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Travels with Farley: 42 years and counting

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Here’s how long ago it was: The first vehicle I wrote about for Autoweek was a 1974 American Motors Matador.

AMC tossed the car together apparently in about 11 minutes in response to the Arab oil embargo. Gas prices had rocketed in just a few weeks from 25 cents a gallon to unbelievable levels (“I paid 49.9 to-day! FORTY-NINE!”).

As new guy, I got last pick from the test fleet, and this was nobody’s favorite. By the time the 232-cubic-inch six chivvied its dispirited ponies through the three-speed manual, they were too tired to stampede. Not a bad thing, given the flaccid suspension.

But the Matador was built for economy. I babied it across 600 miles of Nevada desert (three-digit temps, no AC, Tomás de Torquemada autograph-model bench seat), determined to see what 1974 technology could wring from each gallon of gas.

It wrung 22.3 miles.

In the office, we were impressed. Average mileage in those days was about 15. My previous test ride, a 454 Chevy pickup for Hot Rod, slurped down 20 gallons in the 125 miles between Los Angeles and San Diego.

I think of those vehicles when I hear people lamenting that “cars ain’t what they used to be.” I like horsepower as well as the next guy, and crisp handling even more. Now that I can have both, though, along with 600-mile seats and 30-plus mpg, I don’t spend much time wishing for the past.

That Autoweek gig had been a dream since I found a copy of the magazine in a latrine in Vietnam. AutoWEEK? You mean I could get Formula 1 results on Thursday instead of three months later in Road & Track? Sign me up.

When I got home and fell in with car people, I found that Autoweek was the One True Source. You might read other magazines for artsy photographs that hinted at what a car looked like. For real news ahead of the pull date—Indianapolis results before Labor Day, the Daytona 500 before Easter—you turned to the pulp-paper, hastily edited tabloid out of Reno, Nevada.

It wasn’t the bed of gravy I’d imagined. A weekly meant 10- to 12-hour days, plus weekends at the races. My wife put my picture next to the peephole in the front door so she could identify me when I came home. But I worked for Autoweek. I met Dan Gurney. I bought Mark Donohue a beer. David Hobbs sat down at my table on the Queen Mary and so captivated my companion that I paid up their tab and went back to the Motel 6 early.

It lasted four years, until Crain Communications bought Autoweek and moved it to Detroit. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, and Keith Crain was sure he didn’t want to take me, so that worked out. Then-publisher Leon Mandel asked me to freelance a column in 1980, and I’ve been around, somehow, for 42 of the 60 years. Nobody saw that coming, but I hope it’s been as much fun from out there as it has from here.

"42 Years And Counting" was originally published in Autoweek's July 16, 2018, 60th anniversary issue. Subscribe now!

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