Memorable Drives of 2016: Jeff Wilson

2016 BMW S1000XR

At autoTRADER.ca we are blessed with award-winning contributors who write high-quality content fuelled by their passion for cars and driving. Their ability to turn even a mainstream car into a compelling story makes for some amazing memories. As 2016 rolls to a stop we’ve asked them all to share their favourites from the year gone by.

There are five occasions from the past twelve months that are most memorable for either the chosen machine, or the experience  itself – or in most cases, it’s a combination of both.  Here they are in chronological order:

2016 BMW 750Li xDrive 

2016 BMW 7 Series

Before handing the key over for BMW’s newest rendition of its flagship sedan, the media manager went over as many of the revolutionary tech details as our limited time would allow.  Then he turned to me and said, “I hope you have a long trip booked for this car.”

If only!  Alas, my time with the 750Li was scheduled to be pretty routine for me.  Daily driving to the office, picking up my son from school, getting groceries, the usual day-to-day necessities.  Despite the banality of tasks, the big Bimmer presented a sense of occasion to every duty, chore and errand run with its sublime luxury.  More than that, the 7 Series featured technology – some of which was cutting edge like “Gesture Control” – that made spending time even stuck in traffic, an interesting situation.

But there’s one more reason this car and my drive time with it stands out:  it was the chosen chariot for a first date with a lovely young woman.  When there’s a reclining, massaging seat, a sensational audio system and a star field effect of LEDs in the glass roof, it becomes pretty easy to make a big impression.  That first date and drive set the stage for a number of great adventures – and drives – we’ve shared together this year.

Camp4 in a 2016 Porsche Cayman GTS

Porsche Camp4

For decades, ownership of Porsche’s venerable 911 has been on my bucket list, and while parking my own P-Car in my garage still alludes me, I am no longer certain it’ll be a Carrera that fills the spot when that time finally does come.

In January I was given the distinct pleasure of travelling to the Mécaglisse Motorsports Complex near Mont Tremblant, Quebec where a fleet of new Porsches awaited an enthusiastic flogging on the frozen circuit.  This was Porsche Camp4 and instructors repeatedly reminded us that there were no style points to be awarded for understeer, and that the trio of Cayenne Diesels was ready to pull us out of a snowbank if (or more likely when) we ran out of talent.

I was taught the Scandinavian Flick – a rally manoeuvre designed to help get a car through quick directional transitions without much traction.  I got to chase Porsche GT3 Cup driver Chris Green around a figure-eight, both of us trying to keep a Carrera 2 in as long a lurid drift as our skill would allow.

But it wasn’t until finishing up the day in the smaller, better-balanced Cayman GTS that I found winter driving nirvana.  The speeds were not fast as some track day excursions I’ve had, and I’ll admit, I stuffed the Cayman’s pretty nose into a snowbank deep enough that the vents needed to be unpacked with a wooden spoon, yet still that car – and that setting – are remembered as the best day I’ve ever had playing in the snow.  The sounds, the looks and mostly the way the Cayman drives have captured my heart and now occupy my dreams of filling that space in my garage.

2001 Jeep TJ

2001 Jeep TJ

Variety is the spice of life, and while it’d be easy to fill my Top Five list with powerful and exotic machinery, one of the best drives this year was in a noisy, smelly, filthy beast of a vehicle without air conditioning during one of the hottest summers on record.  This trip wasn’t even my idea and yet it couldn’t have turned out better.

I’ll admit, I was doubtful the old Jeep TJ showing nearly 300,000 kilometres on the odometer would even make it the five hours to central Pennsylvania for its (and my) first Jeep Jamboree, let alone survive the event and get us home again.  At 100 km/h there was a shimmy in the wheel that threatened to shake bolts – and teeth – loose, and the after a few hours on the highway, the whistling noise of the wind going around the Mickey Mouse ear lights above my head felt like it was drilling directly into my brain.

But then we arrived – me, my girlfriend and her beloved “Old Yellow” – at the fifth Coal Mountain Jeep Jamboree.  The setting, the people and of course all those other Jeeps help to fire up an excitement that was tough to contain.

The hilly landscape near Shamokin, Pennsylvania proved to be the perfect venue to put Old Yellow to its most serious test.  Climbing up and down narrow trails through the woods, and across an old coal mining site showed me just how capable even a stock, 15-year-old Jeep can be.  Slow speeds, spine-cracking bumps and stifling heat (plus torrential downpours) could not begin to dampen the fun of working together as a team and conquering some formidable climbs.

Not only did the old Jeep get us to and through the event safely, but it also got us home again in one piece, eager to book our next Jamboree adventure together.

France in a 2016 Nissan 370Z

2016 Nissan 370Z

Whenever you’re faced with an opportunity to do some travel, I’ve learned it’s best to take it and make the best of it.  Whether it’s Minneapolis in March or, in this case, Southern France in August, there are always adventures available to willing travellers if they seek them out.

With the assistance of Nissan Canada, and the generosity of Nissan France, a gleaming black cherry (though Nissan calls it purple) 370Z was offered up just outside Paris.  In little more than a week, my travel companion and I, covered more than 3,000 kilometres, attended a wedding, touched the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Alps.  We ate sensational foods and drank delicious (and cheap!) wines.  And we experienced the admirable discipline of French drivers and the glory of twisty rural roads with views of castles and ancient towns.

Every step of the way, the attractive Z-car was a willing partner and a decent traveler in its own right despite compact quarters for both people and cargo, and a thirst for fuel that’s unwelcome with the high price of European petrol.  The Nissan drew stares and compliments from people everywhere it went and played a considerable part in making this trip one we’ll relive in tales and memories for the rest of our lives.

2016 BMW S1000XR

2016 BMW S1000XR

That’s right, there’s another BMW on my list, but I’m cheating a bit to include this one since it’s only got two wheels.  As has been our practice for the past few years, my close riding buddies and I get together for at least one or two pilgrimages to the closest riding mecca we can find:  the lightly-travelled, well-maintained rural routes of Central Pennsylvania.

Between the Allegheny National Forest and Sproul State Forest areas of Pennsylvania, there are hundreds of kilometres of smooth, paved roads that ebb and flow up and down hills, through thick woodlands and near meandering streams.  For motorcyclists (and driving enthusiasts) stuck in Southern Ontario’s suffocating traffic and oppressive traffic laws, it’s shocking not more people make the journey a few hours south to a place where bikers aren’t considered second-class citizens.

This September’s trip, however, will go down in history as a particularly memorable one.  It all started out just fine enjoying the late summer weather with good friends and great machines, rhythmically leaning from corner to corner.  Chasing my buddies through the hills, the BMW blends a brilliant mix of comfort and eye-widening performance, tackling both the freeway and the twisty backroads with equal aplomb.

But soon the merriment came to a screeching halt – literally.  During what can only be considered a split-second blink of inattentiveness, my riding mate went off course, then off-road launching both himself and his bike cartwheeling through the air and deep into the woods.

Neither hospital time, nor the wicked storm we rode through (a series of tornadoes touched down only a few kilometres from where we were riding) could prevent this trip from carrying on.

And even though the events of that journey could cause nightmares, being with the right people helped to make sure everyone made it home alive.

Oh, and as for my buddy who had the crash?  He’s already replaced the written-off bike with a new machine and we’re looking forward to making our first pilgrimage of 2017.

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Jeff Wilson

Jeff Wilson

Jeff Wilson is a Hamilton-based automotive journalist and accredited member of AJAC. When not pursuing his automotive passions, he divides his time between being a dad and television producer.
Jeff Wilson

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