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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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?
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…