YOKOHAMA -- The executive tasked with leading a recovery at Nissan Motor Co. said he had decided to resign just weeks into his new job, a move that could disrupt the automaker's push to turn the corner on scandal and slumping sales.

Jun Seki, Nissan's vice COO and a former contender for CEO, told Reuters he was leaving to become the president of Nidec Corp., a Kyoto-based manufacturer of automotive components and precision motors.

He will likely depart in January after three decades at Nissan, including a stint heading its China business.

"I love Nissan and I feel bad about leaving the turnaround work unfinished, but I am 58 years old, and this is an offer I could not refuse. It's probably my last chance to lead a company too," he said in a brief interview.

"It's not about money. In fact, I will take a financial hit since Nissan pays us well," Seki said. He declined to elaborate further.

Nissan and Nidec declined to comment.

Seeking to roll back some of the costly expansion under ousted chairman Carlos Ghosn, Nissan has embarked on wide-ranging turnaround plan.

That plan, which began in April, is now on track to generate a cumulative few hundred billion yen in cost cuts and operational efficiency gains by the year to March 2022, according to two Nissan sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. One hundred billion yen is roughly equal to $915 million.

Adding to concerns about disruption among Nissan's top management, the sources said that Seki, COO Ashwani Gupta and CEO Makoto Uchida have so far failed to gel as a team after being named to their posts in October.

They officially took over on Dec. 1.

"There was no instant, cohesive chemistry achieved by those appointments," one of the sources said.

Gupta and Uchida were not immediately available for comment.

Seki's resignation could further complicate Nissan's relationship with top shareholder Renault SA. Seki recently worked in Paris for a year and was seen as relatively close to the French automaker.

Persuaded in the end

Asked if he was leaving Nissan because he was passed over for the role of CEO, Seki said that was not the case but did not elaborate.

He and Uchida, most recently the head of the China business, had been seen as top contenders for the CEO job. Reuters reported in September that Uchida was seen as more favored by Renault.

Before being named vice-COO, Seki was a senior vice-president charged with leading the turnaround.

Nissan has been profoundly shaken over the last year, first with the downfall of long-term leader Ghosn, who is now awaiting trial on allegations of financial misconduct that he has denied. Former CEO Hiroto Saikawa then left in September.

One of the sources said Seki was contacted by a headhunter about a job at Nidec in April, after he returned from a year working in Paris.

Nidec's 75-year-old chairman, the brash and confident Shigenobu Nagamori, has been searching for an eventual successor to lead and expand its business.

Nidec, which sees electric vehicles as a key driver of growth, has a 40 percent global market share in automotive electric steering motors and has said it wants to boost its share in electric vehicle propulsion motors.

After April, Seki had no additional contact with Nidec until the recruiter called him again on Oct. 8 when Nissan announced the new management team, including Uchida as CEO.

After that second call, Seki agreed to meet Nagamori -- to turn down the offer, the source said.

"Nagamori talked Seki into accepting his offer in the end," the source said.

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    BMW is reportedly under investigation for its sales practices in the United States. According to the Wall Street Journal, which published a story citing "people familiar with the matter," the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has contacted BMW and is looking into whether it has illegally manipulated its sales numbers in the U.S.

    The practice of "sales punching," the paper said, if proved against BMW, would mean the automaker had its dealers record vehicle sales for cars and SUVs that were not actually sold but still sitting on dealership lots. A BMW spokesperson told the paper that the company plans to cooperate "fully" with the SEC's probe.

    In 2016, Automotive News quoted a comment by BMW of North America CEO Ludwig Willisch, who told the National Automobile Dealers Association at an event that there is "a lot of pressure" to report high sales numbers. He addressed the practice of inflating sales figures by registering cars as loaners, then selling them as used with very low mileage, by saying it is not ideal but "it happens."

    BMW not the only automaker to have come under fire by government regulators for its sales practices. As the WSJ notes, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) paid $40 million in a settlement for having paid its dealers to report inaccurate sales information over a period of years, also by reporting unsold vehicles as having been sold.

    Here’s a new video from Germany’s Sport Auto magazine that shows journalist Christian Gebhardt steering a 2020 Toyota Supra around the Nürburgring’s tight corners in an impressive 7:52:17, all from a camera mounted in the passenger seat.

    Interestingly, the feat comes after Gebhardt drove a BMW Z4 M40i, the sports car that shares much of its engineering and mechanics with the Supra, around the ‘Ring in 7:55:41 back in September 2018. That means the Supra bested its German sibling by three seconds and change.

    By way of comparison, Gebhardt in July piloted a BMW M5 Competition F90 around the Nürburgring in June in 7:35:90 and a Toyota Yaris GRMN 212 PS in 8:44:66

    The video gives us a nice sense of the exhaust note from the Supra’s 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six, which makes 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque and boasts a 4.1-second 0-60 mph time. Gebhardt briefly peaks at 260 kmh — 161 mph — during a long straightaway near the end of the course, which is higher than the car’s advertised top speed of 155 mph.

    Keep in mind that Toyota plans to boost performance, and likely output, in future variants of the Supra. So its Nürburgring performance will likely only improve.

    Despite the influx of SUVs and crossovers, the compact luxury sports sedan remains a thing. It's still a thing because, when done right, a small sedan can define and elevate a brand. This is a segment with influence, and it remains healthy and full of cars fighting to distinguish themselves by combining sportiness, luxury, design, and technology.


    Genesis clearly understood that when it created the G70, and as the brand's first attempt in this space, the Genesis G70 manages to combine performance, value, and luxury so compellingly that we gave it our highest honor, a 10Best award for 2019, not to mention a spot in our long-term garage. Volvo has been building cars for this segment for decades. Its freshest entry, the Volvo S60, is an attractive four-door with the best seats this side of StubHub. The S60, however, is essentially a front-wheel-drive player in a rear-drive field. Like many of its competitors, the Volvo offers all-wheel drive, but only as an option on certain versions. How do these two upscale sedans fare against each other when lined up door handle to door handle?

    Charlie MageeCar and Driver

    The Matchup

    For $45,645, it's possible to get a G70 with a 365-hp twin-turbo 3.3-liter V-6. But, instead of a lightly optioned test car with a big engine, we went for a well-equipped rear-drive G70 with the standard turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four making 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. In the interest of parity to the S60, we opted for the available eight-speed automatic transmission rather than the standard six-speed manual, something the S60 doesn't offer. At an as-tested $44,895, our G70 came well-optioned with $8450 in tech and luxury features. The $3850 Prestige package came with our sole performance-enhancing option: 19-inch wheels wrapped with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires .

    After the previous model had served the brand for nearly a decade unchanged, Volvo redesigned the S60 last year. In selecting an S60 to face the G70, we went for the entry-level 250-hp T5 powertrain—also a turbo 2.0-liter inline-four mated to an eight-speed automatic, only mounted transversely rather than horizontally as in the G70—which starts at $36,050. The 316-hp T6 model can be had for just over $40K and comes with all-wheel drive, but like the G70, we went for a well-equipped model for this comparison test. At an as-tested $46,240, our S60 T5 cost a touch more than the G70, but take away its optional pebble-grey metallic paint and the lime wood inlays, and their prices are nearly identical.

    Charlie MageeCar and Driver

    On the Road

    The Genesis shines brightest on a winding road, where its taut chassis and sticky summer tires shine. The G70's steering transmits a good deal of feedback, undulations in the pavement come through to the driver's hands, and the secure rise and fall of steering effort during hard cornering is apparent. In contrast, the S60's steering is bit aloof, and while it's quick to react to inputs, feedback is absent, which erodes confidence when you're hustling.

    The base engine in the G70 is a version of the same corporate four-cylinder found in other Hyundai and Kia products, and while it isn't bad, it isn't something that makes us look forward to spinning it toward its redline. The eight-speed automatic will occasionally slur a shift and sometimes even shifts too harshly. The Genesis is slower than the Volvo both to 60 mph and through the quarter-mile mark by 0.3 second. That's not a huge gap, but we expect stronger straight-line performance once Genesis replaces the 2.0-liter with the parent company's turbo 2.5-liter four.

    Charlie MageeCar and Driver

    The Volvo doesn't inspire high-speed cornering antics. Instead, it would prefer you to take it easy and enjoy the smooth ride and the quiet cabin. However, even though the Volvo was quicker at the track than the Genesis, turning in a 6.1-second run to 60 mph and a 14.6-second quarter-mile pass, it still doesn't exude performance. On twisting mountain roads, we found that the transmission was eager to upshift and lazy to downshift, requiring the driver to prod the throttle significantly for any meaningful acceleration. Even though the Volvo's 0.92 g of skidpad grip nearly matched the G70's 0.94-g effort, the two are worlds apart. The G70 resists understeer all the way to the limit, while the Volvo beats on its front tires until they surrender grip.

    The Inside View

    The cabin of the Volvo S60 is decorated with beautiful wood inlays, a flowing dashboard, supremely comfortable and supportive seats, and Volvo's vertically oriented touchscreen infotainment system. While the touchscreen works better the more you use it, we do wish for a few actual buttons instead of having to scroll and tap through the system's menus for many basic functions.

    Charlie MageeCar and Driver

    The G70's interior takes a different approach but is every bit as rich and inviting as the Volvo's. Leather front seats feature heating, ventilation, and quilted stitching. The instrument panel is driver oriented, and we like that. But a few bits, such as the infotainment system and some switchgear, appear to have been borrowed from Hyundai. Our example also exhibited a whistle of wind rush at speeds above 60 mph that sounded as though a window was cracked open.

    Although these two cars are nearly identical on paper in terms of passenger and cargo space, the S60 does have the larger trunk—14 cubic feet versus the G70's 11 cubes—and feels subjectively larger on the inside, especially if you're sitting in the back seat. If we were forced to drive any meaningful distance in one of these cars with three other adults, we'd prefer the Volvo.

    Charlie MageeCar and Driver

    The Bottom Line

    The Volvo S60 and Genesis G70 represent distinctly different approaches to the same segment. The Volvo is the more luxurious of the two. Inside and out, its design is more cohesive and elegant. It can't master back roads like the G70, but it is slightly more refined and comfortable than the Genesis. However, we're willing to trade a little bit of luxury and comfort for the Genesis's greater sense of athleticism on twisty pavement. We like our sedans sporty, and the G70 simply is more fun to drive than the S60, yet it remains similarly polished and strong in value. For those reasons, the Genesis wins this round over the Volvo.



    2020 Volvo S60 T5 Momentum

    front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

    $46,240 (base price: $37,045)

    turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
    120 cu in, 1969 cc
    250 hp @ 5500 rpm
    258 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm

    8-speed automatic

    Suspension (F/R): control arms/multilink
    Brakes (F/R): 12.7-in vented disc/11.9-in disc
    Tires: Pirelli P Zero All Season, 235/40R-19 96V M+S VOL

    Wheelbase: 113.1 in
    Length: 187.4 in
    Width: 72.8 in
    Height: 56.3 in
    Passenger volume: 94 cu ft
    Trunk volume: 14 cu ft
    Curb weight: 3754 lb

    Rollout, 1 ft: 0.3 sec
    60 mph: 6.1 sec
    100 mph: 15.2 sec
    120 mph: 24.0 sec
    Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.0 sec
    Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.5 sec
    Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.7 sec
    ¼-mile: 14.6 sec @ 98 mph
    Top speed (governor limited): 131 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 163 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.92 g

    Observed: 25 mpg
    75-mph highway driving: 37 mpg
    Highway range: 530 miles

    Combined/city/highway: 27/23/34 mpg

    2020 Genesis G70 2.0T

    front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

    $44,895 (base price: $36,445)

    turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
    122 cu in, 1998 cc
    252 hp @ 6200 rpm
    260 lb-ft @ 1400 rpm

    8-speed automatic

    Suspension (F/R): struts/multilink
    Brakes (F/R): 12.6-in vented disc/12.4-in disc
    Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4, F: 225/40R-19 (93Y) R: 255/35R-19 (96Y)

    Wheelbase: 111.6 in
    Length: 184.4 in
    Width: 72.8 in
    Height: 55.1 in
    Passenger volume: 94 cu ft
    Trunk volume: 11 cu ft
    Curb weight: 3676 lb

    Rollout, 1 ft: 0.3 sec
    60 mph: 6.4 sec
    100 mph: 16.2 sec
    120 mph: 24.8 sec
    Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.0 sec
    Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.3 sec
    Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.3 sec
    ¼-mile: 14.9 sec @ 96 mph
    Top speed (governor limited, C/D est): 145 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 151 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.94 g

    Observed: 22 mpg
    75-mph highway driving: 31 mpg
    Highway range: 480 miles

    Combined/city/highway: 25/22/30 mpg

    Bentley's versed in special editions for China, although it's been a while since we last saw one. In 2010, the English automaker released the Continental GT Design Series China and Flying Spur Speed China, following that up a year later with the Linley Continental Flying Spur that was limited to a mere 10 units. This time around, 15 Chinese buyers get the chance to order the Bentley Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase China Edition in any color they want so long as it's black. This being a product of Bentley's Mulliner bespoke division, though, buyers do get a choice of two special blacks. Onyx black imbues the abyssal shade with "a hint of dark blue" as well as darker tones, resulting in the "deepest black finish offered by Bentley." Mulsanne shoppers who like their blacks a bit more uplifting should opt for Black Velvet, said to be "a richer black-based finish" shot through with red pigments, creating a color recalling black cherries. Both hues are hand-applied, as is the gold fine line running along the Mulsanne's shoulder.

    Further exterior highlights comprise the chrome Serenity grille with a double-diamond quilt pattern, a Union Jack on the C-pillar, 21-inch and 14-spoke polished Radiance wheels, exclusive welcome lamps, and polished, stainless steel Mulliner sill plates. 

    Three vogue, two-tone interiors will be available, in either Fireglow with Imperial Blue, Newmarket Tan with Burnt Oak, or Shortbread with Redwood. Crewe artists embroidered the hide covering each seat with "an expressive interpretation" of London's skyline that includes widely recognizable sights: Tower Bridge, the London Eye Ferris wheel, the Shard and Gherkin towers, and The O2 arena. The same design is inlaid into the chosen veneer on the passenger's side.  

    The 6.75-liter turbocharged V8 with 506 hp and 752 pound-feet of torque goes untouched. Bentley will share pricing only with the 15 souls ready to purchase, but the standard sedan starts at more than 5 million yuan, or almost $750,000 American. Buyers would be advised to have a Bentayga on hand to convey the funds to the dealership.

    "Jeep ads perform well, so the Chevy overperformance is especially meaningful because it's against an otherwise pretty strong brand," said Steve Shannon, strategic adviser for EDO.

    A Fiat Chrysler Automobiles spokesman declined to comment.

    A Chevy spokeswoman said these are among the brand's most effective ads. "They perform well on several key metrics — breakthrough, clarity of message, likability and, importantly, driving purchase intent," she said.

    Chevy has run the year-end promotion since 2005, while FCA is new to the promotion as of Nov. 1, according to EDO.

    "That was a game changer when Chevy launched that program," said Shannon, who was previously vice president of marketing for Hyundai Motor America and executive director of marketing for Cadillac. "I think they generated a tremendous amount of equity with it. While others have tried it, I think [Chevy] owns it."

    Chevy's discounts, including an additional cash allowance, range from $12,260 on the 2019 Silverado 2500 LTZ crew cab to $3,436 on the 2020 Spark 2LT. Jeep's steepest discount is $6,185 off the 2019 Renegade Limited 4x4.

    Before the campaign, Chevy was routinely fourth or fifth in EDO's rankings. A week after it started, it shot to the top.

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    Remember when Kia's lineup was a forgettable fleet of cheap transportation? If you can't recall those rental-counter bottom-feeders, trust us, you're not alone. The Korean automaker and its corporate counterpart, Hyundai, have been successfully shedding that stereotype for many years now. They've recently blossomed into two of the more interesting brands out there. Kia introduced genre-busting new models such as the sporty four-door Stinger and the terrific three-row Telluride SUV. Now, the all-new 2021 Kia Optima heads further upscale with an even more stylish overhaul that has helped fuel the company's meteoric rise.

    Aesthetically Pleasing and Physically Appeasing

    It's hard to believe that the new Optima is built by the same company—let alone wears the same nameplate—as the outgoing model. (A quick note: To avoid confusion, we'll refer to the Korean-spec K5 that we drove for this review as an Optima.) Sure, the last generation could be handsome, but its replacement earns more affectionate compliments. Dare we call it sexy, even? Its narrow headlights are outlined by zigzag running lights that merge into Kia's "tiger nose" grille to give the sedan a fierce face. Its hood and side surfaces are creased for extra character without looking extra busy. A chrome strip runs congruent with the sweeping roofline before crossing the rear pillar, tracing the top of the trunklid, and connecting the opposite side of the car. This helps create a fastback profile that finishes with provocative taillights that span the rear end and resemble a heartbeat monitor.

    HIGHS: Visually arresting inside and out, tons of upscale features, doesn't offer a CVT.

    If the Optima's dramatic exterior isn't enough, its impressive cabin ought to do the trick. Kia smartly avoided overdoing the design and opted for an uncomplicated layout with rich-looking materials. The dash is dominated by a piano-black bezel that houses a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 10.3-inch touchscreen. Seriously, the instrument panel has beautiful displays, including a vista-like background or gauges that transform with the drive modes. The infotainment system is also gorgeous, and its menus are generally easy to navigate. If there's anything to complain about inside the Optima, it's the lack of tactile controls. While the audio system has a volume knob, everything else is controlled via steering-wheel buttons or touch-sensitive zones around the screen. The same goes for the HVAC system. Kia claims these functions are more intuitive than traditional switchgear, but we prefer the more dependable and less distracting physical stuff.

    Still, the Optima is great because of its luxury-like features and Kia's obvious attention to detail. The company didn't disclose the trim level we drove, but it showed what to expect from the fanciest examples. Our tester included cool ambient interior lighting on the doors and dash, a nifty air-purification system, heated and ventilated front seats (toggle operated, thankfully), a useful head-up display, plush leather upholstery, and a wireless charging pad. Except for the narrow door pockets, there's plenty of spots to store small items in the center console. The Optima's large trunk also looked capable of holding luggage for all its passengers. While we wouldn't pack five full adults into the sedan, even though there's room, four passengers will be very comfortable. The back seat in particular has generous legroom and a large fold-down armrest. The driving position was plenty flexible and includes a convenient dead pedal and floor-mounted accelerator. We only wish we could've lowered the seat height more.

    Not All Good Cars Drive like Stars

    For those who didn't know, the new Optima is mechanically similar to the all-new Hyundai Sonata. They share a platform, powertrain options, and other less obvious equipment, but they're endowed with different personalities. Based on our experience driving an Optima on the streets and freeways surrounding South Korea's capital of Seoul, we don't think it's likely to usurp the Honda Accord or Mazda 6 as the de-facto choices for driver engagement. However, that's more of a testament to those manufacturers' engineering than a shot at Kia. The Optima provides a pleasant experience that is highlighted by steady handling and a quiet ride. There was minimal road noise and no structural vibrations during our drive. The sedan was easy to maneuver through Seoul's tightly packed streets thanks to its relaxed but reactive steering. We didn't feel as confident with its soft brake pedal, which elicited a panicky prod when the binders didn't always quickly respond. Kia said this will be resolved before production starts, and there will be steering and suspension tuning changes for the U.S. market as well. That may resolve our only other complaint, which is that our tester had a firm ride that was most noticeable on uneven surfaces.

    LOWS: Too many touch controls, high seating height, less engaging to drive than some rivals.

    The Optima will offer a variety of different engine options in other markets, but U.S. models will have two choices. This means no more hybrid or plug-in hybrid—for now, at least. However, shoppers can turn to the Kia Niro or Soul EV for electrified alternatives. The 2021 Optima will also be available with all-wheel drive for the first time. This hasn't been confirmed for the States, but we expect it will since rivals such as the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry offer it. The inevitable Optima GT will give Americans a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four that should make about 290 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. It'll pair with Kia's first eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This setup should be very similar to the Hyundai Sonata N-Line.

    The Optima we drove was powered by the other engine that's been confirmed for the U.S. It's the same turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four that we tested on a 2020 Sonata Limited. It makes 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, which should apply to the Kia, too. Our Optima also turned the front wheels through a dutiful eight-speed automatic gearbox. This is a welcome reprieve from the moaning continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) that are becoming more and more common. The Optima's gearbox changed ratios with a refined consistency that could be held or hurried by switching into the Sport drive mode or by flicking the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. However, it denied aggressive downshifts and brief inactivity initiated upshifts. Folks who care about that won't be interested in an Optima anyways. Instead, the turbo four's competent low-end power and subdued nature will satisfy most drivers. They'll just have to be patient when trying to pass slowpokes at highway speeds.

    We Call It Great

    Although there's a chance the fifth-generation Optima could be called K5 when it comes to the U.S., that hardly matters because it'll be almost identical to the Korean version that we drove. We're not fans of the potential name change, but the new car is so much better than its predecessor that Kia could call it Gangnam Style without affecting its appeal. Not only is it arguably more attractive than its mainstream competitors, the mid-size sedan also offers countless upscale features and—probably—the highly covetable all-wheel drive. That might even steal some Sonata sales. Who knows? What we do know is that the all-new Optima or K5 or whatever Kia decides to call it will be a great car and a great value when it hits U.S. showrooms in the second half of next year with a price tag that should start around $25,000.

    Last December, Volkswagen teased the silhouette of a red-hatted Santa Claus piloting some kind of buggy. The tease would turn out to be the all-electric ID. Buggy that debuted during the Geneva Motor Show in March. The German automaker has turned the same trick this year with the same format, Autocar revealing another red-hatted Santa in the driver's seat of a hatchback. Autocar believes the image previews an entry-level ID-brand electric subcompact crossover priced below the ID 3, with a shorter range. Discussed by sources inside the company for about the past year and sitting on a platform called "MEB Entry," the first vehicle would give rise to a range of low-cost EVs across several VW Group brands in Europe and China among other markets.

    It's hard to know what the front end looks like without a hood line, but the image shows a slightly flatter roof than that of the ID 3, leading to an almost vertical backlight above a continuous LED strip that wraps around to the C-pillars. Said to be about 150 inches long, this first MEB Entry crossover would be roughly eight inches longer than the e-Up! and ten inches shorter than the Polo subcompact, but said to have the interior room of the Mk8 Golf, which is around 19 inches longer.

    Pitched as a city car or a "second or third car" for commuters, the MEB Entry packs a smaller battery good for a range between 130 and 150 miles. Estimated pricing is under 20,000 euros ($22,160 U.S.), with VW aiming to sell 200,000 per year across the brands with access to the platform. If VW really can hold the MSRP under 20,000 euros by the time the crossover comes to market, we'd expect this positioned as a replacement for the e-Up!, but one that's at least 2,000 euros less expensive.

    Market launch has been guessed as anywhere from 2022 to "before the end of 2025," with Autocar saying we should see an MEB Entry concept in the second half of 2020.

    Junior Johnson, a legend in the world of stock-car racing, has died at age 88. Johnson began his driving career as a North Carolina moonshine runner and went on to win 50 races, including the 1960 Daytona 500. Johnson was in the first class of NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees and became known as the Last American Hero after he was profiled in an Esquire magazine story by Tom Wolfe in 1965, which later appeared in his book The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. Wolfe and Johnson reunited a half-century after the story was first published, and this story below, first published by Road & Track in 2016 along with one in Esquire, was the result.

    In 1965, journalist Tom Wolfe was deployed to South Carolina to illustrate for his sophisticated New York overlords what this whole "stock car racing thing was." Wolfe, being a sharp-dressed Man of the People, sought out Junior Johnson, the 1960 Daytona 500 champion and the winningest stock-car driver at the time. NASCAR was still a regional affair, a burgeoning motorsport confined to below the Mason-Dixon line, where no New Yorkers seemed to dare venture, especially not East Village writers in white suits.

    Today, it's mind-boggling to think how such things were at one time so hyper-regional—the plot to Smokey and the Bandit, after all, was about thirsty Georgians brazenly heisting that rarefied elixir, Colorado-brewed Coors beer, which today flows like a golden river at every Buffalo Wild Wings from here to Waxahachie.

    Original essay in Esquire, March 1965.
    Esquire Magazine

    But with no little hyperbole, the resulting profile—originally titled "Great Balls of Fire"was published in the March 1965 issue of Esquire Magazine, then immortalized in Wolfe's collection The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (now under its familiar and easily excited title: "The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!") It remains today a defining piece of New Journalism, a veritable sacred text for its practitioners since, part of the Bible that the prophet Wolfe bestowed upon us. (Hey, it's not like the man invented hyperbole and exaggeration.) It made both people famous. It earned Junior Johnson the enviable nickname of "The Last American Hero," and a biopic with the same title starring Jeff Bridges. For the magazine's genteel readers, Johnson certainly painted a picture of the good ol' Southern boy. "He is a coon hunter, a rich man, an ex-whiskey runner, a good old boy who hard-charges stock cars 175 mph. Mother dog! He is the lead-footed chicken farmer from Ronda, the true vision of the New South."

    (As an aside: one letter to the editor, published in June of 1965, lambasts Wolfe thus: "I think Mr. Wolfe should be ashamed of himself for describing Southern preachers thus: 'They are greedy dogs. Yeah! They ride around in big cars. Unnh-hunh! And chase women. Yeah! And drink liquor. Unnh-hunh! And smoke cigars. Oh yes ! And they are greedy dogs. Yeah! Unnh-hunh! Oh yes! Amen!'")

    In October 2015, 50 years after the article was published, Johnson revisited Wolfe at his East Village apartment. The two were participating in a documentary for FOX Sports. The two pile onto couches, surrounded by books, production crew jockeying for room behind them. Wolfe remembered how he dressed down for the trip to North Carolina, something casual, like a green tweed suit with a Borsalino hat. Johnson turned to Esquire writer Mark Warren. "He done more for me than anybody," he said. "He done more for NASCAR than anybody."

    Wolfe put NASCAR on the map, writes Warren. If we are to believe our fathers, and believe that the Sixties really were as transformative as the nostalgia says it is, then Johnson transformed NASCAR—by, among other things, pioneering the art of drafting—and Wolfe transformed NASCAR. Hard to believe that today, but things always expand somewhere. Says Warren, some cultural anthropology laid the way for that. "His 'statusphere' obsession—'How do we look?' he says. 'How do we sound to other people?'—turned him into an anthropologist once he was in Junior Johnson country, getting to the heart of a culture that made the biggest traffic jams in the world to go see stock cars race around a track."