AHHH, the joys of going through the old magazine collection on a rainy, cold and miserable morning. I must admit that I’m a sucker for old What Car? magazines from the 1970s and ’80s, and love those old group shots of family cars, small hatchbacks – in fact, anything that isn’t supercar related. I’m not sure of the reason for this – perhaps its nostalgia for street furniture but, set in the correct context, and not the rose-tinted warm-fuzzy way that classic car magazines can lazily resort to. And, well, supercars are nice but, as we’re carpet bombed by the things, they can lose their special-ness. Well, for me, anyway.
The March 1980 issue of What Car? struck me sideways because, in the aftermath of the second oil crisis in 1979 and the reality of the £1 gallon, its editorial team realised that what its readers really found relevant was eking the most out of their petrol and buying a car that majored on fuel consumption. Admittedly, I was only ten years old at the time, but I do remember the hardship back then, and the reality of struggling to pay the bills.
Now we’re 28 years down the line, the situation is considerably different. We’ve lived through the boom years of the late-1980s and the mid-1990s and we’re all considerably better off. However, with the sudden and unwelcome chilling of the international financial markets and the drastic rise in fuel and food prices, we’re already beginning to re-shape our priorities.
The March 1980 issue of What Car? struck
me sideways because, in the aftermath of
the second oil crisis in 1979 and the reality
of the £1 gallon, its editorial team realised
that what its readers really found relevant
was eking the most out of their petrol.
There’s been a noticeable change in the way people are driving – stick it down any motorway these days and the sheer number of cars adhering to, or dipping below, the 70mph limit is a real eye-opener (in that Mk2 Cortina driven this week, I was one of the faster cars on the A14 and M11 – and I was driving at around 75mph) and, as for food, well just go into any of the big supermarkets and it seems that the value products are the ones that are now flying off the shelves.
Maybe things really are changing rapidly – and our priorities are shifting with them. Will fuel consumption become the new top speed and will we all be getting excited at the prospect of owning a car that can crack 40mpg in day-to-day running instead of the 150mph that we all used to crave a few months back? I certainly think so – my current motor, a Subaru Outback Boxer Diesel, doesn’t exactly have a large tank but still cost me £80 to brim the other day.
Leafing through the musty pages of that What Car? magazine is interesting because there are driving tips (‘go to work on an egg’), a Buyers’ Guide listing the most economical cars in each price sector (including the Vanden Plas 1500, which topped the £5000-£6000 category) as well as articles on the benefits of switching to LPG and how to use your trip computer effectively (the Talbot Horizon SX was the first European car to feature one as standard).
Interesting stuff, pretty relevant now. Which car magazine would be brave enough to run a similar front-end theme today?
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.