A Farewell: Mike Schlee’s Top 10 Moments at AutoGuide.com

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A Farewell: Mike Schlee’s Top 10 Moments at AutoGuide.com

It was about three and a half years ago.

I received an email from Colum Wood, who at the time was just a working stiff, a Managing Editor of sorts and not the VP mogul we see before us today. He was inquiring if I would be interested in applying for an open position at AutoGuide.com as a Road Test Editor. Drive fancy cars and head to the sunny south multiple times during the winter? Heck yeah! I jumped at the chance. And the past 3+ years have been a great ride.

But, alas, it’s time to move on and today is my last day at AutoGuide.com. Some may be shocked, while others will be overly delighted to never again have to watch one of my rambling videos or read my way-too-long reviews. But many will find it hard to believe that I would be leaving a position where I get to drive shiny new cars every week and travel to exotic locales just to drive even more shiny new cars.

Although this job is amazing and definitely has its perks, it’s a lot of work and a lot of hours – many of which are on the road, traveling and outside that of the normal work day. It can be taxing on other aspects of life, like your family, as many of my friends and colleagues on both sides of this industry know all too well.

It would be a much easier decision to leave AutoGuide.com if the staff were all a bunch of degenerate asshats, but they are not. Jodi, Sami, Stephen, Craig, Jason and Colum aren’t just hard working automotive writers and journalists; they’re also genuinely good people. And our video crew of Anthony, Ben and Chris are wizards behind the lens, making me seem less socially awkward and inept on camera than I ever thought possible.

My love for the automobile is too strong to leave this industry, though. I will be jumping over to the corporate side of things, working for a manufacturer I have great respect and passion for. But before I leave for good and hand in computer, parking pass and Stone Cutters membership, I decided to write one last feature, reminiscing about my top 10 favorite moments while working at AutoGuide.com.

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Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, Camaro 1LE and SS Trip

People who know me well, know I’m a big Corvette fan (it’s OK, I can be biased now). Although I got to drive the new generation Corvette Z06 on a few occasions, it was my first taste of the Corvette Stingray Convertible that really sticks out in my mind. Not only did the car live up to all of my expectations, but I also discovered how amazing the roads around Palm Springs are.

As icing on the cake, Chevrolet also had the Camaro SS 1LE and SS sedan on hand to drive as well. Three awesome V8-powered performance cars, beautiful mountain roads and dinner at Frank Sinatra’s house – what a great three days.


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Subaru Trip to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Not all automotive press trips are about insanely expensive hotels, fancy dinners and driving exotic sports cars on private racetracks. Some involve rare access to places only a true car nut like me would appreciate. Subaru Canada took a group of us to the IIHS facility in early 2015 for a tour of the facility. Highlights included the ‘room of shame’ that housed many of the great failures the IIHS has evaluated over the years. But the best part was getting to see a crash test performed live and in person. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

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Porsche 911 Turbo vs Audi R8 V10 Plus Comparison

Just as summer was approaching, we booked a comparison between a Porsche 911 Turbo and a Audi R8 V10 Plus. Two amazing supercars, the comparison was made even more special by the fact we were able to get a bit of track time with these beauties.

The sheer velocity and grip of the 911 Turbo blew my mind as well as how easy it was to drive. The R8 V10 Plus is style personified and the sounds it makes are unreal and it’s no slouch either. I’ll always remember the special feeling one gets behind the wheel of such mechanical mastery. As the last Audi I drove, it will always have a special place in my heart.

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A Week with a Mazda RX-7

They say never drive your heroes. Well, if that car happens to be a pristine 1993 Mazda RX-7, by all means, DRIVE THE S@$% OUT OF IT. Growing up a teenager in the 1990s, a lot of Japanese sports cars grabbed my attention. Chief among them was the RX-7. I always like to do things a little differently, so a car powered by an unconventional rotary engine just speaks to me.

With a certain rawness that has been engineered out of today’s cars, but still packing all the power and handling to give many modern sports cars a run for their money, the RX-7 is just perfect to me. Not even experiencing a tire blowout at 70 mph or the RX-7’s less than stellar reputation for reliability will ever deter my love for this yellow rocket.

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AutoGuide Under $30,000 Performance Car Shootout

Take eight ridiculously fun to drive, affordable performance cars, and then put them through their paces both on the street and the track. What’s not to love, aside from organizing the damn thing?

It wasn’t just the fact that we spent a whole week out at the track during the summer evaluating these smile generating cars that makes this shootout so enjoyable. It was also the comradery with my co-workers that made it so memorable. Whether it be Sami and Dave taking countless selfies, our video producers risking life on top of a ladder moments before an electrical storm to get the shot, or the shared anguish of bowl-bashing torment after eating quite possibly the worst Chinese food in North America. It was a blast.

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Hellcats!

I’ve had the opportunity to drive not one, not two but four Hellcats in the past year and a half. There may not be any other car on the market today that produces such childish grins, juvenile urges and glorious engine sounds.

But the reason the Hellcat will forever have a special place in my heart has to do with the birth of my son on the 4th of July last year. As a Canadian baby born on the most American of holidays, he got his first ride ever, home for the hospital in a Charger Hellcat – the most American of cars built in Canada.


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Mazda Rallies

My favorite thing to do in a car isn’t hitting a race track, attending a car show or ‘running out of gas’ on a date. It’s taking long-distance road trips into the middle of nowhere. Starting in 2013, Mazda Canada began an annual event called the Mazda Adventure Rally, which is a three-day competition that involves a variety tasks, quizzes and events.

Always partnering up with my superb co-driver Sami Haj-Assaad, we placed on the podium (sort of) every year of the competition. We came in third in 2013, first in 2014 and third(ish) in 2015. Best of all, despite Sami trying to kill me, we always remained civil(ish) towards each other during the events.

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McLaren 650S Spider Review

A question I’m asked a lot is “What’s the best car you ever drove?” I always had a hard time coming up with an answer and some of them are on the list above. But in summer of 2015, I drove not only the most expensive car I was ever given the keys to overnight, but also my favorite.

The McLaren 650S Spider may not have the pedigree of a Ferrari or the attention getting shape of a Lamborghini, but this supercar is fantastic in every way. The performance, presence and special feeling one gets behind the wheel makes the decision to buy one of these over a new home well worth it.


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Rally North America Charity Road Rallies

OK, so this wasn’t an actual work-based activity per say. But my bosses at AutoGuide.com always knew how much I loved attending these events and always left me some space on the site to write about them.

Basically a giant, three to five day automotive scavenger hunt, Rally North America events are all about rallying for a cause. Each year 80 teams of 2+ people descend on the back roads of North America to see beautiful landscapes most never get to witness, all while raising money for charity. As of this posting, RNA members have raised an impressive $500,000 for various charities.

It’s not only for a good cause; the events are a ridiculously good time as well. Attend just one event, and you’ll part of the RNA family forever.


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Mazda MX-5 Drive Across Country

As mentioned earlier, I love a good road trip. I also love the Mazda MX-5, having owned a 1990 model in the past.

Late summer 2014, it was announced that Mazda would be unveiling a new MX-5 Miata in Monterrey California. I was invited to attend, but rather than fly, I wanted to drive. The plan was to drive a current 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata to see the premiere of the new 2016 MX-5 Miata.

Surprisingly Mazda went for this idea and I was given a shiny new MX-5 to begin my cross continent drive. Leaving Toronto, Ont., I headed in slightly the wrong direction to Marysville, PA, to pick up my driving partner Tony, one half of the organizing force behind the previously mentioned Rally North America events.

In four days we would drive from Marysville to Monterey through many beautiful landscapes, a monstrous (and scary) thunderstorm in the dark and of course the loneliest road in America. It was always on my bucket list to drive across the continent and not only did I get to do it, I did it in an unusual way with a great friend.

  • Jason Siu

    Safe travels Mr. Schlee!

  • Jodi Lai

    We’ll miss you, Mike! You’re leaving big shoes to fill.

  • Sami Haj-Assaad

    These are awesome moments Mike, and many that I’ve shared with you. We’ll definitely miss you! Good luck in whatever is next!

  • smartacus

    One of my favorites from Mike Schlee was the under $30,000 performance car shootout
    (that Fiesta ST really is an “axe murderer”)

    *i enjoyed the McLaren 650S Spider review too.
    Saw one just yesterday at a classic-car cruise-in a half hour North of Palm Beach
    and coincidentally was thinking about the fun Mike had with one last year 🙂

    i guess i am gonna miss Mike’s writeups a little bit more than i’m admitting.
    maybe he can drop us a guest article in the future?

  • Jeff T

    Best of luck with everything Mike. Have always enjoyed your influence at autoguide.

  • Mike Schlee

    Will do. But the long way.

  • Mike Schlee

    They’re only size tens.

  • Mike Schlee

    It definitely was a fun, fun time.

  • Mike Schlee

    Thanks Jeff. I’ll definitely miss being part of the team, but I’m confident they’ll only get better.

  • Mike Schlee

    Thanks! Yeah the ST was A blast and that McLaren was amazing. I’ll always remember it.

    Hmmm, a guess poster, eh?

  • Saad

    All the best Mike. Always enjoyed your vids. That manufacturer is lucky to have you.