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Memorable Drives of 2016: Brendan McAleer

At we are blessed with award-winning contributors who write high-quality content fuelled by their passion for cars and driving. Their ability to turn even a mainstream car into a compelling story makes for some amazing memories. As 2016 rolls to a stop we’ve asked them all to share their favourites from the year gone.

As the days grow shorter, colder, and wetter, it feels like the driving season is finally at an end. Of course, those of us with Subarus (yours truly) might try to sneak in a bit of a trip or two before we’re singing Auld Lang Syne, but as the twelfth month arrives, it’s time for a stock-taking.

This year’s been one of passing milestones for me. I drove grey-market oddities like a Renault Sport Spider, V12 Toyota Century, and a ghostly white Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R. I wheeled around in classics like a ’60s Honda N600, a cheery little Fiat Jolly, and a burly 1930s Alvis Brooklands racer. I also made the guy who played Colossus in the X-Men movies drive a Nissan Micra.

Picking five standout drives wasn’t easy, there were a handful I can point to as being elevated above the rest. Here they are.

Dodge Challenger to the 100th Meridian

When the Tragically Hip announced dates for their final tour, I knew it was time to fulfill a long-time ambition. Ever since I first saw the video for The Hundredth Meridian, I’ve wanted to cross that barrier, way out there in the wheat fields of the prairies. Thanks to a little wrangling, I was able to come up with the perfect car to mark the occasion: a stick-shift, shaker hood, Hemi-powered Dodge Challenger built in Brampton, Ontario. It was the ideal steed for a Canadian tribute.

I flew into Winnipeg late, then picked up the car and headed east along the Trans-Canada until I reached a pair of signs marking the longitudinal centre of Canada. Smoking the tires a bit off the line, there followed a full day of heading west to a soundtrack provided by The Hip. Like magic, the landscape rolled out markers as if in tribute – I knew it was going to be a special day when in the first twenty minutes a ferris wheel appeared on the horizon, straight out of The Hip’s lyrics.

And then, marked via GPS, the 100th Meridian. Not another soul around, just the wind in the wheat, the car idling on the gravel road, and somewhere far off to the south a flagpole flying the maple leaf. I lowered the windows and cranked up Courage.

Shelby Mustang GT350 to a wild horse sanctuary

One of the consequences of having kids is that time for friends simply evaporates. Thus, I came up with this idea half as tribute to Ford’s wildest Mustang, half as paean to the wide open spaces of BC, and half as a chance to catch up with a good friend of mine on an epic road trip. Yes, I know that’s one-and-a-half. The GT350 is kind of a 150-percent car.

Hammering up from the forests into the deserts and high plains, the GT350’s high-revving V8 cranked up into the stratosphere any time a passing lane opened up. We surfed forward on a wave of sound, sometimes not seeing another car on the road for an hour or more. It was a chance to talk about family life, the stresses of work and so forth, but it was also a chance to just enjoy the incredible scenery and the type of car which might not be around too much longer. Far beyond phone reception, the wild places of the world can show you what’s real.

Audi R8 V10 Plus final flight

Almost everything produced by Germany these days is turbocharged. Despite a legacy built on engines like BMW’s straight-six and AMG’s mighty V8s, the days of the naturally aspirated engine are pretty much over. As a last-of-breed, the Audi R8 with its incredible 5.2L V10 sounds a last barbaric yawp, one last salvo before it’s replaced by a smaller-displacement twin-turbo V8, then some kind of hybrid setup, then a pure electric drive. With that in mind, I got up before 5 am and went to go pickup my dad.

A love of cars flows directly from my father, with whom I restored a ’67 MGB, changed oil and generally wrenched together. We loaded up the R8’s nose with a packed lunch, then headed East for a loop through the mountains. The morning’s frost was a bit hairy at first, but the day soon turned to that sort of golden late fall you get in BC’s high places. We took the less-travelled routes, finding bliss in the way the V10 provided effortless warp drive when needed, but the rest of the R8 proved as comfortable as any grand tourer.

It would have been exhilarating enough to have flown solo, but as a shared experience, the day became something even greater. It will echo in my memory for a long time.

Lexus LFA vs Toyota 2000GT

I do a lot of head-to-head stuff with classic cars, seeking ways to delve into the heritage of modern machines by looking at where they’ve come from. Topping this face-off is going to be virtually impossible.

The 2000GT and the LFA are twin peaks of Toyota’s engineering prowess. The former was the first true Japanese supercar, and the latter is more musical instrument than hypercar. Both cars display considerable involvement from Yamaha, and each one represents a cost-no-object achievement that stands in stark contrast to the mass production of Camrys and Corollas. Driving these two warriors back to back as the cherry blossoms fell from the trees was like being in some kind of samurai film.

Subaru STI to Dirtfish rally school – and beyond

Spending a day learning how to slide a car on gravel is something I can’t recommend highly enough. Not only will it re-teach you the basics of car control, it’s also more fun than mud-wrestling. Lift throttle, a dab of left-foot braking, then sideways ’n’ grinning as the gravel sprays from your wheels. Epic.

Doubly epic is getting your better half to come along for the ride. In point of fact, this was actually my wife’s idea, one which I grabbed onto with both hands. Despite not having a gearhead bone in her body, she took to the instruction like a fish to dirt, and was soon pulling off perfect, gravelly drifts. Best couple’s retreat ever.

Even better, the stop at Dirtfish was just one highlight of a huge, month-long roadtrip with our two young girls in our own Subaru STI hatchback. We looped through Vancouver Island, headed through Utah, stretched East as far as the Alberta badlands, drove the icefields parkway, and basically racked up some 5,000 km of memories. I liked the STI okay before we left, but now it’s one of the family. Looking back on my 2016 in cars, it’s the shared memories that are the most important.