Road and Track

The Perfect Snapshot of the Automotive Seventies?

Science says that people who apply stereotypes are right most of the time, but modern culture has assigned a stigma to using it for analysis purposes, so I feel a little bit guilty at stereotyping the seventies in a certain way. And yet, it’s nearly impossible to feel that the October 1975 edition of Road & Track magazine doesn’t represent the decade perfectly.

It’s possible the date has a lot to do with it; it’s hard to get more centrally located, temporally speaking, in the decade than late 1975.

But there are other things. For example, the Panther De Ville has to be the most 1970’s vehicle ever created. It cost Rolls-Royce money when new… and people bought them.

But there’s more to the seventies than random pimp-mobiles. There was also racing and, as anyone who knows anything about Hollywood is aware, the seventies were about Nikki Lauda and James Hunt. So it’s fitting to see that the two winners of Rob Walker’s race reports were… Lauda and Hunt.

Also, an art car created by Calder to run (weakly) at Le Mans? That should qualify as well (and it links to our more usual interests around here). As should the cover: the Chevette was considered a great car and there was a Formula 5000 inset. That could only be the seventies. And there was talk of regulation and safety and emissions.

So if you only pick up one 1970s Road & Track to try to understand the automotive decade, you could do much worse than to choose this one.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is a monster book that could serve to define the monster genre in the early 2020s. After all, Test Site Horror contains genetically modified beasts, rogue scientists working semi-officially, Russian special forces troops and investigative journalists under fire. What more could a monster book need? You can check it out here.

Small Station Wagons and the Death of Peter Revson

For the July 1974 issue of Road & Track, the results of the fuel crisis were still being felt, even though supply had been restored. Americans, who’d never cared for piddling little cars were starting to consider compacts with a little less derision, at least on the coasts (middle America would need the imports and small cars to get a lot better before they cared).

So what you end up with is a beach photo… when the cars are as unsexy as the wagons on the cover, you need to try something, anything, to make the magazine catch the eye. A California beaches work.

As always with these, it’s the racing articles that make these compelling reading. While the social insight on the era and the articles on cars people could actually buy are interesting, this was a golden era for racing.

Albeit an often sad one. The mid-seventies were the beginning of the serious safety crusades that have done so much damage to the romance of auto racing… but they still hadn’t taken hold, and it was still an era of real men driving cars that would put hair on your chest in circuits that bit you hard if you overdid it.

So sometimes the news could be sad, and this issue includes a tribute to recently-deceased Peter Revson, heir to the Revlon fortune who worked hard to get rid of the rich playboy image. Just as he had gained others’ respect in the sport, even winning multiple Grands Prix–the sign of someone who is NOT a dilettante–he lost his life. But we remember him today… something people in fifty years are unlikely to say about today’s formula one “heroes”.

Most interesting article is one in which the editors compiled the results of all the top-level races from the late 19th century until 1973… and created a points system that declared Juan Manuel Fangio the champion to date.

Considering that there was also a race report chronicling the first of Carlos Reutemann’s F1 wins, it was a good issue for my countrymen.

So the seventies march on in their oh-so-seventies way.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His latest collection of science fiction and fantasy tales is entitled Off the Beaten Path. Exotic locales, incredible adventures and looking both to the future and the uncanny make this one a treat for anyone looking to escape for a while. You can check it out here.

The Beginning of a Classic Magazine

Road and Track June 1947

Those of us over about thirty years old will remember a time when a lot of our information about hobbies and interests came from reading magazines.  Today, magazines still often give us information that we can’t get online, so imagine how much more we relied on them in the early days of the net or even in pre-internet days.

Those of us that like cars will likely accept that, until fairly recently, Road & Track was the magazine of choice for the most discerning enthusiasts.  On one hand it was had a high-class, globalized outlook with one eye on Europe and Japan, while on the other it also commented on the American auto industry in depth.  In this sense, it achieved the best overview of the world scene… and it was the 500 pound gorilla in the room regardless of whether you were American, European or, as in my case, from  South America.

Yes, magazines like Car & Driver in the US or any number of local mags in Europe might have had more readers in their respective countries… but no one did it better globally.

So it’s interesting to pick up the first ever issue of the publication and see where it started from.

It’s surprising to say the least.

In 1947, many publications were less sophisticated than they are today, but Road and Track’s first issue is…

Well, it’s terrible.  You could tell they put the thing together on a shoestring and grabbed whatever articles and pictures they could find.  A nationalistic technical article by the great Laurence Pomeroy kicks it off–impeccable credentials, but the article itself was useless–and then a hodgepodge of other things, including a race report of a very minor hillclimb, the description of a foreign car dealership and a few photos.

These last are interesting, especially as they include pics of the Wilmille production car, but the overall effect gives the impression that they knew the starved postwar audience would pay for any kind of content, and grabbed what they could get, published it and called it an issue.

Interestingly, the mix of street and race cars continued into the 21st century… and probably contributed enormously to the publication’s success… interesting to see that it came about almost by mistake.

BTW, if you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, these mags are still pretty reasonably priced on Ebay and similar, and the first few issues were reprinted in facsimile editions (keeping everything, including the original advertisements, which are wonderful windows into the time), which makes it even cheaper to study a piece of history.

I’ll be looking at a few more of these over the next couple of weeks, as I find it interesting.  Hope some of you will come along for the ride.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His novel Outside deals with the possible ultimate consequences of the current transition from physical media to digital…  You can have a look here.