Motoring mags – bring back the old days!

Mike Humble bought a pile of well-worn and dirty magazines from a dodgy geezer at a car boot sale and refused to come out of the toilet for hours.

Here’s why…

Montego- For: Torquey engines. Against: Talky engines - so said CAR Magazine!

I often suffer from a condition which many of us men will know well, Numb Bum Syndrome. That’s the price we pay for sitting on the loo reading what my missus would describe as porn, but what any self-respecting petrolhead would call motoring magazines.

Nowadays, I don’t actually buy that many, What Car? is very Radio 4 these days and Top Gear is getting rather full of inane rubbish and becoming more like a lads’ lifestyle magazine rather than a proper motoring glossy – in my opinion anyway. My own choice of motoring inky is either Car Mechanics or Octane simply because they print what matters – raw car stuff and great information about design techniques or industry changes. To be honest, I don’t give a flip if the seats in the latest Kia Moribundia SVX TSi 4Q PP3 happen to made of the same material as James May’s smoking jacket.

Now that Summer is officially here, I am often found on my hands and knees rummaging through boxes of old LPs and car magazines and, often as not, I will part with some coins of the realm and blend back into the crowd armed with a carrier bag full of paper and vinyl. Retiring to my innermost sanctum, namely the downstairs loo, I will flick through the pages admiring double page colour adverts for the Cortina Crusader and find out which motor won the three car shoot-out between the Renault 9, Peugeot 305 and the Volkswagen Jetta – all of a sudden I’m a teenager again!

Readers of the rather well done Sniff Petrol web site will know of the legend that is Troy Queef, tester of very average cars with his infamous ‘Dab of Oppo’ column. Yes, we all laugh and smile at his seemingly naff style of journalism, yet it’s oddly symptomatic of many of today’s motoring pundits. I miss the clarity, wisdom and experience in print of much-missed writers such as LJK Setright and Russell Bulgin, both taken away from this world long before their time. OK, I may be a grumpy old man who, so my other half claims, refuses to move with the times (which is utter rubbish owing to the fact I often use Ceefax, SO THERE!) but I do enjoy a good read even if it is a trip down memory lane.

A REAL motoring advert from 1982 - who cares if it bursts into a fireball with no warning!

Back in days of Betamax, I would spend my hard earned paper round money on Autocar and CAR Magazine. I fondly remember one issue which featured a Road Test of the Lotus Esprit Turbo – there was a mid-corner shot of the aforementioned Hethel Hell Fire complete with its Norwich area number plate which had the last digits MAH – my initials – on the front cover and from that day in 1985 my pin up model of choice was not topless, but clad in fibreglass. Linda Lusardi was now an also-ran in my eyes.

However, of all the motoring mags, my ultimate favourite was CAR Magazine – I particularly admired the wrting of Steve Cropley. Many will recall that, towards the rear of each issue, you would find a section called The Good.. The Bad.. And The Ugly. Here you would find some of the funniest, yet accurate and brief descriptions of the best and very worst cars on the market. My old school chum and avid AROnline reader Dylan Gradwell and I would learn the some of the more caustic comments found in that section of the magazine and recite them during break times at school.

For: At least it has four wheels. Against: But not much else. Sum Up: Frightful

The caption on the above photo of the ghastly Reliant Kitten was typical of CAR Magazine at that time, but they would also write praiseworthy comments of vehicles which they felt to be worthy of them. By the early to mid-1980s Rover’s SD1 was still being advertised by the makers and the magazine still wrote a decent summary of the car. Why? Well, because, back then, the majority of the UK motoring press knew that Austin Rover were trying to get to grips with product and quality and they knew that there was a good car trying to get out. Quite simply, in those days people got behind the UK marques and didn’t seem so hell bent on wrecking the efforts of the makers – which was certainly the case more recently with MG Rover!

There were some really funny summaries for some of the most disgusting cars to have ever graced the roads including one of the most offensive vehicles I ever had the total misfortune of driving – the bloody FSO 125P saloon. Here was a car which was blessed with the visual appeal of a run down badger, the creature comforts of a Police cell and which gave you an overall experience on a par with letting loose a starved leopard in a school playground. The term less is more was certainly true when CAR Magazine printed their comments on this truly awful heap.

For: Quad headlamps. Against: Everything aft

FSO 125P - only this made being stoned to death more attractive!

Pawing through the well-thumbed pages, I find full colour adverts for Rothmans King Size and John Player Special – back in the days when smoking was almost sexy and stylish. Other adverts include the latest Panasonic radio tape players with the top models featuring an auto reverse and Dolby system – a far cry from today’s MP3 and DVD Sat Nav systems. Remember those heady days of manually tuning in to National Radio One on 1053MW? I do. No mention of NCAP safety details and not even the slightest whiff of emissions data – all that mattered was the magical fuel consumption figure at a steady 56mph.

The poetic Tagora - sales figures confirmed it was pony and trap!

Some motor manufacturers must have spent a fortune on advertising. One rag I now own features an eight page double colour advert for the Crusader range of Cortina specials and, flick a few pages further, and you find another double spread for the Calypso and Carousel special edition Capris – that just  shows how massive the carmakers’ advertising budgets used to be.

Mind you, some lovely adverts for the Rover SD1 and Vauxhall Cavalier remind us of the then unstoppable forces or ARG, Ford and General Motors and then we are also reminded of the also-ran makers such as Talbot flaunting their latest bitterly average car which was intended to rival the aforementioned Rover along with the Ford Granada and Opel’s Senator – the Anglo-French Tagora. Actually, to say the Talbot was average would be an overstatement – it was slab-sided, dull and bereft of any real image while even the advert as seen here was black and white.

Looking through the adverts and dealer spots in the back pages, it’s more than confirmed that today no one really makes a rubbish car anymore – which, purely for entertainment value, is a real shame!

Escort vs Samara - weekly bus ticket anyone?

Back in those days you would get the most unlikely of tests such as the Ford Escort Mk4 vs Lada Samara – what the hell were they thinking about?  That said, having your nose pushed into someones armpit on a bus is preferable to owning either. I seem to recall What Car? running a shoot out test between some horrific cars – if my memory serves me correctly, the cars were the Citroen 2CV6, the aforementioned FSO, Lada Riva, Skoda Estelle and a Yugo. All were in rather insipid colours, not one of them cracked 90 mph and the pictures of the cars taken mid-corner at speed would make a Holyhead ferry seem like an Elise in comparison. Am I the only person who misses the sight and sound of a truly horrid, badly built imported Communist clunker?

Oh, those halcyon days of aftermarket audio!

The above picture shows a brace of sexy looking wireless sets – I actually had the top one in a Cortina some years back. I will never forget the damn thing gradually slowing down and belching as it chewed up Running In The Family by Level 42 with perfect timing whilst parked late at night in Salcey Forest in Buckinghamshire – another time, another story I guess. Radio sets would make one chuckle. The tuner had to have PLL on FM – no one had a clue what it stood for, but it meant it was good if it did. Actually, for the record, PLL stands for phase locked loop – in layman’s terms it reduces distortion and interference. Who also remembers having to carry a Bic biro in the car to rewind your tapes at red traffic lights? I still keep one in the door pocket but purely for nostalgic purposes. Other wonderful period ads include a full colour spread of Jackie Stewart endorsing tyres as fitted to the Capri 2.8i and a fantastic advert for that almost forgotten Japanese warrior, the Colt Starion.

Well, that’s another trip along the boulevard of memories – I’m off to finish reading my August 1981 copy of Autocar in the confined space of the downstairs toilet.

I wonder if I can get a Richard Grant styling kit for my Honda Civic  i-CTDi…

Mike Humble

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications
Mike Humble
Posted in: AROnline Blogs, Essays
Mike Humble

About the Author:

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade. Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

36 Comments on "Motoring mags – bring back the old days!"

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  1. Enrico Vanni says:

    The most memorable (and scathing) FSO-related GBU summary for me was for the re-bodied and ‘modernised’ version of the 125p ie. the Polonez: “Like a cheap wig, ill-fitting and oversized.”

  2. Steve G says:

    Sorry, but as a reader of Sniff Petrol, the one thing I know is that the wonderful “Dab of Oppo” columns are “written” by Troy Queef, not Carcoat Damphands.

  3. Will says:

    It’s not just car magazines – computer magazines are now as obsessed with Apple gear as the likes of Auto Express are with Audis and BMWs.

    I miss the early-mid 1990s Computer Shopper, which covered many different computer architectures (including the then Apple page, which turned into a satire page as most thought they were doomed!).

    The day of the magazine is almost gone, with all the information we could ever want on the Internet. The last time I bought a motoring magazine new was when I was flying and needed something to read.

    It’s great to see the old adverts for nostalgia, though and to be reminded that the Crusader was a run-out of the Cortina and that Talbot and, ultimately, Rover were doomed. FSO became part of GMDaewoo and Reliant has gone.

    No-one makes bad cars anymore because everyone is scared of making a mistake – that’s why there’s no innovation or ‘cheap and cheerful’ transport in the vein of FSO, Lada or Yugo.

  4. Two R8s says:

    I like the way this article is written – full of cliches, very clever, very Top Gear. The cut out applications in the adverts have been replaced by website addresses.

  5. Mike Humble Mike Humble says:

    @Steve G
    Bugger! You’re right! I shall amend that!

  6. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    For: Fine for your father Against: Leaves you wanting more Sum-up: Mobile alternative to a four-bed detached.

  7. Simon Woodward says:

    I have a large collection of car magazines, over 3000+, from the last forty years. I must, at some time in the future, start to catalogue them, scan some of the articles and get them on the web. I like them because there are a wealth of little snippets, scoops and oddities that seem to get lost over time.

  8. Andrew Elphick says:

    @Will
    Hey Will, my mum used to typeset Computer Shopper on an actual Mac during that period, so I hope you liked the page layouts! It was a magazine era when the page layouts were knocked together by an expert eye rather than by a Degree-clutching Designer (as she so often reminds me!).

  9. Andrew Elphick says:

    @Two R8s
    Magazines back then were written by chaps who, by rights, should never have been there – blokes like us, hence the great writing.

  10. Simon Woodward says:

    @Andrew Elphick
    LJK Setright anyone?

  11. Ian G White says:

    There’s a great website full of road tests from the 1960s onwards on Flickr – have a look at Trigger’s Retro Road Tests’ photostream. Flickr does not allow embedding within frames so you may have to copy the link below into a new browser window:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/

    I wish I still had the 1970s CAR Magazines which I disposed of a few years back – there was some marvellous writing in them.

  12. Glenn Aylett says:

    CAR was the best car magazine of its day, way ahead of the statistics heavy What Car?, which was a bit like comparing the Eighties version of Top Gear with the modern one – worthy but dull (What Car?), fun and interesting (CAR ).

    Yes, I have fond memories of LJK Setright and Steve Cropley as their journalism was really good and also the GBU, which used to massacre Datsun relentlessly, once saying about the Datsun Laurel, that Datsun wouldn’t let them drive it.

  13. Paul says:

    I also own a large back collection of 1980s car magazines and often feel the same way about how motoring journalism has gone.

    However, I think this is more to do with my age and attitude to life than the magazines themselves. I still think CAR Magazine stands head and shoulders above the rest and don’t really agree with your analysis of it being a lads’ magazine.

    However, What Car? is dreadful – its only criteria when tesing cars is how much the company car tax for it will be! Oh, and as for Auto Express, you might as well go to the motoring section of The Sun, but that’s always been the case.

  14. Two R8s says:

    I used to buy Motor magazine. I liked the stars system used in the magazine’s Road Tests.

  15. Buttons says:

    I guess I must be a little older than some of you guys as I still have years of CAR Magazine from the 1960s – some were shortly after the transition from Small Car and Mini Owner.

    I still have a wonderful edition comparing the Hillman Husky Mk2 (I had a Mk 1!) and the Skoda Octavia Combiwagon. Now we are talking real cutting edge style and handling here, not to mention the super advanced engines of the day!

    I have one issue in which there is a picture which is absolutely precious to me. It depicts a small group of cars on test, parked in a very ordinary car park. There are several children (13 years old-ish) – some seated in the cars, others standing about but one is in the foreground and this is the magic part of this photography. Her attitude, her persona actually leap from the page. Just brilliant photography and probably completely outlawed today. Can you imagine car magazine photographers chatting up some kids and getting them to help with a photo shoot today? They would probably be arrested before they had erected the tripod in these silly nanny state days!

    However, as for the writers, surely no one can deny the quality of Setright, the wonderful George Bishop, dear Steady Barker (now in his early Nineties and I’m proud to be a personnel friend), Cropley of course, Mike Twite, Doug Blain, who now owns The Automobile, and Ian Fraser.

    Unfortunately, anyone under thirty will have been brought up with carefully scripted comedy programmes pretending to be motoring programmes – or glossy magazines that road test the new Volvo on page 56 and feature the new Morphy Richards designer toaster as the centre spread.

    The quality, substance , expertise and depth of technical knowledge are simply not there any more. We have style – not much else, just loads of style!

    Sadly, even the CAR Magazine of today is very ordinary – certainly no spark of individuality like the old days. There you are – another grumpy old man!

  16. Marty B says:

    I don’t bother with many magazines now – just the odd issue of Craptical Plastics – but I think that is going down the pan now Fuzz has buggered off to run his own workshop.

    I liked Motor in the 1980s, but found the likes of What Car? dull. Too many magazines nowadays suck up to the ones who spend the most on advertising.

  17. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    @Marty B
    Fuzz is at Classics Monthly magazine now and doing a great job, too. 🙂

    /K

  18. Simon Woodward says:

    The cutaway drawings of various cars over the years in Autocar were a legend – perhaps they still do this but I haven’t bought an issue of Autocar for years preferring CAR instead once a month and various classic car titles.

    I’m not keen on the TopGear magazine – its a bit like a cross between NUTS and OK but the TV show is good.

    The net is killing these magazines to a degree, which is one of the reasons why I don’t buy Autocar the layout of their website is very easy to use so why spend £2 quid a week?

    CAR Magazine’s road tests seem more detailed and the feature articles look at a little bit more than just car – if, for example, they are doing a feature on Japanese Micro cars, then the journalist would be writing about them whilst in that country and not just about the car but also about the culture surrounding it, if that makes sense?

  19. Chris says:

    Ahh, the memories…

    I started reading car magazines slap bang in the middle of the 1980s – when I started Sixth Form College and the library there would get copies of Motor each week. I liked Motor – especially the detailed stats and scale drawings and the summaries of the competitors for each model. I was learning to drive as well and was, of course, car mad.

    I didn’t like Autocar as it seemed more trivial and, when they merged, I found more Autocar than Motor in the result so I bought it less and less.

    CAR Magazine was an occasional pleasure more than a regular one. LJK Setright could be, well, as boring as someone who writes about the Honda Prelude seemingly every month could be. GBU was superb – one car I seem to recall had “For : Rare, Against : With good reason”. The spy shots (Hans G. Lehman?) were always fun too. They did quirky road tests, some superb road tests – the “New Supercars” feature (Fiat Uno Turbo and Peugeot 205 GTI) -were top reads.

    CAR changed or, maybe I did, so I buy it less too – perhaps once every couple of years.

    I also used to read Diesel Car during the late 1980s to mid-1990s back in the day when they would have articles on diesel motorbikes (Enfield Robin Diesel) or on people getting hold of car not available here (Renault 21 TD) and their April Fool (Peugeot 106 TD). However, now they have ‘celebrity journos’ and the content is thinly disguised marketing stuff.

    Actually, that is the problem with a lot of modern car mags – they are indulging in ‘Churnalism’ too much – recycling marketing releases and publicity material as news with very little time or space given over to real motoring journalists with real opinions.

    With respect to Keith, I have only read Octane a few times but nothing has stuck – I have seen nothing memorable in it at all and I don’t even check out the cover – it seems a modern version of Fast Lane – remember that? That applies equally to Autocar, Auto Express (which is total cr@p really) and, indeed, CAR.

    I too indulge in Car Mechanics and spend the rest of my time online with people interested in the same cars (mainly diesels these days) or the same motoring interests (maximising MPG and FE). I do occasionally refer to some sites such as Honest John when looking at a change of car, but he is just one of a few sources.

    Finally, as for Austin Rover, I think during the late 1980s it wasn’t that car magazines started to “back the home team”, I think it was more that there were relieved at finally being able to compare them honestly to the competition and they stood up. The Rover 200, 800 and the Roverised-Metro were well up there with the competition of the time. Unfortunately, it was an opportunity missed.

    You can, of course, relive those days via Trigger’s Car Stuff on Flickr…

  20. Buttons says:

    I have read all your comments about the rather boring motoring magazines we have today (and the lamenting of the greats like CAR in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s) but wonder whether we are not being a little unfair on them all.

    Is it not true that, if we were motoring journalists and had to write up a ‘Giant Test’ (CAR terminology) of an Austin 1100, Renault R10 and Triumph Herald, we would have plenty to talk about too! We would be able to extol the virtues of the safe as houses 1100, make outrageous remarks about the knock-kneed Herald’s handling and (if we were at CAR Magazine) enthuse about just how much fun the R10 was (providing you had the balls of course).

    Nowadays, the Honda Thingy, Kia Whatsit and Toyota Blobby will all do exactly the same thing in exactly the same way – so what can the poor journalists say – bless ’em?

  21. Simon Hodgetts says:

    A lot of my childhood was taken up with reading old copies of CAR and Motor, which would somehow miraculously appear in a huge pile, from an uncle.

    I was an aspiring Car Designer for most of my youth (I grew out of it, sadly) and would copy the line drawings of cars from the Motor tests – I still have one drawing I did, showing the Porsche 924 and its rivals. I particularly liked a 1976 issue of Motor I had, with a road test of the then new BMW 3 Series and also a feature on the Chevette HS!

    Later on I acquired a load of 1980s CAR Magazines, which I loved. One issue which sticks in my mind is one from 1983 which highlighted stockpiling at UK ports and showed (mainly) Renault 14s (which were never a runaway sales success) submerged up to the axles in muddy water. Lancia Betas also featured – no wonder they all rusted away!

    I started to buy CAR monthly once I could afford to and bought it consistently throughout the 1990s. I especially liked the writing of the insightful Russell Bulgin (RIP), Richard Bremner, the legendary LJK Setright and a certain James May, who wrote a column called ‘England Made Me’. A great magazine – intelligently and entertainingly written, and much missed…

  22. Viking Loon says:

    An immensely enjoyable article which transported me back to my schooldays in the mid-1980s when I started buying car magazines on a regular basis.

    An occasional purchase was What Car? which was not unlike a Toyota Corolla i.e. worthy, reliable but ultimately dull.

    The pre-merged Autocar and Motor, being weekly magazines, were more topical and even better was the fact that they were stocked by the school library.

    However, the Porsche 911 Turbo of magazines was undoubtedly CAR – every issue was eagerly awaited due to the high quality of the journalism and the superb photography.

    I recall the Headlines pages which featured scoop shots by Hans Lehmann, who always struck me as a cross between David Bailey and the Milk Tray man – I could imagine him spending six hours perched up a Norwegian pine tree in temperatures of -15 waiting to take snaps of a disguised Ford Scorpio undergoing cold weather testing then sprinting to his getaway snowmobile with the Dobermans of the security team snapping at his heels…

    The Oracle pages, which featured industry news and gossip from the UK, France, Germany and Japan and the Frontlines columns were essential reading. Alongside the above-mentioned Bishop, LJKS, Bulgin and Barker was Phil Llewellin, an excellent journalist who also sadly departed this world before his time – his The Road to Muckle Flugga, which is a collection of his writings, is well worth reading. I also recall Alexei Sayle did a few years as a Frontlines columnist in the late 1990s and delivered some brilliantly funny laugh-out-loud prose. The The Good, The Bad and The Ugly section at the end of the mag was always worth a titter or three, usually because the judgments were spot on.

    I still have all the issues of CAR from mid-1985 to early 2005 and occasionally dip into them for a read. An issue from January 1986 has such gems in the “Ugly” section of the GBU as “For: Chic shieks” (Aston Martin Lagonda), “Desperate – we’ll need another section for this one” (Daihatsu Charmant) and “millions of Italians can be wrong” (Fiat 126).

    However, apart from Classic Car Weekly, I don’t really buy car mags regularly any more and, as others have pointed out, most of what I need is available on the web. Mind you, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, it’s not unknown for me to dodge into the library to spend an hour perusing Autocar which is still a good read.

    Finally, here’s a quick brain teaser – can anyone recall the tabloid-sized weekly rival to Auto Express which was launched in 1993 by the publishers of CAR and which sadly lasted less than two years?

  23. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    @Viking Loon
    I remember it well. Carweek

    /K

  24. Viking Loon says:

    @Keith Adams
    A (Shantung) Gold star to that man.

    It was a pity that Carweek folded as it was a good magazine but I guess the competiton was too intense in that part of the market.

    I think I’ve got the last issue somewhere…

  25. Chris C says:

    It’s no good – I am going to have to persuade her indoors that my CAR Magazines (in binders) are staying put…

    The thing these days are that mags are too PC – I bet CAR’s Pierre Beauregard couldn’t get away with it!

    Think back toCustom Car and Hot Car from the 1970s, all the 1980s kit car magazines full of fibreglass horrors or 1950s magazines with impenetrable small print articles (albeit exquisitely illustrated) on all sorts of major dismantling/surgical work that car owners were expected to be able, and had, to do at home along with adverts for all sorts of bonkers accessories and war surplus items.

    Think back even further to 1930s magazines with wonderful Art Deco-inspired full page adverts, especially showing a primarily rural Britain almost devoid of traffic, or rather unsafe motor racing scenes.

    No, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…

    Mind you, at least we can still read them – how will internet magazines, or even this website, be archived/accessible for future generations?

  26. Guzzibasher says:

    I seem to recall a resume of the Reliant Kitten in CAR pointing out that, despite the low opinion held of it generally, the car had two good points: 1) The boot was big enough to hold a crate of beer and 2) its price was low so you could still afford to buy a crate of beer!

  27. Chris K says:

    What about those scantily clad women draped across the cars – such fond memories!

  28. Tim Vistisen says:

    I loved CAR Magazine’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. My favourite comment was about the Volvo 240 For: They last for ever Against: They last for ever! Classic…

  29. Will says:

    @Andrew Elphick
    The page layouts were great, well typeset and everything was in its own specific section. They even had an Acorn section!

    I’m sure you recall that, in those days, the magazine was as big as a phone book!

    That’s, of course, back in the day when Macs were king of DTP and not because they are a shiny bauble in the temple of disposable consumerism. However, I digress…

    Incidentally, these days, Trevellyn is running the successful BOTW on The Register.

  30. Bajan Dave says:

    This article brings back a lot of memories from my teenage years when I started to read car magazines in earnest.

    CAR was my favourite in those days and I loved to read the opinion pieces from the likes of LJK Setright, George Bishop, Gavin Green and Phil Llewellin. The GBU section was also a highlight with its lack of political correctness.

    Autocar and later Autocar and Motor was also a good read – I remember one comment on a Jaguarsport-modified XJS stating that the car had had more facelifts than Michael Jackson!

    Unfortunately, these days, the magazines seem to concentrate more on style than substance.

  31. Tony Bryer says:

    I had a small but prized collection of Autocar and Motor issues which covered the launches of various BL models but disposed of them before my emigration to Australia.

    Cars like the Maestro would be given pages of analysis with beautiful line drawings and lots of editorial covering the production issues as well as a road test. Now, it seems, no one is interested in that level of detail…

  32. David Price says:

    There’s very little focus on engineering these days – modern car writers are conspicuously non-technical and prone to believe manufacturer’s Press Releases. Few would know what a double wishbone front suspension layout really is, or what benefit it confers compared to McPherson struts, or the relative cost of implementing the two. That’s why averagely well engineered cars such as Audis and BMWs – some with massive flaws and/or compromises – are revered and presented as having ‘superb build’. It’s simply because the writers don’t have the technical knowledge or depth of understanding and rely instead on their clever ways with purple prose to confer authority.

    That’s why I’ve stopped reading the likes of CAR – a once mighty title. It had technical depth, irreverence, wry humour, incision and precision in its writing. Compare that to the glib, marketing obsessed, self-important subjectivist verbiage of today and it’s depressing.

    I also loved the way CAR would review very average and/or bad cars in great, forensic detail – often these reviews were just as interesting as the high end stuff. It’s this sort of journalistic challenge that the great writers (Setright et al.) would rise to. Sadly, there are none such now…

  33. Australian SD1 says:

    These magazines looked good here in Australia too and I think of one edition of Car I have that’s just so full of good stuff it’s hard to believe they could do this month after month. One or two of these journos – Cropley was one – started here with ‘Wheels’ and ‘Sports Car World’ magazine, I have boxes of these from the 70s that I’ll read again one day.

    Cars and the magazines that write about them have evolved (devolved) in parallel – more slick, less character, just boring. Modern cars are sold either on empty image – SUVs + prestige cars – or comfort for sitting in traffic jams – just about everything else.

    I just drove another near new rental car the other day and it has the same blandness and lack of driver involvement as any of its competition. No wonder Top Gear need so much gimmickry and cult of celebrity to make a show.

  34. Kevin Steele says:

    How dare you criticise the Escort Mk.3/4!!!! COTY in 1981 and the ’80s best seller. Not accolades it achieved for nothing you know! I can forgive the rotting battery trays and tyres-full-of-concrete ride quality for one of Ford’s best efforts of the decade – a bigger achievement arguably than the Sierra was.

    The Escort vs Samara roadtest was hilarious, given the Ford was already a seven year old design by the test was done in 1987, and the Samara was just out (it had in, fact been released in its native Russia since 1984, but even then the pre-facelift Mk.3 Escort would probably have trumped it even then!). Can’t remember the last time I saw a Lada on British roads.

  35. Rob C Rob C says:

    It must have been one day in the early 1980s I began swapping buying The Beano for Autocar, finally talking the parents into having it delivered every Thursday (IIRC) with the morning papers, whereupon I’d casually flick through it looking at all the latest new cars and road tests, in anticipation of having a good read of it on my return home from school. This continued for several years, even after I had left school, and Autocar had become Autocar & Motor, and many of them remained with me for several years after. Alas, after moving into a flat, many had to go, and after having no joy of moving them on, (evilbay was still in its infancy and several years worth of magazines would take forever to list and then post out) many ended up being recycled, but I did keep several that relate to Austin Rover and other road tests that I liked.
    One particular favourite of mine has a great feature on Rovers V8, and mini tests of the specialist makers that fitted them, the Morgan, Marcos Mantula and the TVR 350i, but that pales into insignificance against the ‘Great Routes’ article of driving the Fosse Way, starting in Beer in Somerset, they drove a then new D plate Range Rover all the way to Lincoln, on as much of the original road as possible, be this off road tracks or normal A roads. I’ve driven most of it, but would still love to drive the whole lot as they did back in 1986. One day maybe, but I suspect most of the off road sections are now totally impassible or even lost forever under new housing and industrial developments.

  36. Roger A says:

    Excellent article, Mike,
    That and people’s comments take me back.

    In the early /mid 70’s I was a loyal reader of Custom Car magazine for maybe 3 or 4 years.

    Of some relevance to the scene here, there used to be a monthly column from a fellow called Peter Stevens, at the time a lecturer at the Royal College of Arts. His articles would include beautiful line drawings illustrating his thoughts at the time.
    If I remember rightly, it was his drawing and colour scheme which prompted someone from down this way (Plymouth) to build the Kerb Krawler Vauxhall PB Cresta. Rover V8 powered, I think, it was finished in white with very vivid 2-tone orange stripes.

    Those were the days…..

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