Wheels (Australia)

COTY BEHIND THE SCENES

A GLIMPSE BEHIND-THE-SCENES AT WHEELS CAR OF THE YEAR 2021

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It’s not just risque drag-queen nicknames, small men eating meals larger than their heads, and SWAT cops trashing BMWs. Weird stuff also happens at COTY...

IT WAS MERELY hours into COTY 2021 before the impact of COVID-19 would be felt. Veteran judge Byron Mathioudak­is, here attending his 11thconsec­utive year, was the first to show symptoms of this insidious virus. Not actual physical sickness symptoms; no, more seriously, a downcast demeanour realising he would have to kerb his natural inclinatio­n for skipping around and randomly hugging his fellow judges and the production crew after a year apart.

Some of us – okay, me – actually realise we miss Byron’s affections, so at one point very early in proceeding­s, I consider pinching the petty cash tin to head into town to buy him a haz-mat suit and a respirator, just so some semblance of highcontac­t normality can resume.

There’s no question the threat of a communicab­le disease weighs heavy on every single one of the 16-man testing and production team. At one point, as we stand in a large group for a briefing, I stifle a sneeze behind my face mask. In unison, every person jumps two feet in the air, scatters, and starts making signs of the cross at me. Liquid hits my face. Was the first drops of rain? Or did someone just flick holy water on me?

Tough crowd. As you’ll have read earlier, the judging panel is down to six members, and, for the first time anyone can remember, there’s not a single female amongst our ranks. Oddly, there’s only a marginal increase in fart jokes.

We welcome the COTY debut of Richard Ferlazzo, the former design director of Holden who brings insight, not just regarding design, but a deep manufactur­ing knowledge, enlighteni­ng us on just how challengin­g some design decisions would have been to get past the bean counters. Prior to this we all knew we were a bit suss about bean counters, but Richard confirms it – they really are carrying out Satan’s work.

The walk-arounds take place in a large dusty shed, not the most sexy part of the COTY process, but essential; a bit like getting to know your dinner date before holding hands and sharing a romantic walk on the beach. Or in our case, a tortured flogging around the proving ground, with barely a thank-you slap on the rump.

As well as an opportunit­y to fully understand why, exactly, each model made it to the 10-car shortlist, it’s also a chance to really drink in the details, some delightful, some perplexing. Everyone seems to agree on the brilliant execution of the Defender, which skilfully blends a retro, respective nod to its predecesso­r while moving the materials, infotainme­nt and overall tech right into the moment. Although when I glance at the pricing and options of our single test example, I can’t help but wonder if the person at JLR speccing the press fleet had been drug-tested recently: it has nearly $4000 worth of premium metallic paint, now hidden under a $6500 satin wrap. Hmm, pass that spliff, you loose unit.

We take a short break to have a proper sniff over the obscure old canvass-topped VW Country Buggy parked nearby that

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 ??  ?? Editor Campbell’s cunning plan to overcome excessive traction in the GR Yaris spoiling his drag-strip runs
”Hold still, Byron, so I can prove you really do have hair growing out your ears”
The glasses are worth a tenth of a second on any accelerati­on run
Editor Campbell’s cunning plan to overcome excessive traction in the GR Yaris spoiling his drag-strip runs ”Hold still, Byron, so I can prove you really do have hair growing out your ears” The glasses are worth a tenth of a second on any accelerati­on run

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