magazines

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.

How do they keep it up, week after week?

We’ve spoken about The New Yorker here before. As was probably evident from that post, I am not a subscriber to the magazine, but I am an enjoyer. Essentially, I buy the available issues whenever I’m in the US and read them when they cycle through my TBR pile (apparently, it’s currently sitting at a year and a half).

While some of the news items in The New Yorker are obviously not going to be relevant all that time later (I’m clearly not going to make it to the July 2019 premiere of Midsommar), most of the content can be enjoyed whenever. Even the political stuff doesn’t change that much from one year to the next.

For a magazine that prizes itself for getting high-quality hot takes into its readers’ hands, one thing I admire is how enjoyable it is much later. Long-form journalism of this type appears to be a dying breed and where it isn’t, it is so skewed by the writer’s (or the editor’s) political leanings that to be almost unreadable. The New Yorker has a political lean, of course, moderate left, but they attempt to avoid letting that skew get in the way of the truth.

Take this issue’s cover story, for example: “Faith & Other Drugs”. It could have been an attack on Christianity, especially hyper-organized big-church Christianity in the US, but it wasn’t. It was an introspective piece on the comparative effect of religion and drugs on the mind and persona of one specific person. As such, it’s readable by all, alienating no one.

The thing that amazes me most is how they manage to sift through the reams of submissions to find the nuggets that work, and to print an eclectic selection that keeps everyone engaged. I can only imagine what kind of a constant tornado the TNY offices must be.

Of course, no one is perfect, and the fiction I’ve seen has been uninspiring at best and depressing at worst. Now, I can’t say that this is a constant because I read maybe three or four issues a year. I may just be unlucky. This issue’s story, unfortunately, is not among the best fiction I’ve read this year by any stretch of the imagination. I may be suffering from excessive expectations – I assume that TNY has access to the best work from the best writers… but I never seem to see that in the published work. It’s also possible that I may simply prefer a very different kind of fiction, and the problem is in the reader in this case. But I find the fiction–and only the fiction–pretty much pointless.

But other than that, it’s invariably a great read. Snobbish and elitist? Perhaps, but that is part of the enjoyment. I like nodding along when I’m in on the subject as much as the next person… and when I’m not, I’ll learn something. Win-win.

A subscription wouldn’t make it to Argentina, and I don’t have time to read one of these cover-to-cover every week, but I will continue (and have continued) to buy them whenever I travel. Watch this space for more thoughts as they get to the top of the pile.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction appears in Love and Death, a novel told in short story form which, he hopes, isn’t quite as pointless as the fiction he’s encountered in TNY so far. You can check it out here.

The Offseason Blues

Just like live is awful in those terrible months when there is neither baseball nor football on TV (the unimaginable suffering that has made basketball, of all things, popular), auto magazines from the 1970s are at their dreariest when reporting on the offseason.

The problem is that while motorsport in the mid-seventies was wonderful, dangerous and technologically interesting, road cars were not.

March 1974 Road & Track.jpg

The March edition, which usually came out in February, lands pretty much in the dead center of that offseason, with the result that the only big racing report is on the SCCA Runoffs which, while fun, is not the same as reporting on Formula 1, Le Mans or the Can Am (raise your hand if you think it’s time for another no-rules formula so race cars can actually go fast again).

So the editors of Road & Track dedicated the space to technical articles (the one about hydrogen fuel was very interesting if misguidedly optimistic, the one about insurance truly enlightening), road tests (argh) and the Tokyo Motor Show (not the most optimistic show ever).  The fuel crisis, now with more Arabs, was on everyone’s mind, adding to the mess already created by US regulators.

Dark days indeed, but not without their silver lining, which took the form of a profile of James J. Bradley, Head of the Automotive History Collection at the Detroit Public Library (now the National Automotive History Collection).  A wonderful article that shows how one man can guide an institution’s collecting philosophy and make it a worldwide treasure.

I now have a reason to visit Detroit someday!

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is Jungle Lab Terror in which genetically modified monsters battle communist revolutionaries in the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere.  If that sounds like fun, you can learn more here.

 

The Elephant in the Room

I’ve been reading some Road & Track magazines from the early seventies, and I’ve been enjoying them enormously.  I finally realized that was strange.

After all, I HATE any discussion of politics… so why am I enjoying what, in at least part of every issue, seems to be a running battle between the entire automotive industry, (including magazines) and the US government because of the overzealous, rushed and clueless application of safety and pollution legislation.  There was a war on the automobile in the early 1970s–a war that the automobile ultimately won, but at a huge cost to the consumer, the US auto industry and even, ironically, the environment (lowering smog in the 1970s meant that a LOT more CO2 was released).

Road & Track November 1972

So why in the world am I enjoying these?

To answer that, we need to fast forward to 2020.  Over the past month, I got emails about Black Lives Matter from several newsletters I subscribe to and saw related content on a bunch of websites.  I didn’t open any of those newsletters and I didn’t read any of those articles.

Why?  Am I a racist?

Not at all.  The problem was that the sites (and newsletters) were sports sites, automotive sites, and the SFWA newsletter.  None of these are sources I look to for political news and opinion.  When I’m reading the news, I definitely click on those articles.  But when I’m on your literature site, I will click away if you’re doing politics.  And if you’re a professional organization dedicated to working for writers, I’m not looking for affirmative action from you unless there is a specific case of discrimination, in which case, I’d expect the organization to protect its minority members with the utmost ferocity.  But I’m a member for purely professional and not political reasons. So I didn’t open their Black Lives Matter announcement.  SFWA’s opinion is irrelevant in these matters.

Road & Track April 1973

The thing Road & Track did extremely well in the 1970s is focus on the places where their opinion WAS relevant.  Regulation that affected the auto industry in such a negative way was definitely something I look to R&T for.  Other politics aren’t.

You know which word hasn’t appeared once in any of the magazines from the period I’ve read so far (including the two pictured in this post, which are the most recent I’ve read)?

I’ll let you think about it.

Got it?  No?

OK.  The word is ‘Vietnam’.

Think about that for a second.  Journalists focusing on the stuff they actually know about and giving readers what they want instead of talking about politics.

Our modern everyone-has-to-give-their-opinion-or-suffer-the-consequences society could learn so much about professional journalism and giving people what they want from these guys.

Someday, hopefully, unrelated media will stick to what they’re good at and not publish content no one visits their site to see.  Wouldn’t that be a radical departure?

I, for one, will welcome the day.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer who doesn’t take his own advice.  Probably best known as a science fiction writer, he also writes literary fiction.  His book Love and Death is an excellent example.  You can check it out here.

Who Says Cyberpunk is Dead?

To the general public, literary cyberpunk means William Gibson (to others, perhaps The Matrix, although Johnny Mnemonic is much more true to the genre), specifically Neuromancer.

But in the world of SF literature, there exists another truism: Cyberpunk is dead and we’re in the era of post-apocalyptic dystopias (created, if you don’t want to go to ideological jail, by corporations or capitalist governments).  If you want a change of pace from that, we can do some identity politics speculation.  Fun!

Of course, this is nonsense, except in the very tiny area spanned by certain critics in the deepest corners of the genre gutter.

Readers don’t want that stuff, as evidenced when you walk into a random Barnes & Noble.  Neuromancer is ALWAYS on the shelves, as are Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke.  Of the modern ones, you’ll find Alastair Reynolds, James S.A. Corey, Iain M. Banks, etc.  Very few examples of what is supposed to be the modern focus of the genre (although Banks is definitely political, but at least he isn’t dogmatic, boring and predictable ALL the time).

Readers still love cyberpunk.  And now, there’s a magazine that caters to this preference.

Write Ahead : The Future Looms Volume 2

Write Ahead / The Future Looms is a full-color publication unlike anything else in the SFF genre today.  It is simply gorgeous in design and execution, on glossy paper and a very modern cyberpunk-ey feel to it.

I recently read Volume 2 (full disclosure – my story “A Local Matter is in this one”) and I was hyper-impressed.  Contributor copies sometimes have stories one needs to dig deep to finish.  That wasn’t the case in this mag–cyberpunk is always fun.

Favorite story here was “The Proxy” by Alexander Hay, but they were all entertaining reads and all gave a different take on our electronic future.

This is one of those publications that I recommend without any reservation whatsoever.  Go forth and read one.  I think you’ll like it, and it certainly makes a wonderful break from the formulaic state of other magazines in the field.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose fiction spans many genres, from literary fiction to comic fantasy.  His SF novel Outside is a study of what happens when humans and early-stage post humans interact.  You can check it out here.

Weird Imports, Technical Savvy and Bumbling Regulators

As we continue reading through our 1970s Road & Tracks, absorbing the culture of the times and trying to note the differences with today, there’s one thing which truly stands out: foreign cars in the US were often spectacularly unsuited for the market.

I’m not talking here about Ferrari, Mercedes or BMW.  Like today, those factories knew what they were doing, offering a superior product at a premium price.  Likewise, Japanese imports, taking advantage of the weak Yen and effective quality procedures, had a chokehold on the lower end of the market which they only relinquished to Korea in the 2000s, mainly because Japan had more profitable fish to fry (or to fillet and eat as sushi, I guess).

But in 1972, a road test of a Renault 15 was included on the cover.  I assume it was supposed to be a selling point, but it might simply have been for the comic relief.  I can hardly think of a worse car to try to sell in the US, unless it’s a Peugeot 304 or a Saab Sonett (see the other cover).  Simply stated, peopel were much quirkier and individual back then, apparently enough to buy a Saab Sonett of all things.  That’s probably why there were fewer tattoos and personalized iPhone protectors in evidence: people actually had real, as opposed to manufactured, individuality.

Still, though we respect individuals, some of these were really crappy cars.

Road & Track July 1972

Another point of interest is just how much technical knowledge the editors assumed on the part of its readers.  These are mass-market magazines, remember.  Today, while adolescent readers might know exactly how many valves a Lamborghini has, most of them would never know how to gap a sparkplug or how to build one’s own head gasket… but 1972’s readers apparently did.  So the technical analysis of components (tires, for example) and race cars is wonderful.

Road & Track October 1972

Finally, the cluelessness of legislators was once again gleefully put into evidence, as two safety cars with airbags (1972, remember) were put to the test… and failed miserably.  In part due to these tests and also because of the fact that the proposed safety car rules were utterly stupid, that particular initiative was eventually abandoned (sadly too late to save the MGB’s chrome bumpers).

But other legislation went forward.  The clean air act controlled Nitrous Oxides (NOx), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and unburnt hydrocarbons.  I think we all agree that it was a good thing for air quality.

Ironically, however, the same rules meant that cars were getting worse as manufacturers scrambled to meet these massively-quickly applied regulations.  By getting worse, I’m not just talking about things like losing power, becoming more complicated and more unreliable and gutting the Detroit car industry.  Those are actually minor things in the big picture–people just needed to suck up and take it.

The bad part is that fuel economy also suffered, so cars were burning more fuel to get less power and work worse (the reasons have to do with compression ratios and fuel octane, mainly).  When a car burns fuel, one of the INTENDED emissions is Carbon Dioxide.  By burning more fuel, you create more carbon dioxide… so it meant that, until the Fuel Crisis caused regulators to clamp down on economy, the application of the clean air act actually meant that countless more tons of carbon dioxide were released into the air.

Of course, thirty years later we all realized that carbon dioxide, as the main greenhouse gas, was not really a good thing.

The road to hell and all that…

But in 1972 no one knew about those things.  All they cared about was that the suits in Washington seemed determined to extract all the joy from the automobile, preferably to kill it altogether.

I, for one, am delighted that they failed.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His novel Outside also deals with unintended consequences, of the kind that could shatter entire civilizations.  You can check it out here.

A Magazine About Creating Beauty

One of the nice things abut buying books from Folio Society is that they send you little gifts with the books.  My personal favorite is the annual Folio Diary, but another wonderful little gift is Folio, the company’s magazine.

Folio Magazine - August 2018

This magazine is about what you’d expect from the house organ of a company dedicated to creating beautiful publications (and one which I’ve featured before).  It’s a bit of an advertising piece disguised as a self-indulgent series of interviews of creators, behind-the-scenes look at how the final products are made and paeans to the finished product.

It is an utterly wonderful read.

The images of Folio artwork in this edition (Autumn 2018), are wonderful.  The central topic is the Folio edition of Atlas Shrugged, which, love it or loathe it, is undoubtedly a hugely important book that seems even more relevant to political discourse today than when it was first published.  Politics aside, Folio’s artwork is a wink and a nod to the era in which it was published, and takes us back to the glories of the Art Deco age.  It’s like standing in the lobby of the Chrysler Building.

But that’s not the only article.  Food, mythological beasts and murder mysteries are all illustrated in the pages of this publication, because they are also illustrated in the books the magazine is trying to sell.  You get a look at the creative process behind the art, a guided tour given by editors and just a general sense of the loving way the books are put together.

Probably the most effective piece of advertising I’ve ever been exposed to.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary collection of linked short stories is entitled Love and Death.  You can buy it here.

Emissions and Wankel Engines

Last time we talked about the huge pile of Road & Tracks I’m reading, we were in 1988, a year in which cars were finally getting better after nearly two decades of regulatory hell.

The next two, the ones I’m going to talk about today, give us the early portion of the crusade to make cars worse.  We will do this by immersing ourselves in two Road & Track magazines from the early 70’s, the January and February 1971 issues.

Road & Track January 1971.jpeg

These are not optimistic magazines, and a good portion of the writing is aimed at trying to justify why, to get cleaner air, you need to burn more fuel.  In a nutshell, the reason for this is that the automotive industry was not technologically prepared for the emissions legislation that was forced upon them.  Do-gooder lawmakers, of course, simply said: “The auto companies just don’t want to invest in this, we should regulate it anyway.”  And they did.

The upshot is that fuel economy went to hell because cars actually had to burn MORE gas to lower emissions (thermodynamics make this necessary).  This means carbon dioxide emissions (greenhouse gasses, anyone?) went up, and contributed to our current global warming mess.  Overeager and under-informed legislators, as usual, proving once again that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Road & Track February 1971

But all of that was in the future.  In 1971, even the extremely well-informed automotive press had no idea what the consequences might be.  Their technical editors were more concerned with whether the internal combustion engine would be viable beyond 1975 when the new laws took full effect.  Yes, that was a real concern.  In the end, as we know, the engine survived, but at a horrific cost to consumers… and now to the environment.

That situation actually gave birth to the most interesting parts of these magazines.  While it’s fun to read about the launch of cars that either went on to make no mark whatsoever on the marketplace or, to the contrary see what the press were saying about vehicles that are now classics, it’s absolutely fascinating to read about the new technology which could power cars if the Otto engine did bite the dust.

The two big alternatives, as seen in 1971 were the gas turbine and the Wankel.  Though the Wankel was, at that time, worse in emissions, it controlled oxides of nitrogen (NOx) better than the internal combustion engine… and these were tougher to engineer out of the Otto engine than other pollutants were for the Wankel.  So maybe…

The most memorable article of this pair is a long piece explaining the Wankel engine.  Good stuff.

Another thing that I enjoyed about these two is that the “& Track” portion of the magazine was much meatier than in the eighties, and it’s wonderful to read about the Can Am as a series that was taking place even then as opposed to looking back at it from our nostalgia as something unique and awesome the likes of which we’ll never, sadly see again.

Finally, the weird notes to my reading.  These mags are nearly fifty years old, so it’s interesting to see what kind of lives they’ve led.  While in decent condition, my copies have had the classified section carefully cut away by some earlier owner as well as one article: a piece about the 1971 Duesenberg replica.  Which is probably the strangest article to remove.  Why that piece, when there is so much stuff about original cars in there? I’ll probably never know.

Finally, the strangest thing of all is that these editions have the price in Swedish Krone on the cover.  That, the UK and US currency.  Why Krone?  Maybe because it was a big market… but no Deutsch Marks, French Francs or Lire… Weird.

All in all, it’s very fun to read these, especially to see what the world was like fifty years ago, and to compare this mature magazine with the early ones where you got maybe thirty pages of articles copied from other publications.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is Jungle Lab Terror, a thriller set in the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere, the Darien gap.  If you dare, you can buy it here.

Eventually, they Restarted

Last year, I read and reviewed the very first Road & Track Magazine, from June 1947.  Nowadays, it’s a monthly but, like many magazines, getting the first few issues out was a bit of a rocky road.

May 1948 saw the second volume published, so nearly an entire year later.

A

Like the first issue, this one has a lot of material reprinted from other sources.  Photographs, particularly are credited to several other publications.

Additionally, as someone used to reading the fat issues from the 1990s, a Road & Track only 36 pages long is an unexpected item.

As always, these are interesting for their period features and their antiquated assumptions.  But two things make them worth tracking down (and they aren’t easy to find sometimes–this one was an original, not a reprint).  The first is to see how auto enthusiasts of seventy years ago viewed the future, and the second is for those forgotten wrinkles and oddities which, though widely reported at the time, are long forgotten.

This one can be read in one sitting, but it will be a pleasant one in which you are smiling–often nostalgically–the whole time.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose love of automobiles even seeps over to his literary fiction.  It reached the point that his story “August Nights”, included in  his book Love and Death deals with the joy of driving fast and well (among other modern things).  And it’s not the only one where cars are characters.  You can buy the book here.

Hitting its Stride – R&T’s Vintage Year

Let’s go back in time to 1988.  Why?  Just because I happened to read a couple of car magazines from that year (I promise to get back to the normal, more literate style of this blog in the next post, but today, we’re doing car mags again – here, here and here are the earlier installments of this series) and I wanted to keep my thoughts about them more or less all together before I forget what I was going to say.

It’s one of the prices of getting older, but aging also has its advantages.  I get to look at thirty-year-old magazines and judge them with a future perspective.

So, 1988.  I read The final pair of mags in my pile: Road & Track Exotic Cars: 7 and the regular monthly magazine from September 1988.

Road & Track Magazine September 1988

The first thing one notices is that the two mags appear to have been designed by two different graphics departments.  The monthly magazine feels very much a product of the eighties, while Exotic Cars looks forward to the nineties, a departure from the earlier installments in the series, which looked much more similar to the magazines.

The Exotic Cars series was one of Road & Track Specials, which explains the discrepancy, a series that was run by Thos L. Bryant, the man who later–as from January of 1989–became the editor of the regular magazine.

This one was, nostalgia aside, much better than the early installments of Exotic Cars.  The selection of cars was mature, the design was excellent, and the writing engaging.  It was a solid effort which was easier to read than its predecessors.

Road & Track Exotic Cars 7

The regular magazine looked a little dowdier, but that impression only lasts until you flip open the front cover.

Once you do that, you are transported to different world.  Not the world of 1988, though.  Road & Track in the late eighties bore little relationship to the universe of Gordon Gecko and the Coca-Cola Wardrobe (remember that piece of eighties awfulness?).  Instead, you’re almost transported to the Scottish moorlands somewhere around 1975.

This might not have been seen as a good thing in 1988, but it’s certainly wonderful reading these old pages today.  The words flow comfortably, and the reading never becomes a chore.  It’s a warm pleasure from cover to cover, like conversation with an old friend.  It was literally one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had in a long, long time.

Of course, in the eighties, warm and fuzzy was on its way out and, as I’ve mentioned, December 1988 was the last month under John Dinkel, the man who edited this issue.  The January 1989 issue had adopted the design of the specials and looked bang up to date.

The writing, however, was still essentially the same.  It would take a few years to iron out the quirkiness that made 1988 a vintage year.  Bryant was an excellent editor who brought the magazine upscale while keeping its personality alive.

So, for some time, we lived in the best of both worlds.  And I was luck enough to be thirteen in January of 1989…

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose most recent book is entitled Ice Station: Death.  You can check it out here.