automobiles

Welcome to the 1980s – Everyone’s Favorite Bad Hair Decade

I’m pretty sure that everyone who loves cars or freedom will have breathed a huge sigh of relief when December 31, 1979 rolled into January 1, 1980. The decade of ignorant knee-jerk overregulation was over. Sure, the regulation was still on the books but engineers are smarter than regulators, so now that the frenzy was past, they could start making cars better and faster again.

(Ironically, the July 1980 cover below proves that they didn’t always get it right, and few wheeled objects have ever been as ugly as the Aston Martin Bulldog).

Fittingly, April 1980 Road & Track had a huge article describing the evolution of the 1970s emissions and safety regs. The irony was that they still didn’t know that the regs forced in during the 70s were going to destroy the US car industry while simultaneously making the emissions of greenhouse gases much worse than they would have been otherwise (CO2 was not identified as problematic until later). This one made for really interesting reading, as it showed how government can be easily prodded by a few motivated bureaucrats looking to extend their own power, guided by a few special interest groups (any resemblance to today’s world is not coincidental).

The other memorable article was a Henry Manney piece about a Land Speed Record attempt by a Budweiser-sponsored jet car. Entertaining stuff.

The July issue was the one with the Bulldog… and despite the awfulness of the cover car, this was a good issue. Plenty of racing and vintage stuff to balance out the industry news and road tests. Best article, though, had to be the story by Rob Walker talking about the cars and motorcycles he had in the war years, in between doing some truly dangerous stuff. Seeing the way he glosses over his war activities makes you realize why no one was too concerned about the dangers of auto racing in the postwar era: these were men who’d been exposed to much greater risks than just the chance of wrapping your Ferrari around a tree at the Ring.

On a sad note, the Grand Prix coverage showed us the end of Clay Regazzoni’s career, as this includes the Long Beach GP where he was paralyzed. This was a driver that was with us all through the 1970s, and we’ll miss him going forward (weirdly, he was killed in a road crash in 2006 while driving at a considerably slower speed than the crash he survived in 1980).

Anyway, we’re well into the 80s now, and enjoying it. Any moment now, Reagan will be elected, MTV will launch, Miami Vice will go on the air, and we’ll have the true power of that decade giving rise to bewinged Lamborghini Countachs and stockbrokers driving Porsche’s looking to kick some commie butt. While good taste was only marginally more present than in the awful 1970s, at least the bad taste was brash and in your face, with no pretense or toleration for do-goody activism. And though we thought it was all in awful taste back then, a little bit of that attitude would make today’s world a much more interesting place, because we’ve gone completely off the other end… and it’s just as bad, if not worse.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is called Lost Island Rampage. And just like it says on the tin, it’s about a tropical paradise infested with monsters. Even the waters around them are infested with monsters… so you have to survive the sea gauntlet if you want the land monsters to kill you. You can check it out here.

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.

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.

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.

Immortal Silliness, R&T Style

Every year, Road & Track does (or did, I don’t know because haven’t read a recent Road & Track in ages. I have a couple from last year in my enormous TBR Pile, so I’ll let you know how it looks) something called an April Fool’s test.

These tests mostly take the form of putting an utterly bonkers vehicle through the regular road test procedure. Since all the equipment, data tables, etc. are aimed at cars, the whole thing is farcial and the attempts to make things fit intentionally comedic. Subjects over the years have included parade floats, a dog sled team, the Queen Mary, and the Concorde.

The April 1978 issue was no exception, but this one was one of those I’d never seen but already knew about.

In order to understand that last sentence, you first need to realize that I’m not a lunatic (you regular readers int he back row need to stop sniggering, please). I don’t go around the internet investigating stuff that I might have missed from forty-year-old magazines (not even forty year old Playboy magazines). That’s not why I know about this one. The thing is that the editors of Road & Track would often write about the history of their own publication, particularly in the myriad anniversary issues.

Unsurprisingly, the April Fools tests were some of the most fondly remembered, and they talked about the great ones from the seventies as a matter of course.

And this one was particularly oft-cited, probably because it involved several staffers riding motorized skateboards. Henry N. Manney III was the star of the show–as was his wont with this kind of thing in the 1970s, and the picture of the man himself riding the thing wearing armor was an image we grew accustomed to seeing every few years. So finally reading the article was fun.

Other than that, this one bucked the trend for a few too many family cars in the issue and was a fast, fun red with a lot of competition stuff, a decent Salon and the Porsche 928 which was a great car (though it never replaced the 911 as planned) on the cover. The late seventies, apparently, were a good time to be alive.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His latest novel is a fast-paced romp through the Ural mountains, chased by dinosaurs. You can check it out here.

Innes Ireland, A Man From When Racers Were Tough

One of the things that always typified Road & Track was that its pages have always been full of characters. My favorite of R&T‘s writers is the incredibly talented Peter Egan, but there are others who’ve made the pages of the magazine colorful (for example Henry N Manney III) and dignified (mainly Rob Walker).

A third great began to appear in late 1977 and early 1978: Innes Ireland.

In the February 1978 issue of the magazine, the Japanese Grand Prix report capping the 1977 season was penned by Ireland as opposed to Walker. Why? Well, it seemed that two factors were in play. The first was that, with the increasing number of races in the Formula One calendar, Walker’s own packed schedule made it increasingly difficult for him to attend them all.

But there’s another reason, and that was the reason Innes was originally contacted: with the decision of the organizers not to hold the German Grand Prix on the glorious, difficult and, yes, dangerous Nürburgring circuit, Walker, who was a true sportsman, refused to cover the emasculated race at Hockenheim. Enter Ireland.

(Just an aside to say that I absolutely agree with Walker on this one. If a racing circuit is dangerous, you either accept the danger–slow drivers lose their ride very quickly–or find another pastime. Crochet is pleasant, I hear)

And I’d assume that Ireland also tended to agree, but the gig writing for R&T kept him from being a fanatic about it (Walker could afford not to write for magazines – he was heir to the Johnnie Walker empire). Why would he agree? Simple, even in his era (1950s and 60s), which was a dangerous, rough-and-tumble time to be a race car driver, Ireland was a breed apart. He drove for Colin Chapman’s Lotus team in the days when wheels were falling off and drivers were dying in Lotuses (Loti?) in considerable numbers. He will always be remembered for being the man who won the factory team’s first F1 race.

Of course, having been a paratrooper during the war, he probably thought that the danger in a mere race car was laughable. (“This is boring mates, we should spice it up. How about having the organizers lob mortar shells at the leaders entering turn three?”)

And he was an opinionated writer, too, letting you know when someone was utterly slow or when a car didn’t belong on the track with the rest of them. He’d been there. He’d done it. And he could tell the men from the boys and the real thing from the pretenders. I often wonder what he’d think of today’s bunch of whiners.

He’d like Kimi, that’s for sure.

The rest of the issue was standard fare for the day. Getting better than what the early seventies showed, but it’s tough to get overly excited about a mag that features four mid-price coupes on the cover (the 1970s weren’t a good era for mid-priced coupes. The same test in 2000 would have featured stuff that could outrun race cars). They also had a long term test wrap-up of the Renault 5 (called Le Car in the US, for that authentic 70s vibe). I like the 5, but it’s anything but exciting (well, except for the rabid rally cars, but this wasn’t one of those).

Still, incrementally, the magazine was getting more and more modern-feeling.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is a monster-filled romp through the Russian countryside… with special forces soldiers of which Innes Ireland would probably have approved, too. You can check it out right here.

We can Confirm the Trend Towards Improvement

Last Monday we wondered whether the August 1977 issue of Road & Track was better because it simply collected a few good things in one issue or whether we were seeing the beginning of a trend. Well, if the October issue was anything to go by, it’s definitely a trend.

This is nearly the perfect issue for someone like me. It contains several competition pieces, including a couple of Grands Prix, the annual Le Mans report (Le Mans is my favorite race ever) and even a test of the Mirage GR8, which was a fun car to see tested.

Road cars were good, too. The car that later became known as the BMW M1 graced the cover. Interestingly, the styling was panned in its day, but this is one of the seventies supercars that I would love to have as a daily driver today. It has, to my eye, aged very well.

That reflection brings us (perhaps too neatly) to something that happened in the 1970s that bucked the automotive trend. While we’ve gone on and on and ON about the grimness of the decade for lovers of cars and personal freedom (remember, this was the age where the government decided that everything had to be regulated even if the people were dead set against it… and they went at it with typical bureaucratic glee and cluelessness), we haven’t really spoken about the one shining light in the era: the birth of the Supercar.

Yes, I know the first supercar, the Miura, was from the sixties, but it wasn’t until the seventies that everyone got aboard, to the point that even serious-minded BMW had a mid-engined vehicle in its lineup. This is a wonderful era that gave us, apart from the M1, the Countach, the Berlinetta Boxer, several mid-engined Maseratis. Even junior supercars such as the Esprit, the M1 or the Porsche 911 Turbo were more exciting than anything most drivers had seen before.

Why did this happen in the middle of an outbreak of nanny-state awfulness? Well, probably because the well-heeled, seeing life become so dull under the new regulations wanted to rebel, to make a bold statement that they, at least, were not following the sheep.

In fact, the 1970s supercars could be seen as the preview of the entire decade of the eighties, were individualism again came to the forefront and the greyness of conformity was soundly denounced by everyone from Madonna to the stockbroker next door.

And, in 1977, the eighties were just around the corner.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work has been published all over the place and translated into eight languages. His latest collection is called Pale Reflection and looks at the darker side of fantasy lore. You can check it out here.

The Best of the Seventies? Or a Trend Toward Improvement?

When I read the August 1977 issue of Road & Track, I was surprised to realize how quickly I finished it. At first, I simply thought that might be due to the fact that I’d recently read the mammoth 30th anniversary edition, but soon came to realize that this particular issue is just that good.

The reasons for this are myriad, but I think the most important is that we’re in the late 1970s… and that means that the worst of the decade with regards to legislation and cars becoming utter crap was past. The eighties, a spectacular decade for cars, were just around the corner. In addition to the gloom starting to life, the eighties idiom is one I’m more comfortable with because that’s when I started reading the magazine, so maybe some of that familiarity made this one a breeze.

But mainly, I think the content was responsible. And it starts with a Ferrari show car on the cover. When your idea of fun is to take a styling exercise capable of outrunning everything else on the road and drive it on public streets, it kinda sets the tone for the rest of the publication.

And it actually does work out that way. There isn’t a single boring feature in the entire magazine. No road test of slow family sedans. No technical analysis of tires we can no longer buy. Just performance cars and race reports. The perfect car magazine.

So, we’ll see if this renaissance continues. Stay tuned.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is an action-packed romp through the Russian countryside while being chased by genetically-modified dinosaurs. And that’s not even hyperbole… it’s the description of the book. You can check out Test Site Horror here.

Back to the Future is Just the Tip of the Iceberg Here

If you like to cinematic ties to your car magazine reading, but are into classic cinema more than the modern Rush, then the July 1977 issue of Road & Track is the one for you.

Starting with the obvious, that prototype of the forthcoming DeLorean immediately makes everyone think of Back to the Future, and makes me wonder if any car has ever been so unbreakably linked to a film as that one. Even people who were much too young to remember the eighties know this, and the young SF fandom still connects (there was a Back to the Future-style DeLorean in the dealers room of the 2019 WorldCon, and still attracting crowds).

But it didn’t end there… and remember that when this issue was printed, Marty McFly was a decade in the future. There were other Hollywood links in this one. Actually appearing earlier in the magazine than the cover story, there was a road test of the Lotus Esprit, James Bond’s ride in The Spy Who Loved Me. You know the one–it’s white and jumps off a pier where it becomes a submarine. The magazine even features an articla about how they made the film and how they built the sub.

The best of the film links, at least from the Classically Educated perspective, is the fact that the Salon story (about an older car) deal with the Napier Railton. Now, most of my readers who aren’t serious car buffs will never have heard of this aero-engined beast, but it’s the car that appeared, suitably disguised, as the record-breaker in the wonderful film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, which we reviewed here.

So, film star cars, in all their glory.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina whose latest book is a fast-paced monster adventure entitled Test Site Horror. You can check it out here.