The World’s Best Car Magazine?

Why I’d recommend :  Motor Sport  /  The Automobile  /  The Rodder’s Journal  /  Classic & Sports Car


One particular magazine might use this title as a wishful strapline but, of course there is no universal World’s Best Car Magazine.  If your taste ran to tits and tailpipes, then how can I argue that, for you, the late Max Power was not TWBCM?  When, after loyal decades, I finally gave in and stopped my subscription to the magazine that styles itself thus, Car Magazine, I looked around for alternative places to spend my pocket money.

For me, unfortunately, because I like words as much as pictures, I am restricted to English language publications.  I can read French magazines, but my command is too poor to enjoy nuances and I can’t judge these as I can those in my own language. Disappointingly, no one magazine covers my interests which are sometimes intense, sometimes superficial, sometimes catholic and sometimes dogmatic.  Single-marque publications can impress, for their depth of knowledge and the commitment of their contributors but, unless you are remarkably focussed, they don’t satisfy and, often, like a Mercedes magazine I bought a couple of issues of, they are just brand hagiographies.

I’ll single out these, as definite contenders in their field.

Motor Sport . The great survivor.  I used to subscribe as a teen then, when my interest in racing diminished, I drifted away.  The magazine went through various changes and owners and, at its lowest, a misguided designer replaced their green masthead with a red one, causing a casual buyer like myself to think it had disappeared from the newsagents. Now the green is back and it is well on form, a fine balance of contemporary and historical. Strangely, if judged by actually watching, I’m still not that interested in racing, but the standard of writing and the depth of knowledge means that I am happy enough to now have a regular subscription.  Nigel Roebuck’s ‘column’ can stretch to eight pages but it never bores.  Slightly concerning is that they have recently expanded their coverage of Formula 1, with another few pages from Mark Hughes.  Whilst he is also a good writer, long-term, how much F1 do we need?  My current conclusion is that I actually like reading about the current technology and politics of Formula 1, but I just have no interest in looking at the racing.  Andrew Frankel seems an even-handed road tester though, being Motor Sport, the latest Dacia seldom figures.  If you have been brought up on contemporary sport, I imagine the historical part fascinates and shocks in equal parts – hardly any story doesn’t seem to have a premature death attached to it.

The Automobile.  Not to be compared with the US Automobile, this is a magazine devoted to pre-Sixties cars published by an original Car Magazine iconoclast, Douglas Blain.  Not a sign of smartarse jokes and trouser thumping, but perfectly accessible stuff written with knowledge and genuine enthusiasm including, usually, a finely written letter from another luminary of Car’s past, the nonagenarian, Ronald Barker.  There’s no set pattern to what might be covered, so my occasional purchases are a selection of pleasures or, very occasionally disappointments.  I only say disappointments since some aspects of the pre-War era leave me disinterested, though I am very glad that there are people who are interested and there are discoveries to be made every month.

The Rodder’s Journal. Overlooked in the UK maybe, by those who think it is a trade publication for drain cleaners, this of course is devoted to US hot rod and custom cars. Expensive and, like expensive chocolates, not something I would make my regular diet, but a year’s subscription to this lavish quarterly was fun.  Photography is its forte and it is auto-porn of the highest standard.  Not that the writing isn’t knowledgeable but, for me, it underlines the ultimate sterility of so much of the US based custom scene.  Three window Fords are revisited again and again and fantastic ‘vehicles’ are produced for shows with intricate engineering solutions but never run because that would compromise their showability.  A fascinating insight though.

Classic & Sports Car.  An obvious enough choice, I find this long-term rival of Classic Car the more consistent.  A good range of writers, including Martin Buckley who I do like, despite his love of cheesy old films, and envy (as much as I can apply that useless emotion to anyone) for actually getting himself into the position to have a whole barn full of interesting cars.

The problem with all the above is that I am not a confirmed nostalgist.  Apart from Andrew Frankel driving the new McLaren, I don’t get to read enough analysis about today and tomorrow. It is out there to a degree, but it seems filtered by journalists who might be enthusiasts, but their enthusiasm is not the same one I have for the all round romance of the car. Understandable, since most the journeys a car can make are no longer romantic, but their preferred journey is often five balls-out laps at Caldwell Park, and this fact affects most the cars the industry builds today to some degree.  TWBCM? I wish it existed – I’d save some money.

16 thoughts on “The World’s Best Car Magazine?”

  1. The best car magazine in the world is aimed at people interested in cars from any conceivable angle. It is not a magazine aimed at people who are about to buy a car or who buy one every three years. Such a magazine would cover newcomers from all car markets. Space is limited so this means that sometimes a Porsche 911 variant would not be reported but a hatchback from S America might be. The BCMITW would also have a bit of perspective and would be diligently written. Sometimes the angle would be about all-out driveability, but sometimes it could be about interesting solutions to the banality of ordinary motoring. Above all, the best car magazine in the world would be diverse.
    In practical terms, I am reading the American website The Truth About Cars a lot. I wish it was a print publication.

  2. Despite The Formerly Presumably Best Car Magazine In The World’s fall from grace I can offer some solace by assuring you and everybody else that the UK’s motoring press is overall still leagues ahead of the German scene. In fact, I haven’t read, let alone bought an issue of Auto, Motor & Sport in years – bordering on a full decade, actually. Motor Klassik, Germany’s classic car benchmark magazine, is about as interesting to me as the average horticultural show (and I’m struggling to keep my small of culinary herbs intact and alive).

    The one car magazine I’ve been subscribing to for a longer period, and which I intend to remain loyal to, is (Thoroughbred &) Classic Cars. Despite a recent overhaul that wasn’t entirely successful I usually find more than half the content relevant on a regular basis – and the writing usually isn’t of the overly whimsical kind, thankfully.
    Regrettably, Richard Heseltine seems to have departed (T&)CC for pastures greener/better paid freelance assignments, which I consider a loss. And then there’s that whiff of content aimed at catering to investor-collectors that has crept inside the magazine recently, which I find worrying. Still, I have yet to find a publication that I find more satisfying at such a sustained rate.

    Even at the risk of alienating some fellow commentators, I must admit to finding some issues of Octane magazine rather worthwhile, too. Stephen Bailey seems to have found his new home there, which can still result in the odd witty column (as much as in quite a fair bit of self-indulgence, admittedly). And despite an unhealthy bias towards the glamorous side of motoring, I often find certain texts catching my eye, albeit not quite enough of them to justify the silly asking price of the magazine here in Germany.

    The one modern platform that I’ve adopted in recent years are online video reviews. Some magazines – Evo coming to mind particularly quickly – are producing astonishingly professional little films that I often find both diverting and informative. It’s just a shame this level of craft is usually reserved to the high performance/high price sector of the market. I’d also like more classic cars being presented through this medium – particularly as old cars aren’t exactly renowned for being less photogenic than their modern counterparts. But maybe that’s just due to their owners unwillingness to let the reviewer drift them at will.

  3. It’s hollow consolation to read that the situation is no better in Germany. Notwithstanding what I say above, I’ve not come across any fantastic gems in France – the ones that cover the contemporary scene are pretty ordinary, though their classic magazines are always a good source for, say, a Renault 17GTL restoration. But why do they have so many 2CV magazines when you can travel a week around France and never see one? Newsagent trawls in Italy have never been successful. Does anyone know about The Netherlands? The Dutch are pretty resourceful on the classic front, certainly, so I wonder if their magazines match. And, apart from the above mentioned Rodder’s Journal, I’ve not read a US magazine for years – I have heard that Car & Driver is not what it was. It sounds as if online is the place to go but, alas, I still crave print. I know what you mean about Octane, it is possible to find nuggets there, but there is a bit of a rich boys club patina to it and a conspicuous lack of research in some articles.

  4. Sean, “Rich Boys Club patina” is the perfect description I’d love to have come up with myself. That really encapsulates why I’m always a bit hesitant towards Octane, despite some rather interesting content.

    Now that you mention Italy I realised that I’m actually rather fond of Quattroruote and Ruoteclassiche in particular. My Italian skills are very limited indeed, but the very fact that I felt urged to try my luck at comprehending some of these magazines’ articles hints at a certain appeal. I naturally felt particularly drawn towards texts on the styling side of motoring, which the Ruotes – hardly surprisingly – put quite a bit of emphasis on. I really feel as though I’m missing out on quite a bit when it comes to Italian car journalism – and that I should finally master the Italian language in earnest.

  5. Kris. This is possibly a bit unfair, since my experience is hardly comprehensive and my reading is based on parallel text English translations, but the Italian publications I have bought seem very strong on images, but less so on text. Additionally, several of the English language Alfa books I have are based on Italian translations and are frustratingly insubstantial when it comes to information. Japanese language publications anyone? I imagine these could be a fine source of the arcane. Mark Hamilton … are you reading this?

  6. Occasionally I´ve bought Octane but have been repelled by the champagne and strawberries approach. A car magazine that claimed to be the best would have some of Octane´s content, some of Evo´s, some of Which car and some of Classic Cars. It would also have some fluffy Intersection-type material. In short, news and reviews plus a broad mix which would allow for general reflections too. I really liked the kind of articles Car did such as when two journalists were asked to reflect on Rolls-Royce cars. Or there was another good one about open-top motoring in general but with a specific link the the M-B SL450 roadster. It would seem that the market has been carved up into niches and the assumption is that Mr Maserati-owner (or prospective owner) will be repelled by a magazine with a full review of the new Micra. The assumption is that the reader belongs to a demographic group and can not conceive of life outside that narrow sphere. I think that´s poppynonsense [exclamation point].

  7. I should have another look at Octane before I judge it too harshly. The last one I bought because it had an article on the V8 Citroen SM prototype re-creation, so it is not without merit. However some articles and columns in Octane make me realise that the dilettante is not what he/she used to be.

    This also raises the difference between the Motoring Journalist and the Motoring Writer. A good journalist collates information into an accessible form for dissemination to those interested. A good writer can expand on this information and put it within a broader context. A good magazine would have a balance of both though, in my preference, more of the latter. I haven’t read it for a couple of years, but does TWBCM have any Writers at all?

  8. My impression is that they have people who write articles but who don´t show very much evidence of really liking writing for its own sake. Hence the prevalence of front grilles, next-gen, ultimate and iconic. Altert writers avoid clichés like the plague.

  9. I am still a subscriber to Car. I also subscribe to Evo. Both have become pastiches of their former selves; more bland, less articulate, dumbed down. The latest edition of Car has a “front-page” article driving the new M3. Having read it (I actually read it twice because I thought after the first go that I must have missed something – I hadn’t) I came to the conclusion that they must have either: a) not actually driven it; b) driven it for about 30 mins; c) someone else (from BMW?) had driven it and told them what it was like. So, what I mean is that there was very very little content that described the actual driving experience. It was another of those horrid things where they write a description once in the text and then write it again in a little box approximately close to the relevant area shown in in a photo: pointless padding, and patronising I find. I do occasionally wonder about ditching both of them, but they remain the best of a poor lot in my view. I have tried a few Octane editions, but have never read one back to front, which says a lot, and it’s just a bit too “coffee table” for me. All in all, we are witnessing the disappointing demise of intelligent automotive journalism in print. Unfortunately, I am not sure that there is enough of an economic argument for the creation and publication of something new to fill the emerging niche.

  10. Sadly, I have to agree with you S. V. Robinson: Car’s appeal has steadily been declining, at least so in my eyes, since L. J. K. Setright moved on to greener roads.

  11. I’ve just come across this discussion while wandering around the by-ways of DTW so I am a bit late but here goes. I used to read three TWBCM, namely Car and Driver, Road and Track and or course Car, starting with my own driving beginnings in the late sixties and continuing until about the end of the millenium ( and I now see that has me marked as a boring old duffer or worse). What the magazines had in common were outstanding motoring writers who had a breadth of knowledge beyond cars and wrote in a style that was literate and assumed the readers had a similar breadth of knowledge. Car and Driver had David E Davis and Brock Yates, Road and Track had Rob Walker, Henry Manney and Peter Egan and Car had George Bishop, Steady Barker, Georg Kacher, the enigmatic Pierre Beauregard (I think) and the incomparable L J K Setright. Apart from the obvious road tests there would be articles on restaurants, travel, industry, motoring attitudes in other countries and technical advances. I can remember Setright on four wheel steering and headlight reflector design and Henry Manney on a trip to the nudist Il de Levant. Now we get constant artists impressions of the next 3 series/A4/C Class and road tests focusing almost exclusively on performance.

    So what to read now. Well Octane has the excellent Stephen Bayley, Jay Leno and Tony Dron and some interesting columns on watches and notable lives but in the end it’s a bit car porn for me. Beautiful photos of unobtainable machinery and has been said already a love of the champagne life style. A change of editor may help. Classic and Sports Car can be interesting at times but the only consistently good writing comes from Martin Buckley so that leaves Motor Sport. This is the only magazine that is consistently well written, covers subjects in depth and has road tests that take place mainly on the road. It’s coverage of Formula 1 is considerably more interesting to read than the racing is to watch. In the end it’s just a little narrow focused for me and is an occasional rather than a regular buy.

    I don’t subscribe however to the belief that everything was better in past, just writing this rant is proof of that; it will appear on-line, someone may read it and may or may not comment but that does not matter, what matters is that I have been able to join the debate. I have also been able to waste too much time on You Tube watching car related videos and a thanks to Richard Herriott for directing me to The Truth About Cars.

  12. Barry. Thanks for your considered reply and welcome to DTW. I too subscribed to that same trinity at one time. You seem in accord with a lot of us here, and also others who I met when hanging around the Car website in its previous, less flashy but rather more interesting incarnation, which makes me sure that there is still a place for a more wordy and divergent publication – which on our own scale is what we’re attempting here. I guess that advertising revenues are so essential these days (though weren’t they always?) that most magazines are loath to produce anything off message. But do they have to be so dull?

  13. Barry Mark; Thanks for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments. Many of us here are disillusioned ex-Car readers. Speaking for myself, I avidly read TWBCM throughout the 1980’s and early ’90s but increasingly became bored by the vacuity and narrowness of its latter-day focus; especially after they ditched LJKS. I still have reams of T&CC and Classic & Sportscar issues but ultimately found them cliché-ridden and repetitive – (Buckley excepted). They say you should walk a mile in another man’s shoes, and in a way DTW came about from a sense that rather than just complain, we should try and do something ourselves.

    I grew up in a backwater, so the American titles were a rare treat – even Car was only available in my home town from around 1979. One title which I think deserves mention was the Australian publication ‘Wheels’. I seem to recall it had some links with Car – indeed some of TWBCM’s writers would appear on its pages from time to time. I remember a piece on Aussie legend, John Goss’ victory at the 1985 James Hardie 1000 race at Bathhurst, brilliantly and evocatively told.

    We all eulogise the past to some degree, but in the case of automotive writing, I honestly don’t believe its ever been less interesting. Yet we continue to live in interesting times. Some time back, Richard H wrote an excellent piece here in praise of buying old magazines on ebay. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough – in both cases…

  14. We’ve been here before on another thread (I forget which one) but Car and Driver is well worth a read. Indeed, their web site knocks Car Magazine’s into a cocked hat.

    1. Chris. As mentioned, I got a copy of C&D the other day with a view to possibly resubscribing. It was, strangely, very familiar for a magazine I haven’t read for almost 40 years, both in style and presentation. It’s production quality is quite basic, compared with Car’s shiny look, but for me all that works in its favour. Of course, no more Brock Yates or David E Davies but the writing is certainly still far more interesting and intelligent than today’s Car. It was surprisingly thin though. But it would be interesting to see what the ratio of copy to ads is compared with Car. I’m still undecided – I must try this month’s.

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