How gonzo journalism became plastic mold injection.
This month, Playmobil is releasing another entry into its lineup of film and TV automotive greats. Joining the ranks of The A-Team, James Bond, Knight Rider, and Back To The Future is the Ferrari 308 GTS from Magnum, P.I. Owned by unseen novelist Robin Masters, this 308 and its "Robin 1" license plate usually wound up in the hands of Hawaii's hula-shirted equivalent of Jim Rockford, Thomas Magnum. (Fun fact: Mike Post did both themes, and Tom Selleck had a recurring role on The Rockford Files as fancy-boy private eye Lance White. -Ed.) But how does a Ferrari even get to Hawaii?
Glad you asked. Because the answer is gonzo journalism.
Gonzo journalism is "a style of reporting that places the reporter at the center of the story in a highly personal and participatory way." Hunter S. Thompson led the charge in the mid-60s, but by the late-70s/early-80s the American zeitgeist had decidedly turned right. (N.B. If you haven't read—or at least seen—Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, do one or the other.) In his stead stepped P.J. O'Rourke, editor-in-chief of The National Lampoon. (I once drank my way through a snowstorm with him! -Ed.) Basically, O'Rourke was Thompson if he were a Reaganite, if the drugs-to-booze ratio were inverted, and if Big Country had written a song about him.
Anyway, about gonzo journalism: around Christmas 1979, P.J. O'Rourke got the keys to a Ferrari 308 GTS. The job was to shuttle it from New York to L.A., and the piece he wrote around it may be one of the greatest examples of the afore-mentioned journalism. As for the car itself, it would go on to be an icon. Once it was dropped off at Ferrari's West Coast HQ, its next stop was Hawaii to star in a two-part TV movie meant to launch Magnum, P.I. O'Rourke also coined a term for the Porsche 911 that thankfully—especially for Porsche—didn't stick.
The piece—Ferrari Reinvents Manifest Destiny—is very much of its time. The Soviet Union was seemingly on the rise all throughout the 1970s, the U.S. had gone through two oil shocks, "stagflation" was rampant, even educated men were still playing catchup with changes in sexual politics, crime was up, and New York City was told to drop dead. The 1970s were not a great time for America or the Western world at large, and what the 1980s turned out to be would've seemed like wishful thinking in 1979. But whatever your take on O'Rourke's politics, you have to agree that it presaged a coming decade of free people doing great things. Like doing 140 on public roads.