Camaros, Corvettes, Mustangs and Vipers

Camaro!

I’ve been reading car magazines since long before I could drive.  I still read them.  Usually I read paper magazines too, although I’m young enough to have actually poked a paper magazine with my finger to “click” something I wanted more information about.

Recently though American car magazines like Road & Track, Car and Driver and Motor Trend made me bubble over with frustration.

“ENOUGH WITH THE MUSTANGS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD” may or may not have come out of my mouth.  The same goes for Camaros, Corvettes and Vipers.  Recently I seem to be drowning in magazine covers about a Mustang vs. Camaro shootout,  yet another feature about the new Corvette, or some snake innuendo related to the new Dodge Viper.  Once I noticed it, I became more and more annoyed about the obsession with these four particular car models.

Full disclosure: I mostly dislike every aspect American “muscle” cars, so I have immediate and admitted bias going on here.  That these cars (and their motorcycle analogues) do everything possible to make their exhaust sound like chili-contest flatulence makes it even worse.  And so help me, I will do everything I can to avoid strangling the next person I hear refer to a Camaro or a Mustang as a “sports car.”

“Actually, they’re not sports cars.  They’re…” I start to say until trailing off, realizing I sound like a doofus.

So I wanted to know whether my frustration was just my Euro-sissy-car bias shining through or if there really is something to all this.  And hey, I live in the United States and it only makes sense that American cars will get focus in American magazines.  But just four models?  Aren’t there more options out there?

To get to the bottom of it, I’ve created a spreadsheet (download CSV here) showing data gathered from all the covers of Road & Track, Car and Driver and Motor Trend since January 2011.  For each month I’ve checked for the following criteria:

1. Mustang pictured
2. Camaro pictured
3. Corvette pictured
4. Viper pictured
5. Mustang mentioned
6. Camaro mentioned
7. Corvette mentioned
8. Viper mentioned
9. BONUS: Mustang vs. Camaro shootout! (kill me)
10. No mention

And yeah, there’s some room for subjectivity here.  Like #9 for instance, if a cover depicts an in-your-face Camaro being stalked by a distant Mustang (or the opposite), I’m going to consider that a shootout feature.  And of course “mentioned” can be HUGE or small text, but any mention qualifies.  It gets stickier when there’s mention of a Shelby GT500, for example, which is just a modified Mustang, but there’s no actual mention of a Mustang.  I decided that if there’s a big, fat picture of a Mustang on the cover, even if it’s a Shelby, then it counts as a picture of a Mustang.  If there’s only text that says “GT500” or something similar, then I’m not considering it a Mustang mention.

Got all that?  Great!  Let’s go!

Frequency that Target Cars are Pictured or Mentioned

Let’s get this one out of the way right now.  Based on the past 30 months of car magazines from the three publications, I have better than even odds that my next issue will either picture or mention a Camaro, Corvette, Mustang or a Viper on the cover.  In fact, it’s almost a 60% chance.  All isn’t equal among the publications however.  If I pick up a Motor Trend or a Road & Track, my odds of seeing an image or a mention is exactly 50/50 based on these numbers.  Car and Driver is different though.  There’s over a 75% chance that I’ll see a picture or a mention on my next issue’s cover.

Car and Driver, it seems, really loves Camaros, Corvettes, Mustangs and Vipers.  Motor Trend and Road & Track like them too, but not as much.

It’s interesting that Car & Driver and Road & Track are both owned by the Hearst Corporation but they have different tendencies.  My best guess is that the two magazines target different segments of automotive enthusiasts.  This makes sense in the numbers and considering that Hearst probably doesn’t want these publications to compete for the same readers.  Perhaps Hearst is targeting different tastes, for instance perhaps Road & Track is meant more for people who like to read about exotics while Car and Driver is meant for people who like to read about more common domestic cars.  Or maybe there’s an economic consideration and Road & Track focuses on higher end foreign cars while Car & Driver goes after lower income enthusiasts.  This is all speculation of course, and while we can make some guesses about this, nothing is certain from the numbers.

Well, while we’re at it why don’t we take a swallow from the Ford vs. Chevy trough?  Let’s see which of the cars is featured the most across all three publications.  First, let’s start with images of the cars and forget about mentions for a minute.

Popularity of Each Car y Publication, by Cover Pictures

Focusing only on cover picture appearances we can see a few interesting tidbits.  First, we can see that on average, Mustangs are pictured on more covers than the other three cars.  Score one for Ford.  Second place goes to the Camaro, with the Corvette close behind.  The Viper is a distant fourth, being pictured the least frequently on all three magazines’ covers.

Second, Car and Driver and Motor Trend seem to like picturing Mustangs most, while Road & Track likes picturing Corvettes.  R&T appears evenly split on Mustang vs. Camaro.

Finally, Car and Driver‘s preference for these cars is again evident.  Mustangs are pictured on that magazine’s covers fully 30% of the time, with Camaros somewhat less common, appearing on 23.3% of their covers.  We can also see a difference between Motor Trend and Road & Track as far as cover photos are concerned.  While the two magazines were evenly matched when looking at both pictures and mentions, when only pictures are considered Road & Track is obviously the least likely to show photos of these particular cars on their cover.

Now let’s forget about pictures for a moment and consider only textual mentions of the cars.

Popularity of Each Car by Publication, by Cover Mentions

It looks like the three magazines are more likely to mention these cars on their covers than they are to picture them.  This makes sense since cover space is limited, and it’s a lot easier to put some text on the cover about these cars than it is to take up valuable space with their photos.  We have a few 30% occurrences here.  Car and Driver mentions Camaro and Corvette on 30% of covers each, while Motor Trend mentions Camaro and Mustang this often.  There’s also a curious lack of cover mentions of the Corvette by Motor Trend, while again the Viper sits in last place overall.  Again Road & Track lags behind the other two and goes for more diversity.  On average the Camaro gets mentioned on the most covers (26.7%) while the Mustang comes in second (23.3%).  I guess publishers find the Mustang more photogenic even though they like talking about the Camaro.  (Can’t say that I blame them.)

Well, I guess we should take a moment to look at the dreaded Mustang vs. Camaro shootout.

Frequency of the Mustang vs. Camaro Shootout! Featured on Covers

If there’s an article formula I’ve read more times through the years than this one, I can’t imagine what it would be.  There are just so many versions of the Mustangs and Camaros–from V6s to convertibles to V8s to THE MOST POWERFUL __________ EVER to special editions to track versions–I don’t know how anyone could possibly store that much information in their brain.  And yeah, the two cars have different rear suspension setups.  We know.  Anyway, one thing’s for certain, all that versioning makes for prolific Mustang vs. Camaro fodder.

Yet the shootouts, at least as far as cover features are concerned, aren’t as common as I guessed.  Remember that these numbers only go for cover appearances, and it counts Mustang/Camaro shootout photos and shootout mentions of any type.  It’s worth mentioning too that my sample only covers 30 months of magazines, which is less than three years, so if a magazine has a yearly shootout it’s possible that the numbers are skewed because the shootout hasn’t happened yet in 2013.  Even so, in the sample Car and Driver and Road & Track are having fewer than one cover-featured shootout per year.  Motor Trend is having Mustang vs. Camaro shootouts more often than that.  Overall the shootouts appear on covers a little less than 10% of the time.

I’ve probably grown so bored with this same exact article over the years that I over guessed its frequency.  So my bad on this one.

About my bias (and whether I’m being a jerk about this or not) I’d say yes and no.  On one hand Car and Driver is featuring an appearance of these four cars on more than three-quarters of their magazine covers.  That’s a helluva lot for just four cars.  And the other two magazines are at 50%.  Half, which is still a lot.  But on the other hand, how many exciting cars are there today?  More specifically, how many exciting cars are there that people can actually afford and use as a somewhat practical daily driver?  It’s a short list.

It’s also worth noting that within the past 30 months a new Corvette was introduced (which happens very rarely) and a new Viper was introduced (which is even rarer).  When these cars get a refresh or a re-release, it’s an automotive event.  These releases could account for a lot of the perceived flood.

I think there’s more than anecdotal proof that cars today are very safe, very practical and very reliable but they’re also more boring and cookie-cutter-identical than ever before.  Sure AMG is putting out some incredible models and McLaren is hitting a new stride, but who can drive these cars?  Few people can or should spend $100,000 on an E-Class, much less an exotic.  And newer generations don’t see cars the same way either.  These days, people are a lot more likely to view their cars as transportation tools and cell phone accessories than anything else.  In other words, enthusiast cars are getting squeezed out of the mainstream.  It’s easy to understand why, even easy to agree, but it’s just not very much fun.

So even if you don’t prefer the philosophies of Camaro, Corvette, Mustang and Viper, as I don’t, all enthusiasts have to celebrate those cars at least a little.  Hell, it’s completely possible that I’ll have to buy a Mustang one day if I want anything even approaching fun to drive, just as one day the Wrangler will probably be the only SUV capable of driving off-road.  No one wants to only read articles about crossovers and Camrys and all their snoozefest segment parity.

I guess I have to open myself to the possibility that I’ve been misplacing my frustration all along.  Maybe I should stop blaming the US automotive press and start realizing that cars have changed forever and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.  All the magazines are doing is trying to hold onto what remains, and these four American enthusiast cars represent a lot of it.

Certainly Mustang and Camaro represent a huge piece of the affordable and livable fun car market.  Can most people really buy a tiny 2-seat Nissan Z or a giant $120k Panamera S?  Or an Evora?

I’ll try to look more fondly upon the Mustangs and Camaros of the world.  But damn it I’m still not buying one until they’re all that’s left.