How the pied piper of Mercedes plays the automotive media
Mercedes-Benz had installed them for our pleasure alone. "Goddamn it, I told them not to put tomatoes on my club sandwich!" a large man bellowed. There's a term on the circuit for guys like this who live for their frequent-flier miles and luxury perks. They're called "Frank Bacon." And they're always around.A few steps below the lobby at the Amangani Lodge in Jackson Hole, one of the finest hotels in the world, several car writers sat around a massive wooden table, eating Caesar salads and Kobe beef burgers, the snow-capped Tetons framed behind us as though
It was a slow week for new-car launches, with the Geneva Motor Show coming up soon. In such fallow hours, manufacturers get creative when they're seeking a little easy press. Therefore, 25 car writers had been flown to Jackson Hole for a "winter driving workshop" featuring the Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. The 4Matic originally evolved for tractors, or trucks plowing through the jungle. Now Benz had installed the system into its relatively compact C350 and E350 coupes. It was our job to bear witness in high style.
The car-promotion racket encompasses a constant parade of foie gras-laden luxury "experiences," but no one throws them like Mercedes, whose trips simply manifest decadence. Other guys had told me Mercedes stories about when the Oaxaca federales mysteriously disappeared and 120 mph suddenly became the norm on the highway, of the band and fireworks in Tennessee, of the time in Montana where it rained and they danced in the barn all night long, or of that Maine lobster roast where the waitresses and writers jumped naked together into the pool at 1 am. It all sounded somewhat appealing, and enticingly free.
Geoff Day, Mercedes' U.S. director of communications and a living legend, presides over the glitterbomb. Once the press representative to Margaret Thatcher and later Princess Diana, Day sets the standard to which all auto flacks hope to aspire. "I need to get out the message that it's not just about the cars, it's about the lifestyle that the people who buy our cars enjoy," he said in a New York Post profile of him last year. "It's about selling the experience that goes along with owning a Mercedes-Benz."
Car writers are either moderately well off older guys for whom this is a retirement kick or starving young dudes trying to make a mark. Occasionally a middle-class, middle-aged schmo like me will stumble in and attempt to support his family. But nearly everyone, no matter their status, finds themselves susceptible to the unsubtle charms of Geoff Day-styled luxury automoting. So as the large man ordered the waitress to "tell that goddamn hillbilly in the kitchen to get it right this time!", I didn't feel superior. True, I was polite to the staff, but I'd still traveled to this elite location, which I could never have afforded on my own, via the Mercedes nickel.
When it comes to car writing, we're all a little bit Frank Bacon.
In the morning, Mercedes held a brief 4Matic press conference about "mechanical locking differentials," "45/55 front-rear torque distribution," and "a constant refinement heading to the perfect balance between driving dynamics, traction, and overall ride comfort." One of my colleagues asked, "Is there a difference between ride heights and spring and damper tuning between the 4Matic and the two-liter?"