Far better than owning an old car is owning a lot of old car magazines. You can buy them for about the same price as a new magazine but they are miles more absorbing. They take up less space than an old car too.
One of the pleasures of buying a new car magazine is imagining what it might be like to drive some of the overpriced, over-sized and over-complicated space rockets that fill their pages. And that’s about it. There’s not much else in these magazines since the explanatory role of car journalism has gone the way of the BBC’s old aim of entertaining, informing and educating. It’s all entertainment now. If you want news go to Automotive News which is free. That’s a great site.
In stark contrast, old magazines such as the one shown here let you imagine having the cars featured and perhaps take you back to the time in question. If you care to, there is usually some worthwhile technical material in each magazine. Nearly everything I know about car engineering I gleaned from these sorts of publications. They also contain a lot of material that is still not available on-line, not unless you go to a forum and ask someone. I find the sociological changes that have taken place interesting to observe.
You can tell everyone writing letters to these magazines wore a tie; I presume the journalists at Autocar were also tie-wearers whilst my suspicion is that Car in 1974 was a nest of tie-less, bearded blow-ins from the antipodes. I do often wonder what happened to the writers though. Very few of them are still around. Did they all die in 1985? Or did they give up and start their own garages?
Another nice aspect of getting an old car magazine is the deferred gratification. Just going to a shop and buying new magazine is too easy although it is an excuse for exercise. With eBay you first have the hours of fun choosing which magazine you want to get next (while the shop offers you about five or six only and they all have the same cars on the front) and then comes the patient wait.
When you place your order someone in, say, Esher goes up to their attic, roots around, finds the edition and slips it into a plastic sleeve (of a type only available to the book trade) and wraps it in a thick wadding of card, trickles down to the post office and sends it off after a chat with the cashier. You get a pleasant surprise when the magazine lands on your door mat, almost a week after you clicked on PayPal.
My collection of old car magazines is growing faster than my collection of new car magazines. The new ones turn up only once a month and I nearly never read them whereas I seem to be acquiring about 20 of these old magazines every year. Thanks to the purchase of about €70 worth of 70s Car, Autocar and Motor I know virtually everything about the Peugeot 604 and feel that owning one will not add much to my knowledge base (I still want one). I’m also well versed on the Talbot Tagora (no thanks), Opel Senator (very tempting) and sundry other vehicles whose Wikipedia entries paint entirely different images of the cars than the ones in the magazines. Where does the truth lie?
What I don’t buy are secondhand classic car magazines. That’s a bit meta for me. Now that I think about it, I suppose a 20 year old classic car magazine will have a different crop of cars than one from today – what were popular classics in 1995? I wonder is there a gap in the market for Classic Car Magazines magazine? Another reason to avoid the classic car magazines is that you will find images of a younger Martin Buckley and this will only serve to remind you how old you have become in the meantime because the current Martin Buckley is now as old as the cars he writes about.
I can only recommend investing in some of these magazines, if only to put modern cars in perspective and, perhaps, appraise yourselves of the dreary state of printed automotive journalism by comparison.