Ward's Editorial Director David E. Zoia was editor of Ward's Engine and Vehicle Technology Update newsletter when then-Managing Editor Bill Visnic suggested a competition to determine North America’s best engines.
It was the summer of 1994, and Zoia recalls driving aPrelude press vehicle equipped with the 2.2L VTEC I-4. At the same time, Visnic was driving the Maxima with its VQ V-6. Both engines were all-new.
"Bill and I were talking about these two engines," Zoia recalls. "I said, 'This is the best 4-cyl. engine I've ever driven.' Bill said, 'You need to drive this V-6 – it's the best V-6 I've ever driven.'"
That night, Visnic and Zoia swapped the vehicles, and the next day Visnic suggested the competition.
In the fall of 1994, the procedure for testing the nominees was the same as it is today: have judge/staffers drive 30 or so vehicles in the months of October and November, pick the winners in December and hand out the hardware at the Detroit auto show in January. (TheVTEC and VQ, incidentally, were among the first-year winners.)
That first year of the 1995 awards ceremony was memorable. The room was deep in the bowels of Cobo Center, back by the loading docks, where open doors ensured no one needed ice in their drinks. Hot coffee was the beverage of choice.
Fewer than 50 people came that first year. The weather was horrible – cold and icy. Visnic, who would prevail over the event as master of ceremonies – same as today, was so late that Zoia was rushing together a last-minute presentation to hand out the awards.
After a minor delay, Visnic arrived – much to Zoia's relief – and did a fine job waxing eloquent about our selections for Best Engines. Zoia asked Visnic a favor after the event. "Next year, give someone a copy of what you're gonna say, OK?"
Since then, Ward's 10 Best Engines program has gotten bigger and better each year, evolving into a banquet luncheon for hundreds of people.
Its humble beginnings now are cemented in our company lore.