casts a concerned eye towards his ceiling as he ponders how many magazines are stored in the attic…
I’ve never totted up the number of magazines that I have. All I can say is that it’s more than a lot – a lot more…in the thousands. If you were being generous I would be described as a collector but, if not, hoarder might be more appropriate. I started buying, amassing as it turned out, car magazines as a teenager in the early 1960s and simply didn’t stop – or throw any away. (I find it impossible to discard anything that I’ve actually paid money for.) What’s more, as with each successive issue my collection crept forward, it also started to rush backwards as I sought back-issues to ‘complete the run’.
As a result I have Autosport from Volume one Number one (August 1950) up to a point somewhere in the 1970s when even I baulked at the size of the pile that this weekly mag was making, and stopped. This didn’t deter me with the monthlies however. I have Motor Sport from somewhere in the mid-1950s to date, and Small Car, which became Car, until somewhere in the 1990s, when the sheer weight of this particular accumulation prompted me to cease in deference to the structural integrity of my house.
My complete run of Automobile Quarterly, a ‘Connoisseur’s Periodical of Motoring Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow’, as the sub-heading of Volume 1, No1, (curiously undated but Spring 1962) flatteringly states, currently extends across 9ft of shelf space! Amongst my most cherished magazines is a regrettably short run of the American monthly, Sports Car Graphic. As the name implies, this was a motor sport oriented journal with an emphasis on visual excellence, great photography, big photos in good layouts and excellent illustrations – and none of the above at the expense of good writing and race reporting.
It was harder to find over here than two of its equally excellent American contemporaries, Road and Track and Car and Driver. Competition between the three consistently produced content that was informative, engaging, stimulating and infused with an ingredient often lacking in our own periodicals – wit. In comparison, British magazines of the period looked as if they had been produced by a bunch of enthusiasts with access to a John Bull Printing Outfit. OK, I exaggerate, but they were produced on the cheap, mostly printed on poor quality newsprint that started to yellow almost before you got the magazine home, with surprisingly few photographs, always a faded grey, and with colour on anything but the occasional cover almost unheard of – even the ads were in black and white.
Of the American ‘big three’ it was Car and Driver that for me ticked all the boxes. As a car-nut and a graphic design student it was the perfect enthusiasts’ magazine, satisfying my interest in things automotive as well as being visually exciting. In the ’50s and early ’60s the USA was way ahead of Britain in what came to be termed ‘art direction’ (although we rapidly caught up once the decade, and London in particular, began to ‘swing’). It was the first car magazine that I had come across that looked as if it was designed by a trained art director rather than a chap with a glue pot pasting pictures into a page of type. Car and Driver didn’t coast along with the same layout from issue to issue, and, under the art direction of Gene Butera, each month was a textbook exercise in the discipline of creative innovation. They even ran pictures of cars blurred by speed!
What browsing through old magazines provides, that specialist books rarely achieve, is a sense of context. By their very nature magazines are an ever-evolving record of what has just happened, but also an attempt to predict the future; speculation on the outcome of a race or championship, the direction in which technological progress is heading, the arrival of new contenders with all the attendant hopes and aspirations – and, a few issues further down the line, confirmation of success or failure.
But, importantly, there are also the incidentals that accompany the road tests and race reports, the ads for the ephemera of the automotive world, both big and small, which provide the warp and weft of the period. Who’d have thought that an Austin 1100 was once a ‘sports sedan’? When researching the Ollon-Villars hillclimb car for a story, what surprised me was how little Porsche featured in magazines of the early- to mid-1960s – even in the USA, which was their biggest market. Invariably only the overall winners of major races got their photos in the reports and as Porsche was always competing in the smaller classes they rarely featured in anything but the text.
There were of course exceptions, such as the Targa Florio, where the nimble Porsches could beat the big boys and be rewarded with star-billing and a ‘Giant Killer’ headline. As we headed towards the 1970s it was apparent that Porsche was becoming more of a contender in the heavyweight division. I can’t wait to get back into my attic and retrieve another few years-worth of magazines to see how Porsche’s efforts panned out. (Be careful Mrs Mallett doesn’t lock the door behind you – KS) DM