For me, it began with a letter to the editor.

"Since the [Triumph] TR8 in the article was a convertible," said the reader, "the girl in the photo should have been topless also. Try to do better next time."

The reply: "And when we test a car with a moonroof? - Ed."

This was my late-Seventies introduction to Car and Driver, the one automotive magazine that's been a constant in my mailbox for two decades and more. And while the identity of Ed. has changed over the years, the mission of C/D has never wavered: Driving ought to be fun, and cars ought to contribute to that fun, and people who get in the way of that fun, be they on the road or in a government office, need to be identified and dispatched to the slow lane.

One of the hallmarks of C/D has been an absolute refusal to accept dogma handed down from on high. In the Seventies, to get some unfiltered data on the dangers of drunk driving, the magazine rented a test site, got some of its staffers soused, and measured their driving proficiency at various levels of inebriation. The published results — basically, "this stuff is obviously bad for you, but not everyone is impaired at exactly the same rate" — were sufficiently offensive to Big Brother to encourage C/D to repeat the test in the early Eighties with a different drug: marijuana. The results, unsurprisingly, were about the same.

It should surprise no one that this fearlessness has gotten them in a lot of trouble with the sort of kinder, gentler fascists that tend to accumulate in government departments and in "independent" organizations with axes to grind. C/D doesn't care. When the fracas over Ford Explorers and Firestone tires came to a head, C/D bought an Explorer, rigged up a system whereby a tire could be instantly blown by remote control, and watched for signs of rollover. There weren't any. Why are all those Explorers turning up topsy-turvy? Editor-in-chief Csaba Csere isn't assigning any blame, but I believe (and I suspect Csere does too) that this is natural selection in action.

A common theme at Car and Driver is society's apparent willingness to make the many suffer for the sins of the few. So they opposed attempts to tighten the drunk-driving blood/alcohol content standard to 0.08 percent, pointing out that drivers between 0.08 and 0.10 (the previous standard), by the proponents' own statistics, cause a lot fewer fatalities than drivers way over the limit; in fact, the average BAC for a driver