Mazda Takes Over

In the early 70s, Mazda was a bit of a curiosity because they were the company that bet earliest and most profoundly on the Wankel engine in the US.

Unfortunately for Mazda, the fuel crisis and the rotary’s reputation for thirst put a serious dent in Mazda’s mid-seventies plans, and the potential dried up for some time as Mazda regrouped and licked its wounds.

But by the end of the decade, the brains back in Japan had crafted a wonderful new strategy: use regular piston engines for the family-oriented cars like the 626 featured on the cover of Road & Track’s March ’79 issue, and use the rotary in the RX-7.

It worked brilliantly. The RX-7 sold like there was no tomorrow, and the 626 was very well received. Better still, the sports car was so good that, in the comparison test that headlined the April 1979 issue, the editorial choice (if not the numerical one) went overwhelmingly to Mazda – despite the presence of Porsche and Corvette, and the fact that the Mazda was considerably cheaper than all the other cars included.

The other notable feature of these two magazines is a huge profile of Mario Andretti right after he became World Champion (and a timely feature it was, too. I’d just been watching Mario holding court at the 2021 Indy 500 and looking incredibly fit and younger than his age).

Anyhow, as the 70s wind down and give way to the 80s, I suppose the cultural aspect of these magazines will gradually give way to purely automotive interest and maybe some memory jogging–I actually remember the 80s!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a creature feature entitled Test Site Horror. If you like fast-paced adventure in which special forces soldiers fight a running battle withe genetically engineered dinosaurs (and who doesn’t) then this one might be for you. You can check it out here.

I coulda been somebody, I coulda been a contender

I’m probably in a tiny minority (and ignorant, to boot), but I had no clue that the famous line in the title was from On the Waterfront. If pressed, I’d probably have ascribed it to Stallone in one of the Rocky films. As always when I stumble on the origin of something popularly well-known that I was clueless about, I wonder how many of my readers will be shaking their head and wondering how the heck I manage to survive.

Don’t feel bad. I do the same thing.

As for the film itself, it’s a masterpiece, something that, apparently, everyone knew except for me. It’s weird. Normally, if a major film is coming up on the list, I’ll likely have heard of it, even if I don’t exactly know what it’s about or who was in it.

But not this time. It was a complete blank, and I didn’t actually realize it was deeply embedded in the popular consciousness until I heard the phrase that titles this article. Only then did I realize what I’d been watching (apart from an enjoyable film with Marlon Brando in it.

This is the second Brando film on this list and, despite sharing star and director, it feels extremely different from A Streetcar named Desire. This one looks like a typical Hollywood film, while the earlier one felt like a play adapted to the screen… darkly. Aesthetically, Streetcar runs rings around this one, but the plot was much more interesting in Waterfront.

I would have loved to have seen how the five families reacted to this one in the day… but I suppose that information will forever remain off the record.

A cool thing about On the Waterfront is that I can give a shout out to two of its stars, still alive. The extremely alluring Eva Marie Saint and centenarian Nehemiah Persoff. If you’re reading this, hello, and thanks for the wonderful film!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans the genres from literary to science fiction. His crime thriller Timeless is a look at international smuggling in Eastern Europe from the eyes of a young American journalist who gets dragged into the darkest depths of the underworld. You can check it out here.

It’s good to see that even The New Yorker can suck

I’m not one for complaining about stuff you should expect. If you watch an old Western, you shouldn’t complain about a the fact that indians are pictured as the bad guys. That’s just how things were, and if you don’t want to see that, then don’t watch old westerns. Likewise, if you watch a Reifenstahl documentary, complaining that it’s full of Nazi imagery is just a bit stupid.

In much the same vein, if you don’t like a highly liberal (and progressive) viewpoint, don’t read The New Yorker.

So now I’m going to contradict myself and complain about The New Yorker from November 4, 2019 for being… you guessed it, excessively progressive.

Now, a bad New Yorker isn’t something I can just shrug off, mainly because I only get the magazine occasionally, as it doesn’t get delivered to Argentina (due to a combination of imbecilic protectionism, dishonest post office employees and mafia-like action by the newsstand owners union, getting foreign magazines here has become impossible). So I need to enjoy each one.

And I don’t mind the US-style progressive lean. I agree with some of it, disagree with other bits and don’t have a position on the rest. It isn’t like the editors are raving extremists with an axe to grind.

At least not normally. The first half of this issue made it seem like a reevaluation of my opinion might be needed. If you let yourself be guided by this issue, there are precisely two critical human questions in the world: gender and race.

While I agree that these are important questions -and they define some people’s lives – they are by no means exclusive, nor are they universally the most important. Other people might find other questions more significant, and that is as it should be. But this issue, explicitly (by speaking about the subjects) or implicitly (by focusing on diversity in the arts to the exclusion of anything non-diverse) ignores all the other important subjects.

This level of tunnel vision might be fine for certain types of publication with a specific political and propaganda focus (I’d never read that, even if the politics were precisely my own), but for The New Yorker, it’s utterly unforgivable. It’s supposed to be a journal catering to intelligent people with wide-ranging cultural interests, which means that this kind of narrow-mindedness is precisely what the readers would hate.

Fortunately, a little neutrality creeps in in the second half of the magazine (one specific article on cyber-security is very professional), and the article about Ukraine’s leader is pretty decent (even though, for marketing reasons, the title is a Trump bashing one).

But that’s not enough to save an issue that, in the future, will likely be pointed to as an example of what The New Yorker shouldn’t represent. We get it, Americans are obsessed about the culture wars. But TNY should be above that adolescent squabble and able to focus on everything truly important, not just what the college professors are getting their panties in a bunch about.

We expect more from them.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction is collected in a book of linked short stories entitled Love and Death (now THOSE are important subjects!). It follows the intertwined lives of several individuals across generations in the most important moments of their lives. You can check it out here.

The Weirdest Western: Johnny Guitar

When watching the 1001 movies list, it becomes obvious that some films are chosen specifically for their weirdness factor. Johnny Guitar is at the forefront of these… a western in which a couple of female gunslingers hate each other to the point of death while the men act like thinking adults in a reversal of the usual Hollywood trope. It’s memorable, but not necessarily successful as a film.

That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining. Though by no means a great film from any but a “diversity-first”, it’s still entertaining and tense, good enough to watch once without suffering through it. The action is well-paced, the villainess hateful (and believable) and the good guy utterly unremarkable. His laconic competence would have put even Shane to shame.

The thing that makes this movie watchable is that, despite the role reversal in which women play the part normally occupied by men in westerns, the movie isn’t about the role reversal per se, but about the utter hatred between two women. Unlike in Adam’s Rib, which was ruined by making the story about the role reversal, this one actually works as entertainment as opposed to eye-rolling political propaganda.

Audiences of the day apparently didn’t warm to this one, and it took a critical reevaluation for it to come into public notice, and I’m not surprised. More than the role reversal, I think it might be because the only truly likable character, Johnny Guitar himself, is not at the center of the conflict.

A final word about the reevaluation: like a lot of stuff being rescued from the trash heap of history lately, this one probably got reevaluated for the wrong reasons. Specifically, it is the only Western of the golden era in which the conflict is specifically between women. Does that make it worthy of canonization? Not in the least, but the reevaluators don’t care about that. Females in male roles are more important than ultimate quality when reevaluating for political reasons, and that is true in any genre… including film.

But don’t blame this one for the political excesses of modern fanatics. As a film, it’s decently entertaining and honest about what it wants to do. Both my wife and I enjoyed it, and we’re kind of reticent when it comes to westerns. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch (maybe just to say you’ve seen it), but don’t expect it to be Earth-shaking or significant. It isn’t.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is a nice walk in the Russian wilderness. Except is isn’t very nice because some nutball released genetically modified dinosaurs into the woods, making it necessary to be surrounded by special forces soldiers if you want to survive. It’s called Test Site Horror and you can check it out here.

A Nicely Balanced Collection of Horror

I expected the anthology entitled Revisiting the Undead to be exactly what it said on the cover: a collection of previously-published zombie/vampire/undead stories. But the very first story laid those suspicions to rest, as there was not one undead baddie in sight. Instead, we had a straight, creative horror story that seemed straight from the 1980’s canon (though it wasn’t).

That story served as a declaration of intent. Though undead beasties are in this book (my own story, “Bridge Over the Cunene” is one example), they most certainly haven’t pushed out other, equally rich, veins of horror.

The result is a book that is well-balanced and which continually refreshes itself with each new story. The reader ends up wondering what the next author is going to come up with, which is a very good thing to achieve in an antho.

My favorite was Bob Moore’s “They Restared the Mill at Killington”, which is a creepy sort of horror that doesn’t need monsters to be scary. A wonderful tale.

Even though its a reprint antho, I hadn’t read any of the stories previously, so these aren’t old horses half beaten to death. A good one for those who enjoy pretty much any brand of horror.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His most recent collection of horror and dark fantasy is entitled Pale Reflection, and you can check it out here.

b+b Scores Two Covers

German tuner / manufacturer b+b is an unlikely company to get two Road & Track covers in a short span of time. They weren’t actually consecutive, though I’m blogging them that way. It’s just that I have the October 1978 and January 1979 issues but am missing the November and December issues between them.

Perhaps late in the year other car companies had already done their major launches. Perhaps it was just a slow period. Perhaps those missing issues were full of major news. Whatever the reason, this must have been a huge boost for a comparatively tiny concern (normally, the smallest company to grace that cover would be something like Aston Martin).

Of the two b+b articles the one about the Cw311, a dream car that eventually became the Isdera Imperator, is much more interesting than the piece about modified 911s (even though the rainbow-decorated silver car must be the most 70s thing ever). If R&T‘s attention is anything to go by the , the Cw311 was taken very seriously in its day, with technical and styling analyses being done by the magazines.

Interestingly, the weirdness didn’t end with the Cw311 in the January issue – there was also a first drive of the Panther Six, a strange, expensive 6-wheeled folly. Perhaps the makers were inspired by the Tyrrells of the previous years.

Fun stuff here included the Salons, which, by now, were in the format I saw in my first R&T‘s: full color and a central spread of the car in question, the competition stories in which Michelin-shod Ferraris were taking on the might of Chapman’s wing-car 79s, as well as one of the most incredible articles to appear in R&T that I can recall: Phil Hill’s reminiscences of what Le Mans used to be like in his day, wonderfully illustrated by Ellen Griesedieck. A wonderful piece and the perfect segue to the coverage of 1978’s edition which followed.

And although the gloom, doom and regulatory stupidity of the early seventies appeared to have passed, it’s interesting to note that there was also a look at alternative engine designs in this day and age, too. The focus in the later seventies was on diesels and turbos… with more hope being placed on the former. Considering that the internal combustion Otto engine is still the best power plant design forty years later, one has to wonder about the energy expended by everyone in trying to dethrone it.

Interesting times.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a fast-paced forest romp liberally sprinkled with monsters and Russian Special Forces soldiers entitled Test Site Horror. You can check it out here.

Surreal Entertainment: Beat the Devil

I think the great thing about Beat the Devil for modern audiences is that we see Bogart, we see the seaside setting, and we think Casablanca. I, for one, didn’t realize it was a comedy until the characters had been set up straight… wherein we are treated to a series of surreal episodes verging almost on slapstick (albeit slapstick that depends more on the characters than on physical humor). Once you realize it’s funny, it’s too late: you’re on a slide down into the utter depths of screwball comedy. It’s awesome.

While it will never be my favorite Bogart flick it slots comfortably behind Casablanca, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon as the next best after those big four. And yet, I didn’t even know it was a Bogart until I saw his name on the opening credits.

That this film fell through the cracks can probably only be explained by the sense that humor isn’t serious… despite the evidence that many of the greatest pieces of cinematic (and other types) of art. Unfortunately, too many thought leaders are earnest, humorless blobs (that goes double if they practice any of the political -isms).

Simply put, this one is wonderful. It follows a group of criminals, contacts, penniless adventurers and unfaithful wives as they attempt to make their way from Italy to Africa on what has to be the worst-run ship in the whole Mediterranean Sea.

Hijinks ensue, and there isn’t a single moment of slow-paced boredom or simple ennui. Even the one attempted murder is fraught with hilarity.

I could give away the entire plot of this one without diminishing the enjoyment, and I suppose Capote’s screenplay is largely to blame. It’s acidic, sardonic, jaded and brilliant.

Find this one, watch it, and revel in the knowledge that Gina Lollobrigida is still with us today.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose own crime novel isn’t as funny as this, but it’s a hell of a lot sexier (despite not having Miss Lollobrigida in it). It’s called Timeless, and you can check it out here.

Old Motor: Cardigan, Pipe, Comfortable Chair Facing a Garden

What is it about English writing from before the eighties that immediately makes you want to sit in a comfortable leather chair in a study and look out the window. Or, if none of that is available, make you feel like you’re doing it anyway?

I don’t know, but I love the feeling, and, except for certain attempts at literary fiction, it almost always works, whether the book be a mystery classic, a travel book or, as in this case, a classic car magazine.

Now, Old Motor is not a magazine that I would normally have purchased, as I’m currently completing collections of publications that existed when I was actively buying new magazines (remember when magazines were better than the internet… well, they still are, but no one seems to care). Old Motor died in March, 1982, when I was 7 and not buying much more than Legos my parents would get me.

But, there’s a motive to my madness (apart from the fact that I love old car magazines), and that reason is that Old Motor is nothing less than the precursor to Classic & Sportscar, which is probably my favorite magazine ever. So if I want to complete the C&SCs, I need to go back in time and get the Old Motors.

And man, am I glad of that. The first issue (January 1963) is a wonder that deserves to be immortalized for several reasons. Perhaps the most interesting is that the magazine features vehicles that I’d never heard of (in 1963 most of the articles dealt with prewar vehicles). Have you heard of the Sloane or the Gilchrist? I hadn’t.

Better still, it’s a mag that allows you to slow the pace, and brings on that timeless feeling that the Empire is still around and life will continue as it always has, interrupted only by an occasional tea. It’s not a long issue, but it allows you to lose track of time and not be entirely certain whether it’s 1850 (although cars as we know them hadn’t been invented then) or 1950. My own sense was probably that it was 1912.

Many readers won’t find that feeling seductive, and I guess that’s fine. But I love it. One of the reasons I read is to feel a connection with the past, in different cultures. And it usually works but, for some reason, that immortal, timeless England seems to be the best world to connect to. So civilized, so pleasant, so unhurried. (I always recommend The Remains of the Day to anyone who wants to understand it, even though the book itself is at once paean and critique). The first half of Brideshead Revisited works, too. Or anything by Wodehouse. Such a wonderful world.

And now, I can add Old Motor to the list of things that transport me there. I need to get on ebay and track down the second issue!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who aims to transport people to places far from their everyday reality. Nowhere is this penchant more evident than in his collection Off the Beaten Path, which takes the reader far from the usual North American and European setting – while still celebrating our common humanity. You can check it out here.

A Quantum Leap in the Second Issue

While it might seem that Road & Track is the only car magazine I read (and the only one I could possibly have time for reading) that isn’t the case. In fact, I read a reasonable stable of car mags of which Classic & Sportscar is another major component of my library which I need to complete back issues of.

Last time I wrote about these guys, it was to talk of the very first issue, and now I’ve read the second (which was beautiful to me because the MGA is probably one of my favorite cars of all time).

My first impression on this one is that it’s markedly better than the first issue. This is kind of weird because the editors had already accumulated twenty years experience in editing Old Motor, so the growing pains should have been less evident in the first issue.

For whatever reason, this one is smoother, better-looking and easier to read than the April 1982 edition. And since the first one was pretty good, this one goes a certain way towards attaining the sheer joy that C&SC has always been for me. Simply stated, you can tell that this was going to become a wonderful magazine in the May edition. Even a comparison of the covers shows progress in cleaning and improving the look.

As for the content, the MGA is an inspired lead, and then we have an article about Abarth and a longish piece on the 1906 GP Renault, which is very welcome. Even the Countach on the cover wasn’t a bad article (of course, I like reading about cars, so I may be tremendously biased!).

Anyhow, my quest to complete my collection continues apace, and this was an enjoyable stop along the way.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans several genres. His well-received science fiction novel Outside is going to get a sequel late in 2021… so don’t you think you should read the original? You can check it out here.

Familiarity Breeds Happiness

By the summer of 1978, Road & Track was featuring the cars I remember as the ones I loved as a young car nut in the eighties (apart from the ones my family actually owned). These were the ones I could see on the street and the ones that caused me to love cars to this very day.

For example, as kids, we would say to each other: “I saw an MG on the road,” and everyone would immediately know we were referring to a rubber-bumpered MGB. My six-year-old self would never have been able to recognize any other vehicle wearing the octagon badge. The same way, a triumph was a TR7, while a Ferrari was a swoopy wedge (I couldn’t really tell the difference between a 308 (as on the July 1978 cover) and a 512 at the time, and didn’t care – they were both wonderful) or a formula one car.

And Mustangs, a little later in my youth, when I moved from Europe to the US, looked like the car on the August cover. To me, these will always be 1980s cars as opposed to cars of the 70s, even if I know, intellectually, that they aren’t.

In addition, this is the magazine era that got mined for Top Trump cards and their South American knockoffs (which I would purchase whenever I was down in Argentina visiting family).

So, while I didn’t really enjoy the early seventies R&Ts, except for the sport part (the fuel crisis, smog rules and the safety legislation made every mag depressing as we watched awesome cars simply disappear – the social engineers scoring a knockout victory against anyone who simply loved life), these are comforting and hopeful, and I get lost in them without effort. There’s nothing specifically magical about these two in particular (although the Salon of the Renault AX is lovely), but I’m enjoying the transition to the eighties enormously.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is entitled Test Site horror. It’s a romp in the Ural mountains, chased by genetically modified dinosaurs. You can check it out here.