Kreindler have taken the wheel of this ship we call The Truth About Cars, proudly flying its flag of independence. That, my friends, will not change. Neither will TTAC’s focus on editorial excellence in truth. In order to provide you – the reader, consumer and professional – with the truth, we must continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard. My predecessors held that as one of TTAC’s greatest values and I shall continue to do the same. But, most importantly, complex issues will not be boiled down, wrapped up in a pretty bow, and offered up with a sidecar of explosives.

What will change is change itself. The web is fluid. Our ship sails upon it. When a storm approaches and waves come our way, we must ride them; crashing through is not an option. None of us want to go overboard.

But, it is with change we can thrive. The ideals of TTAC have potential in different media. We need to expand, reach out, and grab the attention of those who may share our principles but, for one reason or another, haven’t found us quite yet.

We can’t – correction: won’t – be the old man with the butter knife.

It is with this new found responsibility – for the future of TTAC and also as a journalistic citizen in the automotive industry – that I ponder: what’s next?

It surely won’t be a return to what we’ve been. Feather-ruffling for the sake of feather-ruffling will only make for a deafeningly loud hen house. Instead, we must look at the bigger picture, be true to our mission, and an active part of the conversation — hell, be the conversation. Shouting from the other side of the fence is not an option.

Making mistakes … the big mistakes … is no longer a worry. I know where we’ve been, what we’ve done and how we’ve done it. But, what we haven’t done, what we do in the future, is as much up to you as it is me.

Here’s to the open sea ahead. Sláinte!

Mark Stevenson

[Image source: Mr T in DC/Flickr]

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4 of 88 comments
  • Dorky Teacher Dorky Teacher on Apr 20, 2015

    Great first post Mark as the new leader. I completely agree that it is time for simple changes and growth. There are two obvious changes to make... 1) new and updated website 2) video presence What not to do? Anything that even remotely resembles Motortrend's or Car and Driver's dump-a-thon of articles. Many years ago, I explored my automotive passion on their websites, but now they're a vast wasteland of self-masturbation and pointless automotive commentary. I discovered TTAC during Farago's reign and into Niedermeyer's reign. I actually stopped reading this site in Bertel's time before Jack took over TTAC. Jack and Derek rescued this site from triviality, but the site is woefully out of touch with modern journalism. But, it is also the only website that I actually read the comments on a post. I appreciate the return of true car journalists like Dykes and Cain. I hope that moving forward this site can step up and fill the automotive journalism void that exists online today. I strongly recommend modeling the next steps after The Young Turks. Forget everyone else in journalism. I don't always agree with TYT and I don't always agree with TTAC, but TTAC is the last non-BS group of automotive enthusiasts online. This means that TTAC has a real opportunity to hit the industry hard in the same way that TYT hit the news world. The lazy automotive industry need to be held accountable by someone! And no, Tesla/Musk, doesn't cut it with their overpriced automobiles that only homeowners can logistically own. We, the reader, are using social media, online video, and online print to keep us tuned in. We crave authenticity and don't care so much about flash, prestige, and all that other BS that the likes of Motortrend are obsessed with. I've actually watched an Alex Dykes video review of a minivan over the nonsense of Carlos Lago and Johnny Lieberman on MT. TTAC has never been polished and moving forward it doesn't need to be polished, because that's not the point. The point is that we love authenticity. That's what built TTAC and that's who we are. F*** /Drive (Harris and Farah are still cool... it's their network that's bites.). Please, please, please bring TTAC into the current decade. We can keep our authenticity and still be modern.

  • Dash riprock Dash riprock on Apr 20, 2015

    As one Of the seemingly few who have been here since Farago, thinking early teens Death watch, I was not offended by the comments. Farago was acutely accurate in GM's structural, and, managerial issues. After a while he stared to be obsessive about GM(later eic went the same way with vw's global and NA domination) as if his status relied upon its failure. One example was his consistent claim that the Volt was vapourware, never gonna happen. It was nice that recently DeadWeight, probably in homage to Farago, Started to refer to the gigafactory as vapourware. Good luck Mark, be yourself, do not spend too much time worrying about what think about you, and most of all start prepping for winter 2016.

    • See 1 previous
    • Dash riprock Dash riprock on Apr 21, 2015

      @DeadWeight I cannot get my head around how Tesla Motors will be a profitable business. I especially cannot see how their P/E ratio will ever be reasonable based upon their present share price. Shorting the stock makes sense to me but there seems to be so many investment professionals believing the story that a short could get me killed if there is a wave of good news.

  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?
  • Roger hopkins Why do they all have to be 4 door??? Why not a "cab & a half" and a bit longer box. This is just another station wagon of the 21st century. Maybe they should put fake woodgrain on the side lol...
  • Greg Add me to the list: 2017 Sorento EX AWD w/2.0 Turbo GDI 68K miles. Changed oil religiously with only synthetic. Checked oil level before a rare long road trip and Ievel was at least 2 quarts down. That was less than 6 months after the last oil change. I'm now adding a quart of oil every 1000 miles and checking every 500 miles because I read reports that the oil usage gets worse. Too bad, really like the 2023 Tuscon. But I have not seen Hyundai/Kia doing anything new in terms of engine development. Therefore, I have to suspect that I will ony become a victim of a fatally flawed engine development program if I were to a purchase another Kia/Hyundai.
  • Craiger 1970s Battlestar Galactica Cylon face.