Not Just in the Metal, But In Print Too

While adding to his brochure collection, Bruno Vijverman notes a somewhat overt case of borrowed inspiration.

All images: The author

A while back, upon these pages, I wrote about the coincidental (or otherwise) similarities which have occurred in car design over the years. But more recently, since one of my past-times is collecting classic car brochures, it came to my notice that in some cases the practice of copying does not seem to be limited to the actual product, but also to the sales publicity material itself.

To be clear, I am not talking about the obvious broad similarities which are often dictated by the fashions and prevailing tastes of the era – in the sixties and seventies for instance the focus of the illustrations and text was on people and the freedom (real or imagined) and happiness that their new car was supposed to provide them.

In the decades thereafter there was a gradual but unstoppable shift to a more technical and factual approach. For the most part, humans started to disappear from the brochure photographs: the focus was now on the technical aspects of the car, the aerodynamics and its safety features, with the accompanying prose following suit.

As time went on an emphasis on image and the dreaded term premium became increasingly obvious in the publicity material of many an aspiring make. After the millennium, environment and sustainability came to the fore, and perhaps because of this people started to make a bit of a comeback in the brochure pages.

But what I came across recently was different. I had acquired a small batch of brochures, and was in my usual process of going through all of them – putting to one side those to add to my collection, and to another those already in my possession, and the ones that for whatever reason did not fit within my collection.

One of the brochures that caught my eye was an Italian language catalogue for the Rolls Royce Corniche, printed in 1980. The white laminated cover is embossed with the RR logo and Corniche script; nice but not shocking – one expects restrained chic from a maker like Rolls-Royce. It was only after opening up the inside pages that I was overcome with a strong sense of Deja vu. Hadn’t I seen this distinctive style of layout and photography before?

Luckily, I did not have to wait long for confirmation of my suspicions. My collection of Citroën brochures contains among several others a beautiful brochure on the SM from around 1972. Its photography is by Sarah Moon, the wife of Robert Delpire, and first female photographer selected to shoot the famous Pirelli Calendar. The fact that Delpire was responsible for the production and layout of all of Citroën’s publicity material for most of the sixties and seventies will no doubt have been a factor in the selection of Mrs. Moon for the job of photographing the 1972 SM catalogue, but her talent is obvious even now.

Having placed both brochures in front of me on my reading table, I was fascinated. The covers are of course very different but the inside pages are where it gets interesting. There is no mention of any photographer’s name in the RR catalog but, if I may be a bit blunt, it was someone who was perhaps not without talent but not quite in the same league as Mrs. Moon.

And neither was the person responsible for the layout, for otherwise it would not have lead to such an obvious pastiche of an earlier SM catalogue. The most blatant spread is the one with the detail photo of the dashboard on the left page: rainy windshield, road map, casually placed sunglasses, eyes of the model in the rear view mirror. All the evidence needed to conclude that whoever produced this Corniche brochure had the SM item nearby for inspiration.

Having said that, I am happy to have accidentally discovered this example of idea theft in print. The RR catalogue has been added to the various section where I place anything that technically does not belong in my collection (which consists of hydropneumatic Citroëns and American makes), but for whatever reason is deemed worthy of retention. This one is certainly for keeps.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

12 thoughts on “Not Just in the Metal, But In Print Too”

  1. Good morning Bruno, and well spotted. They’re too similar for it to be coincidental. The white cover on the Corniche brochure is rather dissonant, whereas the SM’s prepares you for what’s inside.

    Incidentally, I’m curious as to what criteria you use to exclude certain brochures from your collection?

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Yes I was wondering how the brochure’s ethnic cleansing works too.

    2. Hello Daniel,
      Like many collectors, I started out (around 1980) simply keeping every brochure I could get on cars I liked. As time went on however the amount of space required kept increasing. There was a temporary fix when I left my parent’s home and had the luxury of a separate room to keep my collection, but I had to face the fact (this happened around the millennium) that it would be wise to choose a specialized subject because soon it became clear that one room was not enough anymore. I moved to another, slightly larger house and me and the friends who were kind -or foolish- enough to help me with the boxes full of brochures came to the conclusion that it was starting to get out of hand.
      So, I decided to prune my collection- not an easy thing to do, but like with a beautiful new box of chocolates after one or two are gone the feeling of incompleteness bothers one less and less.
      I chose to keep the American car brochures (because of the often fantastic artwork and lavish production values), and the hydropneumatic Citroëns because I love the cars and because they too are (courtesy of individuals like Robert Delpire, André Martin etc) works of art in layout and photography. And there is a small section of various brochures that have a special meaning or interest to me, of which the Italian RR Corniche brochure is an example.
      The advent of online auction sites like Ebay were very helpful in liquidating parts of my collection, the proceeds of which I used to buy the 1964 Lincoln Continental I briefly mentioned in “Continental Congress”.
      In hindsight, the wisdom of that action is questionable as I sold the Lincoln again after some years because it sat unused for much too long. But what’s done is done, I have no regrets.
      I hope this has answered your (and NRJ’s) question!

  2. Hi Brrrruno,

    Very well spotted !

    I enjoyed reading this, I hadn’t noticed humans tended to disappear in the print adverts after the 80s but it’s true !

    Sarah Moon seems to have a Facebook account, maybe we could ask her about the RR pictures ? I would but I haven’t used FB for many years, Ican only see part of her profile but I can’t contact her unless I log in.

    1. Ok sorry, stop the press. It’s a Facebook fan page and not the real Sarah Moon. Maybe it’s best that all this remain an impenetrable mystery….

    2. Noooo!!!!

      Don’t log into Facebook, NRJ. If you get trapped in there, we can’t come and rescue you.

  3. Very interesting Bruno!

    I was wondering whether there is any mention of the Citroën-style hydropneumatic brakes and rear self-leveling system on the Corniche brochure?

    1. Hello Roberto,
      I have taken a look; the brochure has very little text apart from the technical data on the last page.
      As I do not speak Italian, I will type here verbatim what it says about the “Sospensioni”:

      Anteriori: indipendenti con braccio trasversale inferiore, leva superiore stabilizzata, molle a spirale piana e ammortizzatori telescopici. Barra antirollio.
      Posteriori: indenpendenti, con braccio longitudonale, molle a spirale, montanti di sospensione. Barra antirollio. Regolazione automatica dell’altezza di marcia.

      As far as I can determine/guess by reading this the only reference to the Citroën suspension system is the last sentence about the self-levelling. I hope this helps you further!

  4. In 1980 the Italian RR official importer was Wolframo (aka Bepi) Koelliker in Milan, who started doing it, I think, before the war. In the period from the Fifties to the Eighties he was, and remained, the only Italian official importer of British cars: Rootes group, Jaguar and Triumph, Rover and Land Rover, enlarging the activity in the Seventies with Japanese (Mitsubishi) and URSS cars.
    So in 1980 he was at the same time the official dealer of ZAZ and Moskvitch on one side and of RR and Jaguar on the other side.
    Returning to the brochure, I suppose there might be an easy solution for the similarity: the Koelliker storage area and offices were in viale Certosa, in the Portello area, and the same happened to be for Citroën Italia, via Gattamelata.
    So I think it very easy that an SM brochure arrived in the Koelliker offices and was used as a model for the RR: after all the selling numbers of Rolls Royce in Italy were never so high, maybe ten or twenty units /year, so a quick and economical solution was used to provide a nice leaflet which, in the end, nobody would have cared too much for.

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