Race car

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Sadly, the Offseason Comes Every Year

Recently, I expressed my sadness at the fact that car magazines from the 1970s were nowhere near as fun when racing was on its annual yearly hiatus.

Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon that happens every year, and the March issue seems to be the main non-beneficiary. The March 1977 issue of Road & Track is no exception. Interestingly, this one also contains a Z-Car report (5 speed gearbox for the 280Z), just like the previous March writeup I linked above that had a 260Z 2 by 2 on the cover.

The best part of this issue is actually the end-of-year report for the Formula 1 season. It is written, of course, by the inimitable Rob Walker, a guy who will criticize sternly when warranted and who has only one drawback: he was too nice to his friends, and he was friends with everyone. As it dealt with James Hunt’s championship season, a lot of film buffs will enjoy it, too.

The sports sedan test is interesting mainly in that Alfa Romeo was still competing with BMW on approximately equal footing, something you’d be surprised to read today. I’ve never been a fan of R&T‘s road tests. The features, to me are much more interesting… but I suppose that’s because I’m nearly never looking to buy a car built for the US market.

The features in this one were decent, if not memorable, with the highlight being the Salon feature (there’s an explanation on what that means, here) on the 1921 Sunbeam GP car from the Donnington collection.

Normally, auto show reports are fun, but the shows in late 1976 apparently were crap. February’s edition had bad ones in London and Paris, while this issue had an only slightly better one from Turin (when an Italian car show is bad, you know the world is borked).

The one good thing I found was that this one didn’t have a huge technical discussion of technology that isn’t relevant any longer.

Still, I find myself echoing what I say in real life: I can’t wait for the racing season to restart!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel, Test Site Horror, pits Russian special forces troops against monsters created illegally in a biological weapons lab. It’s nonstop, fast-paced action that you can check out here.

The Aerovette… Again

Hindsight, of course, is proverbially infallible. But I had to smile when, in February 1977 Road & Track put the mid engined Aerovette on the cover, stating unequivocally both there and in the copy of the relevant article, that the mid-engine Corvette, so long a design study would absolutely be coming out this time.

We now know, of course, that the mid-engine corvette was not the 1980 fourth generation car but the 2019 C8 (eighth generation for those who are keeping track at home), so R&T was right to predict it… and they only missed by 39 years.

As a science fiction writer, I really feel for anyone who tries to predict the future, but at least I’m doing fiction, and I invent or extrapolate my scenarios. These guys are supposed to be journalists who transmit information from auto industry sources to an avid, enthusiastic public.

And with the mid-engine Corvette, an excess of enthusiasm might actually have been a significant part of the issue. Not so much on the part of the readers but of the journalists themselves. The men who wrote for Road & Track in 1977 were car guys who really, really wanted the mid-engine Corvette to happen. Many of them died of old age before it did.

The rest of the magazine was also interesting seen through modern eyes for an unusual reason: it linked to a couple of recent-ish movies. Rush was represented by the fact that the final GP of James Hunt’s championship season is reported here. And then we have a Ford v. Ferrari link in the fact that Ken Miles’ R1 MG Special is the Salon feature (in Road & Track parlance, a Salon is an article about a significant historical automobile). Nostalgia for auto racing in its romantic age (already close to dying in 1977) means that these old magazines are fun because you can compare the reality with the Hollywood versions (in this sense, Rush is much more realistic than Ford v. Ferrari).

A good, if perhaps not great issue.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose attempts at predicting the future are on display in many places, most notably in his novel Outside, which showcases not one but two very different futures for the human race. You can check it out here.

Well, They put One of my Two Favorite Ferraris on the Cover

I don’t particularly love cars from the 1970s, but there were some true icons. While Lamborghini was stuck with the utterly awful Countach which only an ’80s stockbroker could love, Ferrari designed it’s two prettiest cars ever.

If someone were to gift me one Ferrari with the caveat that I couldn’t sell it, I’d go for a 512 BBi. But if no 512s were available, the 308 GTB (it has to be a coupe) would be my next choice. These are far from the fastest Ferraris today, and they are far from the most expensive… but they are so pretty. Hell, even the Dino pales before these in my eyes.

So, seeing it on the cover of the December 1976 issue of Road & Track was very cool, as was the comment by Bob Bondurant–a man who knows a lot about Ferraris–that it was the best sports car he’d ever driven. I may need to buy one of these before the price skyrockets, as it eventually does on all cars that wear the prancing horse. They seem to be about $80K today for a reasonable if not perfect one, and they’ll only go up, so that’s my investor tip for the day.

Anyway, this mag was a good one. The 308 article is fun, as is the coverage of the Pebble Beach concours and the Monterey Historics, and the article on the Maserati Birdcage is as cool as expected (coverage of the Birdcage is not as frequent as that around other classic racers). Finally, a paragraph apart for the Penske that won a Grand Prix. As far as I can remember, it’s the last American car to win an F1 race.

So a great issue and overall and a good step towards the 1980s. After the drama of the early emissions and safety madness, engineers were finally managing to make the cars less bad. They still had a long way to make them as good as the cars from before the legislation… but engineers are smarter than lawmakers, so they will eventually win the tug-of-war.

Anyway, a worthwhile issue.

Gustavo Bondoni’s is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is called Test Site Horror. It’s an action-packed thriller in which genetically modified dinosaurs and indescribable monsters vie for superiority… while a group of people try to stay alive in the middle of it all. 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.

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.