The two latest 1970s Road & Tracks I’ve read weren’t particularly memorable. They dealt mostly with road cars that anyone could afford, and even the Cosworth Vega motor featured on one of the covers was not enough to get my blood racing noticeably. The 12 small wagons on the other cover even less so (although, admittedly, the article about the wagons was quite good).
So I’d like to take a moment to talk about one of the characters on the pages of the magazine in this era, a man called Henry N. Manney III. Now, Manney died a few months before I picked up my first copy of R&T which meant that I never got to read one of his articles and he was also mentioned by the other writers as a bit of a legend.
Every car magazine has one of these, perhaps the most famous being Motorsport‘s Dennis Jenkinson, a madman who cut his teeth as the passenger on a sidecar and had a passion for speed that his peers just couldn’t match.
A sheer love of the subject like that shines through in the writing, and it’s a lucky magazine that has one of those guys who just shines above the subject matter. Road & Track actually has two in its history. We’ve spoken here of Peter Egan, but there is also Manney, and now I’m getting to know him better.
Manney was a man of his time. Very much in touch with the gestalt of his age, his writing reads like the dialogue from a 1970s cop film. And you can be certain that any opinion that would be considered controversial on minor things would come from Manney’s pen (on major things, the editor would be involved, which isn’t surprising considering that everyone who liked cars was at war with the Federal government in this particular era).
So, he would call a spade a spade, but he was always ready with a touch of humor and a different perspective, and always ready to jump into the breach and explore something offbeat. In the October 1973 edition, he was the one who wrote the test of the Vokswagen Thing (and called it, if painted beige with a palm tree a “do-it-yourself-Rommel-kit”).
I’ve always admired a sense of humor that isn’t constrained by society’s shock, so the final picture in that particular article of the two occupants pretending to be an Afrika Corps fire team (complete with goggles) tickled me, although I imagine Nazi imagery likely brought an angry letter or two (ideal to burn in winter in the fireplace).
Other stuff going on?
Well, the Federal government had to be wondering if it screwed up with the smog regulations (we know they did, but we have fifty years of hindsight, so it doesn’t count). The problem? Well, every car was wasting more fuel than before the regulations because the laws were hurried in by clueless legislators. That meant that cars worked worse and guzzled fuel (but emitted fewer NOx ppms). Unfortunately, there was a fuel shortage cause and exacerbated by this tendency.
Other things going on? Roger Penske. He has been a fixture in the world of motorsport since well before I was born, and is still the American colossus today. In fact, one of his cars won the 2019 Indy 500 (2020 is still, as of this writing, uncontested, scheduled for August). In 1973, he was already a magnate, owning a huge automotive empire which has only grown larger in time. It’s funny to think that an interviewee of a car mag in 1973 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2019, but Roger Penske is a remarkable human being.
So these are quite relevant to the modern world, which was a bit of a surprise.
Also, I wish I could buy a Kübelwagen here in Argentina. Those were awesome and Rommel, though fighting for the wrong side, is one of the soldiers I admire most.
I would probably refrain from trying to stage an Afrika Corps photo, though. Getting beaten to death by humorless onlookers is never fun.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is entitled Jungle Lab Terror. If you enjoy a romp in the jungle while pursued by genetically modified monsters, you might want to buy it here.