Car Magazine

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.

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.

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.

Another Trip Down Memory Lane

Reading these old Road & Tracks is about more than just the automotive history you absorb and the old races you relive. It’s also about remembering things that happened when you were young.

I’ve loved cars since I was old enough to remember. Some of my oldest toys in my parents’ house are old Matchbox cars (well, that and Star Wars figures… and people wonder why I came out how I did).

Even though I was alive (and able to walk) I can’t say I remember the races described in the magazines from the late seventies. The oldest races I remember watching date from around 1983. But I do remember the cars.

In fact, the earliest cars I remember our family having date from this era, a light blue Chevy Nova (brand new in 1979) and a used and yellow Gremlin X. The Gremlin, in particular, gets mentioned a lot by R&T since they were always in favor of small, efficient cars, and the Gremlin is much smaller than pretty much anything else Detroit was selling when it was launched.

But this month’s cover car hit much closer to home.

December 1977’s cover car, apart from the round US-Spec headlights, is one of the cars my family bought when we moved to Switzerland after three Gremlin-running years in the States. Of course it wasn’t called the 5000 there, but the Audi 100. And ours was a medium-dark grey metallic tone. But this is the car I recall from when I was six years old. And it’s on the cover of Road & Track. The other car my family bought after the move was a red Fiat Panda. A Fiat Panda will never, unless something truly unusual happens, appear on the cover of an enthusiasts magazine.

It’s a cool feeling, like having the table next to a celebrity in a restaurant. Vicarious notoriety. And they said nice things about it in the article.

But unless you’re a former Audi 100 / 5000 child, this issue will have little to recommend it. There are a couple of Grand Prix reports by Rob Walker and Innes Ireland (we’ll need to talk about Innes at some point) and quite a bit of other competition-related goodies, but the road-car side is mainly sedans, running the gamut from economy-minded imports to luxury Jaguars, but nothing too hugely exciting.

Still, I’m enjoying the chance to wallow in the seventies (not many of the 1970s ones left before the decade turns) and when the cover car is one I’ve ridden in so often, it’s even better.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a fast-paced romp through a monster-infested stretch of Russian countryside. Test Site Horror is available to purchase here.

Speed bumps Happen

Last week, we crowed that yes, the world of Road & Track had, in 1977 finally overcome the gloom and doom and regulatory nightmares that characterized the seventies and was moving into the glorious materialism of the eighties with gay abandon.

And then we hit a snag: the November 1977 issue of the magazine wasn’t quite up to the same standard as the previous ones. This one was–dare we say it?–a bit boring.

Now, if I know my readers, you’ll likely be grinning at this point and saying: “Of course it’s boring. You’re rereading 40-year-old car magazines. What do you expect? Scoops? Thrilling and unexpected news?”

Har, har. Apart from missing the point of why one rereads old car magazines (hint, for the same reason you read yet another history book about WWII or the Harlem Renaissance), there’s a specific reason this one is less interesting than the last few.

Fortunately, this reason actually doesn’t have to do with the regulatory situation or the fact that cars had gotten steadily worse in the early-to-mid seventies. In fact, the magazine, though not scintillating, is brimming with optimism (proving that, given half a chance, real engineers will defeat social engineers every time). It’s simply a matter of Road & Track having to give their readers information about cars they could actually buy after romps through nostalgia and supercars.

Even the cover car was not as fun as some recent ones. Though it was breathed-upon and expensive, it’s tough to get truly starry-eyed about a 1970s 3-series (even the turbo racers seem a little blah to me). Worse was within, with road tests and features about Beetles, the 1970s Dodge Challenger (not the car we think of when Challengers are mentioned, an Oldsmobile diesel, the 7 series Bimmer and front-wheel-drive. These made the mag a bit of a slog at times.

But R&T is always R&T, so the slightly dry parts get peppered with excellent complements. Three grands prix were covered here, an there’s a profile of new writer, Innes Ireland (he was writing half the Grand Prix reports when I started reading R&T in 1989) as well as a look at DeKon engineering. The Salon was a Bentley 8 Liter, in case the seventies trend for downsizing engines got you down. Oh, and the Renault F1 Turbo, the car that was to revolutionize the entire sport… even if no one suspected it yet.

In conclusion, and despite the trudging nature of some of the features, this one proves that, when the industry wasn’t being choked to death, Road & Track is a good read overall. Which is why, in a weirdly adapted form, it’s still alive today (maybe I can find a modern issue at some point to review and talk about the contrasts).

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest series is a monster romp in the traditional creature feature sense. The series starts with Ice Station: Death, which you can check out here, and continues to this day. A fourth book is planned for release in 2021.

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.