Normally, the Strip in Las Vegas is about the last place I'd want to be the weekend before Christmas.
But this year is different. On Dec. 18, a very detailed process will conclude when the Car of the Century is announced during a gala celebration. As one of the international jurors, I'll be there.
The process has been lengthy and intriguing.
A small group of European organizers conceived the idea in 1996. They formed an honorary committee of experts who selected a pool of 200 eligible cars, based on a variety of criteria ranging from styling to technical innovation to popularity and longevity.
The organizers then invited about 132 reporters and editors from 33 countries to form a jury. Being nominated to the jury was an honor, and I accepted. Other jurors from the Automotive News family are Luca Ciferri, our correspondent in Italy, and Guillermo Lira, our correspondent in Mexico.
Each juror voted for 100 vehicles from the list of 200. Results were tabulated and the 100 candidates were identified.
There also was a yearlong phase during which the public voted for its favorites, mostly via the Internet or at exhibitions of the 100 models.
The 100 candidates for Car of the Century were winnowed to 27 and last month we jurors voted for five cars from the list of 27 nominees derived from the public voting.
On Dec. 18, the jury will convene in Las Vegas for the final vote, after which the Car of the Century will be announced during a live, worldwide telecast.
The outcome will be interesting for a couple of reasons.
1. Any time you have an international panel of judges, nationality can be a factor in the voting. The jurors all agreed not to be biased in their choices. But I'm not sure that happened. The 27 finalists were made up of five cars from the United States, eight from Germany, three from Italy, six from the United Kingdom, five from France and none from Japan, which seems odd, given the events of the past three decades.
2. Whether it's the Car of the Century or the North American Car and Truck of the Year (of which I also am a judge), the reporters and editors from enthusiast publications seem to have a more patrician view than those of us from business publications. You can almost hear their litany: 'It doesn't matter that they made only 50, or that the price was six times as much as a starter home in a decent neighborhood ... it looks cool and goes fast!'
For example, the five final U.S. candidates for Car of the Century are the 1965-67 AC Cobra, 1963-67 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, 1964-68 Ford Mustang, Ford Model T and 1941-45 Willys Jeep.
From the beginning, the Car of the Century process has been more heavily weighted with sports and performance cars, but that's OK because it's part of the romance and sex appeal of the automobile.
My own view is that for the Car of the Century, value, utility and availability are probably more important than a vehicle's 0-to-60-mph time or the shape of its fender, although the closest thing to a minivan is the Renault Espace. Such obvious populist candidates as the Model T, Citroen 2CV and Volkswagen Beetle are on the list, so the final vote should be interesting and perhaps even exciting.
The great thing about the grand finale in Las Vegas is that car enthusiasts from around the world will be there to share in the excitement of selecting the Car of the Century, and the public is invited to the party. If you're interested in joining the festivities, you can get information at www.cotc.com.
I realize that 1999 is not the end of the century - or the millennium - but nothing is likely to happen in the next 12 months that will change the preceding 99 years.
And who cares? The weekend of Dec. 17-19 in Las Vegas will be quite a party for the global auto industry.