Rupert Murdoch might be worth $10 billion but he doesn’t like his journalists wasting money and there are few more wasteful acts than crashing a test car, as Col Hartigan explains. However, read to the bottom for a feisty rebuttal and counter-attack from Paul Pottinger, one of the motoring hacks in question.

Things aren’t very happy in the Cars Guide offices at News Ltd at the moment thanks to some stupid mistakes by a couple of its newest recruits to the motoring journalism ranks.

The problems are rumoured to be costing News Ltd around $150,000 to cover the damage to a number of cars. This has caused World War IV at Holt St and now all News Ltd motoring writers have to provide a detailed document outlining insurance coverage for every car they borrow for testing and they then have to send that documentation with all the details for every car they drive to the News Ltd group insurance company.

Motoring journalists along with travel and computer writers are the most envied scribblers on newspapers with lavish trips around Australia and the world laid on by car companies, a new often glamorous car in the driveway each week (sometimes two, with one for wifey) and invitations to all sorts of entertainment events from concerts to sporting events. This largesse is heaped upon them by the car company PRs in the hope of keeping the journos on side and writing nice things.

The first problems arose when Paul Pottinger, one time real estate writer on the Sunday Telegraph and now the guy who takes the lead on that paper’s motoring pages, crashed a new Subaru Liberty RS wagon, a four wheel drive turbo machine. It was a press test car belonging to Subaru and on loan to Pottinger. Accidents do happen and car companies have insurance to cover such eventualities, except when they happen on a race circuit. Pottinger was getting his jollies with the car in a special one day racing licence course where he was trying to gain endorsement to gain his Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) licence.

The car was totalled after he got out of shape on the Oran Park dogleg and rolled three times. Pottinger was OK, and stepped from the wreck unharmed, at least until the editor tore strips from him and Subaru PRs attempted the same operation. News Ltd is now liable for the bill of around $50,000.

The second incident came in November at The Courier-Mail where chief motoring hack Mark Hinchliffe organised the loan of a load of cars for a Courier-MailCar Of The Year shoot out. Nothing new in that, many publications do the same to determine the best cars of the year in supposedly “real world” conditions.

Problem was that Hinchliffe had drafted in a number of Courier-Mail readers to give their views on the cars being judged. The readers joined some of the paper’s motoring writers to drive the cars and vote. Only problem was they almost totalled a Mazda, a Citroen and an Alfa Romeo and left a nasty gravel rash on a couple of other cars. The bill came to well over $100,000 which News is now paying.

A feisty response from Paul Pottinger

Paul Pottinger writes:

Oh Crikey, shall I count the ways in which your pseudonymous contributor got his/her item about my car crash wrong? How long do we have?

Crikey, it is acknowledged, is to accuracy and ethical practice what the Big Mac is to cuisine and rainforests. Any less patently absurd periodical would have checked the facts (a quaint notion, you might think), but that wouldn’t have left you with much of a yarn. Then again, you so seldom have any. To wit:

1) “Newest recruits to the motoring journalism ranks”. Eh? In addition to my other gigs here, I’ve written and edited The SundayTelegraph’s Carsguide for almost two years. New? Hardly.

2) I have never been our “real estate writer”. Where do you clowns get this stuff? Oh, that’s right – you make it up.

3) What “Liberty RS wagon”? No such car. The Liberty 3.0R-B (such distinctions matter to those who care to know what they’re talking about) is not “turbo-charged”. It’s a naturally-aspirated six cylinder. There are tribespeople in the Amazon as yet untouched by Western civilisation who are across this.

4) I sought from Subaru and was given express permission to take the car to Oran Park. Therefore News Ltd is not up for the bucks. Of course, why would a little fact like that prevent you stating otherwise?

6) Rolled “three times”? Think you’ll find it was two. I mean was in the car and posses basic arithmetical ability. Yep, I lost control sure enough (my only big accident in 22 years behind a wheel) but it wouldn’t have rolled had someone not been so careless as to leave a ditch where I speared onto the grass. Damnit …

7) “Trying to gain endorsement to gain his …” What the hell kind of syntax is this?

8) “The editor tore strips from him and Subaru PRs attempted the same operation.” Two examples of manifest bullshit in one sentence. Neither party was anything other than solicitous. The only recriminations were those I levelled at myself.

One is reminded of the instance when I stood in as our paper’s back page columnist after Leo Schofield stood down. The fact that he wrote a 500-word farewell to the readers was, naturally reported by you lames as quote: “apparently Schofield has been replaced by Paul Pottinger without any explanation for readers”.

“Apparently” Says it all, really. A correction then was too much to expect.

Stun me – run this.

Paul Pottinger

So-called motoring expert wide of the mark

A Crikey subscriber and motoring enthusiast replies:

This Paul Pottinger bloke has disturbingly limited Subaru knowledge for a so-called motoring journalist. Subaru did indeed make a Liberty RS turbo wagon (around a decade ago). The RS turbo wagon is a cult car. I tired to get hold of a second hand one for nearly a year in the late 90’s but dealers just laughed saying “they never come up”. This wagon was effectively a WRX but looked like a family mover.

Meanwhile, another subscriber writes:

Dear Crikey, I was not sure what I enjoyed more, Crikey’s reports or the indignant responses they prompt until I read Pottinger’s response – he really did stick it up you. Go on tease him again, ask him why he used the age old excuse of somebody putting a ditch (usually a pole) in his path.

Another Paul Pottinger missive

Paul “I only rolled it twice” Pottinger writes:

“This Paul Pottinger bloke” would be more inclined to take carping seriously if the carpers had the bollocks to assign names to their missives. Preferably their real ones.

But just this once before I get back to more reputable news source, such as Weekly World News

Yes anonymous “Crikey subscriber” number one, there was a “RS turbo wagon cult car”. Now there isn’t. The point is, I wasn’t driving it. As for anonymous “Crikey subscriber” numero two, if there had been a pole, I would no doubt have hit it too.

Thanks for the free publicity. Problem is, if I were to drink all the beers I’ve been offered, I’d be DUI for months and that just wouldn’t do.

Paul Pottinger