The challenges of organizing comparison tests

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

In my mind, comparison tests form the backbone of any car magazine. These pieces teach readers about the pluses and minuses of each offering and help people make buying decisions. It’s info you can actually use. 

While I love these tests, I admit that they’re challenging to assemble. We need to organize photography, video, cars and locations for a day of poking, prodding, driving and shooting.

While this might sound like a fairly easy assignment, the reality can range from one extreme to the other. When we did a test using a 289 Cobra owned by my good friend Tom Cotter–yes, of Hagerty’s Barn Find Hunter–he simply tossed me the keys and told us to have fun with it. And we’ve had owners warn us that they’ll put the car back in the trailer should a single drop of rain fall from the sky. 

Weather can often be the biggest variable in these stories: You can have everything perfectly organized and still get rained out. The comparison we’re currently organizing has already been pushed back due to weather–as well as a blown head gasket the morning of the test.

That brings us to another variable: mechanical issues. Three of the four cars we’re lining up for this roadster comparison come from my shop, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune from such stumbling blocks. One of the cars for this test, an early Miata, is new to the fleet, while the other two haven’t been driven much lately. 

We bought our Alfa Spider in San Diego a few years back and drove it all the way home to Florida. It made the trip with very few issues, and it has to be the most reliable car we own.

Just to make sure it was ready for our test day, I took it on a local club rally. It left me stranded. 

While thrashing to get it running again, however, I noticed the noisy water pump and broken fan blade. Perhaps it needed some actual attention.

Some friends helped me out of a jam: Chris Beger at the Auto Clinic of Ormond Beach fit us into the shop’s schedule, while Alfa guru Rick Lovecchio came out of retirement to tune the Spica injection. Joe Cabibbo of Centerline International has the parts that can make owning an Alfa as easy as living with a Mustang. 

We got the car sorted and running better than ever–but, of course, the night before the test, the turn signals went out. It’s probably just a fuse, but it’s also more stress I don’t need.

Our Triumph TR6, sadly, has been sitting a bit. Old reliable was up for the task, right? Well, it needed some basic service, and then a tire went bad. Fortunately, we had a good spare in the shop. 

I only recently got the Miata, and it seemed perfect. But was I hearing a small clunk from the rear? And why wasn’t it handling like a Miata should?

So it too went up on the lift. The clunk had signaled a failing differential bushing that will have to wait, while Geoff Thompson of The Alignment Shop found that the front end had way too much caster. 

It’s good to have a trusted network of friends who can 1) handle most any problem and 2) fit you into their schedules, but by the end of the week, I was physically and mentally exhausted from playing Old Car Whac-A-Mole.

How did the test go? Well, we’ll find out tomorrow, but look for the video and magazine story very soon. 

Perhaps a bigger question: Are these tests worth the hassle? Do you also like to consume this sort of content? Are they worth the time, planning and last-minute heroics to make them happen? Let us know, and if you answered yes, what would you like to see us compare next? 

And now I need to get back to the garage–I still need to fix the Alfa’s turn signals before tomorrow morning.

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hauckr1111 New Reader
6/25/22 1:23 p.m.

In answer to your question:  are the comparison articles "worth it".  Yes, these and your "how too" ones are great. Thanks. 

sfisher71 New Reader
6/28/22 4:43 p.m.

Well, considering I've owned three of the cars in the photo, still have two (though the NA has been replaced by an NC), and have extensive time driving the fourth, you GOTTA know I'll read the comparo.

Seriously, though, I *love* comparison articles. My wife was clearing up a stack of magazines recently and waved the May CM at me: "Porsche versus BMW?" she asked. "Which one won?"

She got my typical-for-me 500-word answer to a yes or no question, how the article really captured the characters of these two classics and highlighted the differences, etc. etc. etc. In the case of that one, I loved it because I've never owned either of those cars (a couple of 4-cylinder Porsches and an E24 Shark are as close as I've come), but it came across as a nicely balanced comparison between two distinct icons.

So keep 'em coming. And I love how, in your profile pieces for various classics, you have experts in the respective vehicles give their opinions on parts availability, things to look for, and the like. Having Keith Tanner or Norm Garrett chime in on the Miata is always worth while. 

Pokitren New Reader
6/30/22 3:49 a.m.
hauckr1111 said:

In answer to your question:  are the comparison articles "worth it".  Yes, these and your "how too" ones are great. Thanks. 

Yes, it's true! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article about the Ferrari 330 GTC here
Although there is no comparison with other cars as in this article, but it is written in a very good style, easy to read and nice to learn something new.


Nred New Reader
6/30/22 5:27 p.m.

Only you can truly determine if the comparos are worth the hassle or not. 

Reading the accounts of your hassles is worthwhile reading from our standpoint, actually. Having been through similar hassles as you vindicates us. 

Perhaps I should not have been speaking for everyone. I'll try again,...

... I wrecked my car on the track back in 2014. No injuries, just a messed-up car. I felt different after the crash. I felt like I understood more about what my heroes felt like after they had done the same thing. I got the car back together and started running it again with that feeling ingrained in me.

It's the struggles and setbacks that make us better. 

Makes for good stories, too. 

Keep up the good work.

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