With perfect blue skies overhead and a couple cups of coffee in our stomachs, a CarGurus team made its way to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum yesterday in Brookline, Massachusetts, for this year’s Ragtop Ramble and Crustacean Crawl. The objective: mingle with automaker PR folks and New England auto journalists, check out a bunch of cool cars, capture footage, snap photos, and eat lobster.
Despite hosting a thundercloud of dragonflies yesterday morning, the Larz Anderson museum is about as perfect a starting point as we could hope to find. The museum welcomes John “Bugsy” Lawlor and the New England Motor Press Association each year to host the start of the Ramble. The excitement yesterday centered on the front lawn, filled with the year’s most exciting cars, and a Subaru-sponsored food truck serving piping-hot breakfast burritos (every auto journalist’s favorite breakfast)—but even by itself, the museum is enough to make a gearhead salivate. The exhibit on display this year is “Marque of Excellence,” a showcase of classic BMWs and Porsches.
Outside the museum, John Lawlor’s Automotion team assembled an incredibly varied fleet of cars for display. It’s not every day that we get to see an Alfa Romeo 4C Spider sharing some shade with a Chevrolet Camaro SS or a Dodge Challenger Hellcat parked next to a Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG. It was already a good day, and we hadn’t even grabbed keys yet.
The Ramble’s informal feel and the wide variety of publications and expertise represented by the attending journalists make it a fun and rewarding place to discuss this year’s crop of cars. In the words of John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor, “We get to exchange ideas, but we also get to talk with the PR people and drive some cars that we may not normally drive.” Sadly, we haven’t spent quality time with every 2016 car yet, so we were delighted at the chance to take a quick trip in or a close look at cars we haven’t driven and have our questions answered by manufacturer experts and other journalists who’ve driven the cars (in some cases moments after they exited the vehicle).
There’s a special caveat to the Ragtop Ramble: unlike many other major driving events, manufacturer public relations reps aren’t allowed to drive their automaker’s cars. This year each rep pulled a key at random, found a writer, and hit the road. From Brookline, we crept slowly out to I-95 before letting the engines roar. While we didn’t have quite the luxury epiphany of last year’s ramble (although a Rolls-Royce Dawn did grace us with its presence), we arrived at our first stop in New Hampshire with a first-hand understanding of just how loud and powerful the Camaro’s 6.2-liter V8 is, along with how well the air conditioning in the new Prius works. After a quick break and some extra photo opportunities, each writer swapped cars, and the caravan rolled on to Kennebunkport, Maine.
It should come as no surprise that the event went off without a hitch. After all, John Lawlor served as technical advisor to NPR’s CarTalk, and as Lisa Barrow from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles noted, “That man knows how to throw a great event.” The weather, as usual, was fantastic, the lunch was incredible, and the fleet of available cars was darned impressive. One of the more attention-getting cars in yesterday’s fleet, a McLaren 570S, arrived late and had to join us at the New Hampshire stop. We all took a few moments (maybe longer) to admire the supercar, then got back on the road to continue our trek. Contributor Cliff Atiyeh was fortunate enough to spend some time in the McLaren, which he called “very roadworthy, and yes, it goes very fast.”
Finally, nothing caps a day quite like the Colony Hotel’s lobster lunch. Although contributor George Kennedy got cut off after his third crustacean, plenty of clam chowder, barbecue chicken, corn on the cob, and blueberry pie kept him sated. And of course, if that weren’t enough, the keys to that Challenger Hellcat for his drive back to Boston sure put him in a good mood.
We and everyone else who participated in this year’s Ramble already look forward to next summer’s version. A number of attendees have already attended a decade of Rambles, and the first-timers we met looked and sounded like they’ll be back next year. Corey Proffitt from Toyota, who said he’s attended five or six times, will certainly be back, as he told us, “It is probably the absolute best driving event for our media, hosted by our New England media press friends.”
-Steve Halloran and Matt Smith