Henry N. Manney III

Road & Track’s 30th Anniversary

A couple of years ago, I read the very first issue of Road & Track (as it was then called, without the ampersand): June 1947. Now, in my pile of 1970s and 1980s issues, I’ve reached the June 1977 edition.

No mathematical genius is required to realize that June 1977 is the magazine’s 30th anniversary issue and, as such, it’s quite an important one. As the sticker on the cover above illustrates, it was the magazine’s largest issue ever to that date (for all I know, it may still be the largest ever). It even had that original 1947 issue bound in.

Of course, I bought R&T every month from 1989 to the mid 2010s, so I’d seen quite a few anniversary issues in my time. They are wonderful, nostalgic things which universally highlight the best of R&T‘s history as well as including some new stuff.

The best part of this is that R&T was, until recently, a magazine that gave space on its pages to quirky writing. In later years it was Peter Egan who carried that banner, but before that, Henry N. Manney III was the idol of the noncomforming multitudes. In the late 70s, his output seemed to be winding down, but the history was there to mine.

This issue was similar to the ones I’d seen, but even better in some ways as many of the early players were still alive. John and Elaine Bond, the publishers who saved the struggling magazine in its early days and turned it into the world’s foremost car mag, were not only alive, but only recently retired and willing to talk about the olden days.

Modern news was a little less pleasant than the reminiscences, as the report on the 1977 South African Grand Prix not only touched on the death of Tom Price in the race but also commented that Carlos Pace had been killed in a light aircraft accident a couple of weeks later. One thing that was very nice, however was to see that, despite the death of Pryce and a marshal (whose carelessness killed them both) during the race, the competition went on. Nowadays, you’d have it red-flagged and the race cancelled. Now this might sound callous, but we need to remember that the men who strap themselves into a race car have always done so willingly, knowing that there is a real (if lessened, nowadays) risk of death. This isn’t a soccer match–it’s a serious proposition, and the participants understand. Cancelling a race because of a death is an insult to the memory of the dead man. Modern audiences, unfortunately, do not understand this, with the result that, except for on the Isle of Man (where the organizers and the crowd actually get it), dead racers are insulted often.

Other modern reports included the launch of the Porsche 928, a brilliant V8 GT which never did manage to replace the immortal 911 and several road tests.

But it’s the nostalgia that carried the day here. A great walk down memory lane.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel, Test Site Horror, is a romp through a dinosaur-infested valley in southern Russia. Action-packed and fast-paced, this one is ideal for people who still like to be entertained when reading. 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.

A Great Man in the Old Tradition: Rob Walker

I was recently in the US and bought a couple of issues of Road & Track on the newsstand. They are slim things, quite glossy but devoid of the dense content that made magazines worthwhile in the past. I suppose they’re a victim of the mania for online stuff, but people in the future are going to have cause to regret this generation’s lack of taste in media, as they won’t be able to delve into the past in the same way that I have… and if you’ve ever tried to recover content you saw once on a long-gone website you’ll understand why this is important in more than an aesthetic sense.

Back in the 1970s, however, this things were different and magazines were not only the principal way for people to get information on their interests, but they were rich enough to be able to afford contributors who were not just great, but memorable.

We’ve already mentioned Henry N. Manney III here, but there’s another colossus of the motoring industry who was writing for Road & Track in the seventies (and was still doing so when I came in in 1989, and remained on the payroll for some years afterwards). That man is Rob Walker, and as I read the October 1974 issue above, I realized that I had to talk about him.

And now it’s time to admit something painful. As a thirteen-year-old reader of Road & Track who hadn’t intentionally missed a live Formula One race since I discovered the sport in 1983, I had no idea who Rob Walker was or why the fact that this man was writing the F1 race reports was a privilege which put other publications to shame.

But I found out.

Briefly, Walker was the heir to the Johnny Walker distillery fortune, and he used some of this money to become the most successful private entrant in the history of F1. Imagine winning the lottery and buying a car from one of the teams today… and using that car to win several races with drivers the likes of Stirling Moss or Jo Siffert at the wheel. Well, that is exactly what walker did. (it speaks to why F1 was also much better back then, but this isn’t a rant, it’s a celebration).

Better still, Walker was a apparently good guy, which meant that he got invited to the parties, which, in turn, meant that his prose is rich with anecdote and detail. As a teenager, I was hooked, and now that I’m reading his work in the 1970s, it gives me a look into how R&T became the top automotive publication in the world, to the point that a random teenager would pick it off a newsstand in Argentina in 1989. Walker is a huge part of that. I don’t think the magazine could ever have achieved its status as the class of the field without that man writing F1 reports. They are, reading them fifty years later, perfection… and again, I hope there are similar reports of today’s races being produced in hardcover somewhere, because if not, people in fifty years are going to hate us.

Best of all, though, is the fact that Walker was a gentleman in the traditional sense of the world. Rich enough to know that life exists to be enjoyed, but educated in the liberal old British way that informed him that the enjoyment is to be shared by all, without regards to class or economic level. He is the epitome of what a gentleman in the 20th century should be–and what so few managed.

The fact that he resembled Ken Tyrrell is, of course, unfortunate, but no one is perfect (both Rob and Ken were nearly so, so the fact that they had imperfections to deal with is only fair).

As a car nut, I would have loved to live his life… but he was more than just cars, and that comes through in his writing. A truly great man in all meanings of the word, and the kind that the world would be better of having more of today.

Gustavo Bondoni’s fiction has appeared in hundreds of publications. His debut novel, Outside, extrapolates the current trends in digital civilization to their logical conclusion–and is also a rousing tale of love and hope. You can check it out here.

Of a Type: Henry N. Manney III

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).

Road & Track August 1973.jpg

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.

Road & Track October 973

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.