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Editor's Letter: Long Time Gone – Car and Driver

by Nov 3, 2022Blog0 comments

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The inimitable John Phillips is back in the fold.

From the June 2022 issue of Car and Driver.
At noon on a Wednesday, then C/D editor-at-large John Phillips appeared in the lobby at Automobile Magazine. I worked near the elevator and had become accustomed to the metal doors parting to reveal heroes. P.J. O’Rourke, Bruce McCall, Brock Yates, and even John Oates of Hall and Oates all stopped by, but it wasn’t until Phillips visited that I felt compelled to say something.
Hired by C/D editor-in-chief William Jeanes after simply asking for a job, Phillips went to work, work that had him ingesting puppy dewormer while driving a Toyota Land Cruiser over the Himalayas to evacuate, well, worms, and winning a Camel Trophy in the jungles of Borneo. He and a partner attempted a nonstop drive from New York to San Francisco locked in a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta diesel outfitted with a 68-gallon fuel tank and a hole in the floor for bladder relief. After a blizzard in Nebraska forced them to stop, they carried on to San Fran, then turned around and completed the 3000-mile salute to claustrophobia and fifth gear.
Phillips’s visit to Automobile coincided with the C/D issue containing his

2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT road test. If you don’t recall it, I’ll jog your memory. There’s a photo of a large white dog perched in the passenger’s seat of the Cadillac pickup with a caption reading, "Later on, the dog drove us home."
I awkwardly introduced myself, while attempting to hide my supafan-level excitement. He was gracious, although his mien said, "You’re scaring me, kid."
At C/D, Phillips would come in twice a week and work behind a photo annex in an office he dubbed "the cold room." Lunch meant a BLT at Banfield’s, a sticky dive bar with a Pall Mall fog and the unmistakable chemical scent of urinal cake number 4. Phillips described it as the perfect place to dine if you were cheating because no one you know would ever step foot in there. If that’s not worthy of a Michelin star, then I don’t know how stars are earned.
In addition to schooling me on where to eat and cheat, he taught me a lesson about overdriving an unfamiliar road. I’d been laying chase to his Dodge SRT-4 ACR with a Subaru Impreza WRX. I missed him slowing for a bridge with a 15-mph recommended speed. Thinking that he hadn’t changed his pace, I went over it fast enough to send the WRX into a full Ken Block. Flight WRX landed hard enough to punch out the front fender liners, eject the Creedence from the CD player, and flip the mirror from day to night.
It occurs to me that this column may lead you to believe Phillips has died. Despite Montana’s many attempts on his life, he is alive. The first of what I hope to be many new contributions can be seen here. If that’s not enough for you, and it shouldn’t be, pick up his new book about life in Montana, find yourself a Banfield’s, order a BLT and a Pabst, and read it. If you’re lucky, he might just walk in.

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