You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Remembering Denise McCluggage

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 5/8/2015 John Lamm

I was a young features editor at Motor Trend when I first met Denise. That's when I fell into a sort of platonic love with her. She was so self assured. So intelligent. Witty. Unpresumptuous. Well connected. No one said a bad word about Denise.

Research

Such a great driver, one of those so smooth the speed was often deceptive. We were on, of all things, a Mazda MPV minivan engineering drive with two young men from Japan. The road was very twisty for a minivan and Denise was clipping along at a quick rate, the whole time chatting nonchalantly, passing on her thoughts to the engineers about the handling qualities.

I'm not certain they heard a thing. It was a white-knuckle ride for them, while I sat back and just smiled. That was Denise.

Naturally everything Denise had to say was the absolute truth, good or bad. Between her life experiences, talents, and a wonderful sense of independence, Denise was honesty personified. A wonderful example for a young journalist, particularly back in the days of the big schmooze by PR types.

And we can't forget her sense of humor, often found in 1-5 word witty responses to comments of surprise about her driving ability from those who didn't know Denise.

Denise McCluggage© Provided by MotorTrend Denise McCluggage When word of Denise's passing got around the motoring journalist circuit this week, the emails began to roll in, all with examples of her humor. Here is just one: While living in Vermont, she owned a Land Rover with a vanity license plate that said, DOG.

She said she always wanted a Rover named Dog. That was Denise.

I got to know much about Denise from her good friend Phil Hill when he and I were working on some stories for Motor Trend. I think a certain telepathy connected those two. So it's appropriate here to add some words from Phil's widow, Alma, about their good friend:

"It was Mother's Day 47 years ago when I first met Phil in his home in Santa Monica and also Denise McCluggage.

"We have remained close friends since that day. It made me very sad to see her health failing, because I thought this tough lady was going to be with us forever. She was a fighter, physically and intellectually. One of the first amazing lady drivers and a brilliant automotive journalist. Phil had tons of wonderful stories of their racing days and traveling experiences and I loved listening to them...they escape my mind during this grieving moment.

Denise McCluggage© Provided by MotorTrend Denise McCluggage "She visited and stayed with us often in Santa Monica and I looked forward to those visits. I cooked dinner while she and Phil reminisced about the past. They were like a close brother and sister team, most often on the same page and ending it with belly laughter. It was a great pleasure sharing her stories, her brilliance and her charming wit. I was blessed to count this precious human being as our friend. Blessings."

The Hills' son, Derek, added of Denise and Phil, "I suspect they're having a good laugh up there."

I'm already missing seeing Denise at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, our annual chance to sit and just chat. I would try to soak up just some of her charm, wit, and wisdom, which came out in her writing.

Here is an excerpt of my favorite, from her December 1988 column for AutoWeek included in her anthology By Brooks Too Broad for Leaping.

"Men indulge in a ritual I find intriguing. It involves their standing around, preferably on concrete, staring at pieces of things as if they were looking into ceremonial fire.

"Perhaps they see in those bits and pieces what their primal fathers saw staring into fire."

Naturally we're talking cars here and how men can lose themselves in the subject. She closes with:

"To the casual observer the men are doing as close to nothing as a standing person can do, but don't judge them too harshly."

She advises women to "approach these men fastidiously. It's as close as they can come to being pregnant."

Denise, we are so going to miss you... Denise McCluggage© Provided by MotorTrend Denise McCluggage

Denise McCluggage© Provided by MotorTrend Denise McCluggage
AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Motor Trend

Loading...

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon