On Wednesday, we looked back at the very first Road & Track magazine. It was an interesting start to a publication that later became an icon in its field, and if I can find the second volume, I’ll be having a look at that, too.
But in the meantime, I’m moving through a stack of Road & Track publications and came across the first two volumes in yet another innovation that they tried. Namely, a Road & Track Special entitled Exotic Cars.
Now, most people wouldn’t have given these mags a second glance if they’d encountered them in a used bookstore, but I have a history with them. Back when I was thirteen or so, and an avid R&T reader, I came across an edition of this special (I think it was number 8 in the series). To my teenage eye, it was to the regular magazine what the Big Mac is to a regular McDonald’s cheeseburger (I was going to make an analogy involving the Moulin Rouge and today’s adult film industry but I stopped myself because I don’t want to give too much away about my teenage years…).
It was an object of pure desire, mainly because it held absolutely no news about economy cars or stuff your mother might drive. It only held cars you lusted after, or utterly hated (continuing the Big Mac theme, those would be the pickles), gloriously photographed and described by people who, like yourself, couldn’t care less about the socially irresponsible message this kind of excess sent. In your world, cars that went a bazillion miles an hour and cost a bazillion dollars were perfect, and why such a miserable vehicle as the Toyota Tercel existed was a mystery.
Long story short, I bought the magazines, and a bunch of others which I might discuss some other time.
The first of these, released in 1983 was a very nice first effort and showed just how far R&T had come since its humble and unprofessional beginnings. 29 articles showcased 30 cars. Sure, there were a few road tests culled from the pages of the magazine itself, but, for the most part, the articles were pure celebration of exotics with gorgeous color photography (most of the regular magazine was black and white in 1983).
I’d give this one near top marks for a first effort, and apparently the market responded well, because a second volume was soon to follow:
This one landed on newsstands in 1984 and it was a mistake. A beautifully produced and probably successful mistake, but a mistake.
The reason it’s an error was that, being released a year after the first, the editors had little time to dig for new veins of exotica. Remember that, 35 years ago, you couldn’t go onto the internet to look up whether some little cottage industry in Denmark was building the vehicle you needed to beef up your magazine. Also, coming out of the fuel crisis, there were fewer companies building amazing cars.
So there’s repetition… a lot of repetition. Of the 27 cars featured in articles or road tests from the main magazine, fully 14 were either tests of the same car as one that had been featured in Volume 1 or slight variations (perhaps a convertible version or a model-year upgrade) of the same. Another couple were basically the same car with significant differences, so I didn’t count them.
To be fair, the editors seem to have realized this and created a segment about the carrozerias of the City of Turin, a nice little segment, but it wasn’t quite enough to mask the issue. They also dug up a couple of new cars and some stuff they’d neglected the first time around… but the sense of “I’ve seen this before” was predominant.
Now, I read these in the space of three or fur days, which is not the way they’re meant to be read. That year between editions should have been enough for people to forget what they’d read about where and make the content seem relatively fresh… but it didn’t hold up well over the years.
In spite of this, readers apparently enjoyed it and the series continued for several more years. I’ll return to the subject soon.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is Ice Station: Death. You can check it out here.