cars

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.

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.

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.

The Immortal Towns Lagonda

Back when I was a kid, I played with the local version of Top Trumps (I have a feeling my American readers will have no clue what that is. All I can say is google it). One of the cars included (this was in the eighties) was the Aston Martin Lagonda. It was a crap card to have when playing, as that deck was full of Ferraris and Lamborghinis that would kick its ass. So I always assumed it was a terrible car.

Only years later did I come to appreciate the pure seventies style and class the car exudes. Even today, rolling up in one of these will pick you out as a man of wealth and taste, someone who knows that Ferraris are only for carving up back roads, Lambos are for rich butchers or soccer players–they reek ghetto taste–Rolls Royces are a cliche and anything else is just for the poor. The fact that few people will know what it is is just a bonus.

This misunderstood machine made R&T’s cover in April 1977, and it looks wonderful.

But this issue wasn’t just about a single Rolls-Royce competitor. It also heralds the welcome start of coverage of the 1977 motor racing season, has a wonderful Bugatti Salon and even a feature on model cars.

Most interesting to me is a piece that I thought was non-fiction but was actually a well-disguised piece of short fiction that fit the style and beats of the magazine perfectly enough that I only realized it wasn’t journalism a fe paragraphs from the end. This piece was Miss Deborah’s Rolls by John Lamm (Lamm was a longtime editor of R&T, which added to the illusion). Back then, R&T would sometimes run these adjacent pieces, and they were always decent.

The other thing that comes to light is that automotive engineers were beginning to get a handle on the raft of regulations so haphazardly introduced in the 1970s. Car designers are smarter than politicians, of course, but the sheer moronic shortsightedness of the way smog and safety rules were imposed in the mid-70s had them on the ropes for a few years. But there’s just too much engineering talent in auto manufacturers to be able to knock them out.

So an eclectic, entertaining mix of stuff here, mixed with some hope. The eighties, a much better decade for cars (and music, of course), was just around the corner, and you can feel it here.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is entitled Test Site Horror, and shows a Russian special forces unit desperately fighting an invasion of genetically-built dinosaurs (and other monsters). Action packed and fun, it’s a perfect read if you enjoy being entertained. You can check it out here.

Timelessness, Thy Name is Classic and Sportscar

As you already know, I read old car magazines and write about them here when not complaining about the writing world or reviewing SF and Fantasy (and other) books. Each magazine has a personal style, a feeling you get when reading the thing.

So when I picked up the very first issue of Classic and Sportscar (it was originally published as Old Motor, and I hope to review some of those magazines in the future, too), I expected the April 1982 Edition to continue some of the trends I love from the modern editions of this magazine, namely spectacularly clean design, tight editing and a wonderful, lush feel – I honestly believe the modern C&SC is the world’s most beautiful and luxurious magazine.

I was quite surprised to find that wasn’t the case in April 1982. The first thing that jumps out is that there is a lot less color than in the spectacular modern editions, but I suppose in the austere conditions in England in the early ’80s, you couldn’t expect much. The editing was… let’s just say I spotted a few errors that would not be there today.

But it still felt like C&SC. The quirkiness of the writing was evident (perhaps even moreso than today… it’s a sad state of affairs when British eccentricity begins to fall by the wayside), of course, but that wasn’t it. Only as I sat down to write this piece did I realize what it is: updated with color pics and better design, the entire issue, except for the time-based club events pages, could be published today and no one would be the wiser. Just update the values and the names of the specialists that deal with keeping each kind of car on the road and presto, a 2021 edition of C&SC.

This is amazing to me, immersed as I’ve been in the perusal of old Road & Tracks. The American mags just ooze seventies (I wanted to say charm, but the seventies had no charm) essence while this magazine is timeless. The subject matter helps, of course: classic cars are not built in the period in which they are written about, so it should make little difference if you’re writing in 1982 or 2002 or 2022.

But that’s not all. It’s a question of the culture outside the magazine permeating into the writing of one while being blocked from the other. The writing, the colors, the ads are all less period-influenced in the British mag than they are in the US one. In C&SC‘s case, even the ads seem a little less period garish (one of the wonders of old R&Ts are the cigarette ads, so 70s it hurts).

That’s a pretty special quality, and a key ingredient for one of the world’s best magazines. In fact all the ingredients were there… the overall quality just needed to be tweaked a little to achieve the spectacular results you can find on the newsstand today.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a monster novel entitled Test Site Horror. If international intrigue, nonstop action and genetically-modified creatures are something you enjoy, then by all means check it out, here.

Hearing the Footsteps: Japanese Cars Poised to Take Over the US

Road & Track has always been a magazine for enthusiasts. That means it focuses mostly on cars people who like to drive would find interesting. There are certain corollaries to that, one of them being that the cars they write about might not be large-volume items (the cover of the July 1976 issue below is a good example… very few people buy two-door sports cars). So I’m assuming, with the aid of being more than forty years in the future, that Detroit wasn’t paying too much attention to what Road & Track was telling them.

That was a mistake.

You see, in the mid-1970s one of the thing that R&T found interesting were small cars with good fuel economy, forward-looking engineering and fun handling (to be fair, everything was fun compared to most of the American cars on the road back then).

Detroit, of course, believed that some small cars would be sold, but that people still wanted slightly larger cars. Again, a mistake.

All you need to see the writing on the wall is to read the caption above the picture of the first Honda Accors sold in America. It simply asks: Best Buy in the US?

Though I’ll be the first to admit that, as a child in the early 1980s, I found accords and other Japanese cars to be kind of crappy (but then again, I loved the TR7 as a child, so I might be a bad benchmark. Plus, my dad drove Audis, so my tastes were skewed in that direction), but that was likely because I didn’t have to buy or drive my own cars back then. The truth was that, when each Accord was built, it was better than anything in its price class, and better than a lot of cars more expensive that it was, too. And better than a lot of bigger cars.

That last sentence is what ended up transforming Detroit’s Big Three from a dominant force to just another group of companies competing for the automotive market in the US. Detroit’s big cars just weren’t as good as Japan’s compacts. And they were more expensive, guzzled gas and took up more space.

Worse still, it wasn’t just Honda. Toyota and Nissan were on the same path, and even Mazda was involved in the invasion.

As an exercise to the reader, have a look at the two covers pictured. Count how many references to American cars are made, and how many to foreign ones.

As a final data point, I’ll reveal that the American cars are only there because of two recent racing conversions made of those cars. Very cool stuff, but not exactly the kind of thing you can sell in the millions of units.

If you ever wondered why the US auto market no longer belongs to Ford, GM and Chrysler (and why Chrysler now belongs to Fiat), you have your answer in these two covers. This is where it all started.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans genres from highbrow literary to creature feature. His latest book is a monster novel entitled Test Site Horror, which follows the adventures of a Russian Special Forces soldier as he tries to keep his team and the civilians in his charge from getting killed by genetically-modified dinosaurs. What’s not to like? You can check it out here.

The Year of Rush

It’s not often that anything I write about outside the 1001 movies list has wide appeal, much less is something related to a blockbuster movie. But now that I’ve gotten to the 1976 Road & Tracks, I can finally link it to a big film.

You see, 1976 was the year of Rush.

So, it’s fitting that the May 1976 edition has a cover photo showing a Ferrari Formula One car, if not the one that Lauda drove in ’76, at least one that he’d driven earlier. Of course, the race coverage in this one and the June 1976 edition had no idea of the drama that was about to unfold during the season, and Rob Walker limited himself to noting how well the Ferrari steamroller, world champions in ’75 were performing in the new season.

Aligned with the Rush theme of hedonism, the joy of living and the acceptance as risk as a part of life, the June issue was full of convertibles, which is R&T’s way of thumbing its nose at the social engineers of the day, as convertibles were disappearing because many considered them unsafe. Fortunately, the misguided jackasses trying to save us from ourselves didn’t win that battle – you can still buy a convertible in a showroom today.

And the more I spend time in the 70s with these mags, the more I realize that people in that decade were much more concerned with having fun than we are. Now before you tell me that the economy today and yadda yadda yadda, remember that the 1970s were a time of rampant inflation and economic woe (and stupid legislation like the 55 mph speed limit). And yet people were out to enjoy life.

You can see it in the race reports, in the way cars were styled and in the irreverent tone of some of the articles, but mostly, you can see it in the ads. This was a time before people were supposed to hide their preferences, before the mass oppression of society got into everyone’s life. So yeah, cigarette ads on every other page showing people outdoors or living risky lifestyles (race drivers, hang gliding). Bikini-clad models selling carpets, ads for catamarans, weird Dodge Van customizing kits for sale from Dodge itself. Everyone wore bushy mustaches.

Even if the mustaches aren’t your thing, you end up with an image of the seventies being a hedonistic age, and like all hedonistic ages, a good one. It’s hard for me to say this, as I’ve always thought it was a decade that should have been erased from history (and disco, hedonistic or not, definitely should be deleted from the record forever), but I’ve come to understand that the people from back then could teach our dour, moralistic society a thing or two about relaxing and just having a good time.

That sociological trip through the decade might be the best part of reading these old magazines… even though I also love the car stuff.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is entitled Test Site Horror. It follows a Russian Special Forces soldier trying to keep an alluring journalist alive after she bites off a story much too big to chew. Fast-paced and exciting, you can check it out here.

Scale Auto Again

A year ago, I looked at the scale model hobby in general, via (as usual) a look at a publication in the field. Seeing how many car magazines I read, you should probably not be surprised that the main magazine for my own modeling is Scale Auto Modeler (even though I do sometimes build planes, just because I like planes).

The June 2019 issue of the magazine is a special one because it’s an anniversary edition in which the editors look at models with a 1979 (year of the first issue) theme. This, of course, is fun, and it’s something one can do with the basic kits (as seen on the jeep on the cover) that depict cars that existed in that year, or go a little more advanced and modify a kit of a different car year to make it appear like a car from 1979 (as the Corvette conversion in there).

My favorite part of scale modeler is actually a column that appears every month entitled “bench Racer” in which a specific race car is built from components meant to either build a different version of a similar car, or a slot car body or something completely different. In this particular issue, we get part 1 of a conversion of a ford into an SS1100 jaguar racer… which is interesting indeed.

The other part I love is the contest section where photos of kits presented at different contests are showcased. Again, this is specific to me, as I don’t necessarily build kits to obsess over details and expand my knowledge of swear words in every language (although building them allows one to do both) but to look at them once done. The contest page allows me to look at pretty kits that other people have gone nuts over.

So reading one of these is a lovely break from more weighty literature… even if it does cause one to suddenly need to find one’s kit in progress and try to advance, thereby learning new Anglo Saxon words when balked…

Still enjoyed it, though.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose collection Pale Reflection might be the ideal introduction to his writing. It’s both idea- and character-driven and explores the similarities between people that can only be seen when they get into weird situations. You can check it out here.

Little and Large R&Ts

The January and April 1976 issues of Road & Track are a study in contrasts, with March being a slimline one of just 111 pages and April being a big block of a magazine of 152. It may not seem like much of a difference, but you can definitely feel the heft of one and the insubstantiality of the other.

The differences don’t end in size, though. There’s also the question of what that extra bulk is used for in the April edition… notably a massive tire test in the tradition of the October 1974 shock absorber test we ignored when we reviewed that issue. That made up quite a few of the extra pages, with some more coming from the April Fool’s test, a Road & Track tradition in which they test some utterly inappropriate vehicle in a tongue-in-cheek way. They’ve done the Queen Mary, the Concorde, etc., but this time it was more prosaic. They simply did a slightly satirical Road Test of a Lincoln limo. Of course, it could only have been written by R&Ts resident wit, Henry N. Manney III.

Other notable features of these two are the fact that the Salon article (the Salon is a traditional feature of this magazine which showcases a classic car) was the first I’ve seen which had the format I fell in love with in the 1980s and 1990s – a full-color article highlighted by a double-page photo. Running into that made me very happy.

The other major thing going on was the runup to the first Long Beach Formula One Grand Prix. First, they ran an F5000 race (article by that man Manney, again) which, being a rousing success, paved the way for the full grand prix cars to come later. It’s a major item as they became one of the few countries to hold two Grands Prix in the same year.

Of course, there are more similarities than differences – both are 1970s R&Ts after all, but it was interesting to note the differences. I’ll keep everyone posted as to how things go in the rest of the 1970s. I know you’re all sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for this…

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and shorts story writer whose latest book is a creature feature entitled Test Site Horror which, as the title gently hints, is about bad things happening where people played with the wrong kind of experiments. Some of the bad things happen to bad people, some to good people, and most involve large monsters. It that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can check it out here.

This is where I came in

December 1975. A good month, if only because I was born in it (well, a good month for me, anyhow). Of course, the December 1975 issue of R&T was probably not published in December, landing on newsstands sometime in November, and it certainly didn’t report stuff happening in December. But it’s still, to a certain degree, “my” issue.

Starts off with a good cover for me. No econoboxes on my month, but no overly ostentatious exotica, either. Just a weird, one-of-a-kind concept car that was too strange to build more of. Sounds about right to represent me, so I’ll leave off the analysis and dive into the mag.

As an old-car enthusiast, I found the article on the 25th Anniversary of the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance to be a wonderful piece, especially since it speaks to the origins of the concours which is still going on 45 years later. Delightful.

The rest of the issue also worked for me, as Road & Track went the interesting cars route for this issue, eschewing the more mundane stuff your neighbor was driving in ’75. So Alfas and Maseratis and Porsches (lots of Porsches) instead of Fords and Cadillacs.

A side note when talking about the competition pieces is that this is the issue where R&T reported the death of Mark Donohue. If this hadn’t been the December issue, this post would have dealt entirely with Donohue, who was truly a one-of-a-kind driver. He raced, retired and was miserable out of the cockpit, so he returned and was killed in an F1 practice. Knowing just how bad his life was without racing, maybe it was for the best… but the sport lost a beloved ambassador and a man equally at home developing race cars as driving them. The hole he left is still felt today.

Other than that, the racing coverage was amazing, which ended up making me think that the good folks at R&T built it especially for me.

They didn’t, of course, but who’s going to take away a newborn baby’s fantasy?

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a fast-paced action adventure romp with genetically modified monsters. Fun from page one. You can check it out here.