Forty Two Years Apart

We carry out our own Giant Test: Car 1978 versus Car 2020. 

Image: supercarnostalgia

‘What’s best’ arguments rage year on year. Be it a question of professional drivers, iterations of nunelfer, or which brand of cigarette used to be advertised, anything displaying sufficient longevity can be channelled into column inches. Today our unyielding gaze is on the rear view mirror that two issues of Car magazine provide. 

For the princely sum of ten pence, the January 1978 issue was purchased at a pre-pandemic local village show. Atop a pile in an unkempt cardboard box of what turned out to be the sole vein of automotive lore (the remainder a house/home/cooking combination) the cover of a Lamborghini Countach surrounded by young boys had me reaching for a silver coin. Even the admirably reconditioned H-van selling coffee alongside waited its turn being viewed – two score years car journalism more heady than an espresso served from a vehicle probably as old.

Fast forward to September 2020. A non-scheduled fuel stop saw me stump up the courage to purchase the then current issue which is where we can begin our comparison.

The 1978 original cost 40 pence (equal to £2.34 in 2020). 2020 version – £4.99. Therein lay a world of difference.

The seventies issue, consisted of seventy pages of paper quality with similitudes to newsprint. Mel Nichols, an Australian who inspired other antipodean analysts over time was editor. The magazine (incorporating Small CAR and Q-Car) was published on the third week of every month by London based FF Publishing. 

Twenty four and half pages were devoted to advertisements which included three full sides of locations for UK Peugeot dealers, to Triplex glass, Finnigan’s Waxoyl, Acoustikit silencing from Stockport and a small slip to return to Satra Motors Ltd, Surrey in order to “get a Lada in your life.

Luckily in between such, the allocation of excellent writing was combined with more illustrations than monotone photographs, the only colour seen being both sides of covers front and rear, the outer rear carrying the ubiquitous government health warning, regarding the place where flavourful country lies. Different times.

Models written about consisted of Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta, Subaru’s saloon, the Lada Niva and three full pages (with photo overlay) of the cover star Countach S. The famous Giant Test saw the Alfasud 1300Ti take on the 1.3S Fiesta and Renault 5TS. A 1979 subscription is on offer for whoever guesses correctly the winning motor. Bizarrely and frustratingly split over different pages, more words than facts were given over to the Fiat 128 3P and Peugeot ZS, France winning on this occasion.

Other articles concerned the Volkswagen Miracle, how the UK needed to campaign for CB radio, a Tokyo motor show report (by Jon Winding-Sorensen) and as we’ll see more of momentarily, two pages dedicated to motorists and their horological interests. 

Of course the writers were the true stars. Frontline was the opportunity for such as Leonard Setright, Ronald Barker, George Bishop, Ian Fraser and perennial Georg Kacher to sound off. Puppet caricatures, more illustrations and inch high photographs surrounded their now hallowed scribbles. Fine observations, inspired prose and a welcome lack of nonsense make this as good a read now as then. Well worth the expense. 

Image: coverpocketmags

158 glossy pages comprise the more modern version where even sections of typed opinions are white, as the darkly coloured pictures help convey drama. Only nineteen pages were devoted to essential products (no cigarettes – the outer rear now a Seat Leon) but three of these related to something its older version never mentioned – subscribing. This is where longtime owners, Bauer Media cast their net far and wide, with online, print or bundle options, making easy access to your monthly fixation of potted journalism, action shots and titbit information.

Rarely would a customer today nip to the newsagents for twenty Marlboro and the latest issue when he can download or have posted home news of the latest Range Rover, Defender or ideas about the Aston Martin DBX over a three hundred mile test, whilst vaping. Certain aspects remain. The Giant Test pitted a Cayman GTS against BMW’s M2 CS, a Lotus Evora and an Alpine A110S. Guess this victor and you could win a watch from page 28 – the photograph of the £795 Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic being surely larger than necessary. Cars and watches go together, guv’nor…

Other mainstays from days of yore included the pages by senior staff given over to personal pontificating. Once more surrounded by an illustration, nowadays larger, which allows for the author to use less words. Another bulwark being their envious links to the industry. The reader might dismiss what’s there but how else does one consider the opinions of Ford of Europe’s president Stuart Rowley on CO2 emissions against a vociferous campaigner? Or perhaps titter at the musings of Werner Tietz, head of Bentley engineering. His first car was a rebuilt (by himself) 2CV and he worked on Macan, Taycan and 992 generation 911 afore heading to Cheshire. Editor Ben Miller’s page and a bit interview announces the Bentayga’s wiring loom weighs 50Kgs. Handy for the pub based car quiz if nothing else.

Another old fashioned link now partnered with modern world were letters from the public arena. The older version was called Sir! whereas the modern take is called Opinion, with comments pithy or borderline offensive by the editor. We can safely bet against written correspondence landing on the Peterborough office doormat, although the flavoured content received from these keyboard jockeys endures. Naturally, styles of both the cars themselves and those paid to entertain us have altered. Today’s instant access to everything would bewilder the 1970s Car reader and contributor alike.

To the rear though we must attend, perhaps Car’s most (in) famous section: The Good, Bad and the Ugly. The 1978 issue became prone to industrial problems, forcing a sad absence. The 2020 broadcast subsumed to the title GBU with thumb width allegories to practically every single available model of car, including a five star (very few) rating. A one star rating alongside inchoate rants were foisted upon the Lexus CT, two stars given to the Kia Venga and MG ZS with those receiving close to the full works usually costing telephone numbers in price. No Lada’s were harmed in the making of this issue.

Adding top five featured aspects such as crossovers or luxury SUV’s and monthly leasing prices reveal the gulf of forty two years motoring. 

Car as a magazine still exists, inasmuch as breathing is still natural. Car magazine as a force to be reckoned with will always remain in the hands of both purchaser and publisher, who continue to be as fickle as the seasons. Praise be we once had perfection, but that was a long, long time ago.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

50 thoughts on “Forty Two Years Apart”

  1. I must have discovered CAR in 1965, around the time it was launched. Very much a guilty pleasure , as the newsagent was delivering Autocar through the letterbox each week. The main attraction was the abundance of scoop photos, but some of the writing was very informative – and I don’t mean LJK. I knew Barker and Bishop from their Autocar pieces, and others wrote about events in Europe and North America. The problem was the price – as much as a gallon of petrol, and I was a sixth-former running an E93A on pocket money.

  2. Thank you for reminding me of my first Car Magazine. Bought for the train trip to see my sister. I should have been reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” for my O levels, but stuff that, there was a 928 on the front cover (March 1981). It also started my love of the Opel Monza.

    Thank you, I have just bought a copy from eBay to relive the excitement.

  3. I subscribed to ‘Car’ magazine, at vast expense, (to cover the air freight), from NZ, but only for a few years as a few issues never arrived. Then I found a retailer that brought the issues in by airmail, (the magazine also coming in by ordinary sea freight hence a three month delay). I have every issue from this issue, Jan 1978 through to May 2012, when I stopped bothering, it just didn’t seem worth it. The quality of writing and the paper quality had dropped too much and the internet bought in the news even faster than airmail. I used to visit the ‘Car’ website but it’s not a patch on ‘Autocar’, and of course nothing compares to Driven To Write for the sort of automotive inspired commentary I like.
    I’ve gone from a dedicated ‘Car’ reader to not a reader at all.

    And looking back, I think the rot set in when they dropped the ‘chrome’ from the logo.

    1. I thought the rot set in when Cropley joined….
      What really finished it for me was the embargo-breaking scoop review of the new fwd Escort, which turned out to be fictional.

  4. I maintain that CAR’s real decline started when it merged with Performance Car, and every issue had to have Impreza! written large on its glossy cover. Superficially at least, not much has changed other than the heroes of the hour, inevitably a moving feast; Type R! M2 Pro Competition CSL!

    For years I subscribed, latterly the magazine was often still in its wrapper when the next issue had arrived. There was a feeling that I’d seen it all before. Unaffordable oaf’s chariots which would be bought by the insecure to impress people they didn’t like, fawning interviews to massage the egos of industry high-ups. The photography is great, mind.

    The advertising in modern day car tells us a lot. SEAT’s long term contract is the exception. Much of it is for gambling, pre-owned watch brokers, sub-prime finance, and ‘detailing’ products – a window into the world of people with the wrong priorities in life.

    I finally cut the painter with CAR about two years and have only occasionally gone back. The near-extinction of the traditional newsagent has also taken away the temptation. Reading Andrew’s article makes me wonder if there are still young people out there on whom CAR has the same ‘grip’ as the magazine had for me forty or more years ago. I’d guess not. The world has changed a lot, and we communicate in very different ways.

  5. I actually had to Google the ‘Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic’ to check if it was a real watch, or a creation of Andrew’s fertile imagination. It exists!

    The ‘pub based car quiz’ had more appeal, although for me it conjured up a vision of seven people crammed into a Ford Galaxy or Renault Espace, being tested on their recondite knowledge of licensed premises.

    1. I am a bit of watch-guy, but never heard of the ‘Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic’, so like you I had to look it up 😉

  6. I’m afraid I have to subscribe to the prevailing view here, that Car Magazine is a pale shadow of its former self. It may be much glossier and ‘aspirational’ these days, but the quality of the writing is nowhere near as good and the obsession with very expensive cars, way beyond the reach of the vast majority of potential readers, is offputting.

    Back in those pre-Internet days, Car Magazine was always exciting for its grainy black-and-white photographs of as yet unveiled new models, mainly taken by German photographer Hans G. Lehmann. Some were so grainy that I wondered if Herr Lehmann had an ‘understanding’ with the automakers not to reveal too much detail in his spy-shots. I still remember the excitement of my first sighting of the Mercedes-Benz W201 190 being hammered around a test track:

    Thanks to the kindness and generosity of DTW reader and commenter, JTC, I have a full set of back issues of the magazine from 1965 to 1995, to which I frequently refer in writing my pieces. Reading through these back issues, it’s extraordinary to see how much space was devoted to manufacturers’ new model plans, with accompanying illustrations, that never came to anything. Whether it was pure speculation on the part of the magazine or real plans that subsequently bit the dust is a matter of conjecture, but they still intrigued me at the time.

    The only time I ever look at a current issue of Car Magazine is in airport newsagents while killing time, waiting to board a plane. I cannot remember the last time I saw anything sufficiently interesting to shell out the £5.25 cover price.

    1. One of the other attractions to go with the grainy Lehman photos was the crisp line drawings by… was it Mark Stehrenberger?

  7. I bought my first issue of CAR magazine in October 1985 and my last issue some time in the mid to late 1990s. For a while in the 1980s it was essential and glorious and an important part of my formative teenage years. I well remember the monthly excitement of anticipating the arrival of the next issue.

    I don’t get the watch thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like a nice watch as much as the next person, but I don’t understand why every modern issue has a section devoted to expensive watches.

    1. The watch article is there to placate the companies who buy back page ads on the magazine. Prospect magazine ran a pointless stocks´n´shares article for the same reason even if it jarred with the magazine´s style. Aparrently it kept advertisers happy. The latest editions of “Car” are printed on horrible paper and have illegible photos. It´s not worth the money but up to 2005 it was still good enough. The magazine died when they moved to Peterborough, to an office park.

  8. Good morning. Car magazine was a bit hard to get at the magazine stores in the Netherlands in my teenage years I managed to find a shop that sold it. I bought a few copies, but never subscribed. There were cars I wasn’t particularly interested in at the time, so I only bought the magazine every now and then if it had the cars I did care about. I must have a few copies somewhere in the basement.

  9. And photography to the same standard as the writing, often from Martyn Goddard…

    …whose work was also known in other quarters:

    1. Yes, when it was the best available, just because it could be. Using the best people because why settle for less than the best?

  10. Sir! At the risk of sounding fogeyish, it seems most of todays automotive journalism has simply become automotive pornography, and is about as fulfilling. Fine for the occasional thrill perhaps, but no basis for a long-term relationship.

    I lost interest in CAR magazine in the early 2000’s, when every issue seemed to focus solely on premium brands, a trend that has only accelerated. DTW often proves that fascination can be found in the most mundane aspects of the automotive world. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks – we´re here because Car melted away. I am not saying we´re as good as Car was at it´s best, more that the kind of thing I wanted to read about was not in Car any more so I started to write it myself. I am not speaking for Eoin or Sean T´s motivations. You are right: the magazine changed from being the one that allowed free-form, not-easily-categorised articles into one where every item fitted a template. That was the dead hand of Bauer, I would suppose. Their argument is that the kind of thing they used to write doesn´t sell any more. My argument is that DTW´s viewing figures indicate there is demand for it. We are the most popular automotive website in Surinam*.

      *I made that up.

    2. I’m clapping hands to both Richards, but all of them are sent to the Herriot variety, so you must split them between yourselves 🤣

  11. I’ll say it then…DTW and your writers are indeed the new Car in my humble opinion.

    I don’t recall how I came by DTW a few years ago but thank God is all I can say. LJK and Russel Bulgin are sorely missed to this day and nobody has ever really replaced the pair in print media. DTW is the next best thing.

    Car still publish Bulgins writing on their website which is a nice tribute to the great man himself.

    I always wonder if LJK and Bulgin would have transferred their talents to the screen or YouTube had they lived to see todays many social media options?

    Inspired by Daniels Sierra Car cover pic I recently bought a few copies of old Car on Ebay Dec ’84, Jan’86 and May’89 but I’m finding the nostalgia unbearable and changes in society difficult to comprehend. Snippets of lost childhood. It’s making me want to find a time machine and travel back to what feels like a simpler less complex time…although it probably was no less complex than 2022 for my parents.

    As for Car magazine today. The less said the better sadly.

    Thank you DTW.

    1. Well said Christian – though I’d go further and say that DTW’s greater scope surpasses the Car we mourn. DTW has neither equal nor substitute.

  12. The first CAR issue I bought had a test of Corvette ZR1 vs. Porsche 928, it was 1989. From then on I bought every single issue or had a subscription. I gave up around 2007 when there was a “Green!” suplement and lots of half baked silly text.
    I read that their current sales numbers are around 50,000 per month (down from 110,000 in 2013 and that already must have been a serious decline compared to their heyday), surely not a sustainable business case.
    When I cancelled my subscription for a motoring magazine after more than thirty-five years around 2005 I got a questionnaire asking for the reasons for my termination of the subscription (which was for much the same reasons as our complaints about the current state of CAR).
    I wrote them that I wanted to read about cars and not entertainment and assistance systems or connectivity. I got the answer that they were proud to be perceived as competence leaders in these areas. Their current sales numbers are a bit more than a third of what they were in the early Nineties.

    Car manufacturers need the magazines as a helping hand for their marketing departments to ram home messages like the need for ever more nannying systems and ever more nonsensical onboard functionality in cars. For whatever reason readers of those magazines are willing to may money for exactly the same content they could have at no cost in sales brochures from their nearest dealer.

  13. In the late 70s and early 80s, whenever family and friends went someplace requiring air travel, they would ask “Can I bring you anything?” My answer was that I would love it if they would visit an airport newsstand and bring me the current issue of car. Much less perishable than pastries and less kitschy than souvenir spoons or thimbles. Later a local news/magazine store (blast from the past!) carried it, usually a month behind.

    No matter. It was full of news about cars this American had no chance of ever driving or buying (like the Peugeot 205 and the Reliant Robin and the Golf GTI, the sexy cousin of the poorly-Americanized Rabbit). It was a welcome read even if the news was “old.”

    Fast forward several years. I saw random issues of car but did notice that the writing was not what it was and that the globalization of the car industry (e. g., Ford Escape = Kuga) took away some of the exoticism — but that the exoticism was pumped up by the presence of lots of content about supercars that had no function in my 55-mph-limited mortgage-paying life.

    Now car sends a teaser to my electronic mailbox every week. I probably read three articles a month from the steady stream. To quote Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there.” The writing seems more superficial with little in the way of interpretation and from journalists without the profiles (and foibles) of the old guard. And the concentration on the most expensive model of just about anything they write about simply doesn’t seem worth much attention. Maybe time has taken that aspiration from me; I don’t subscribe to any car magazines any more. But the magazine that I once coveted, even a couple of months past fresh, now merits no more than an “eh.”

    1. I think that was Dorothy Parker writing about Oakland. Ironically, it was car-based urban planning leads to places that have no sense of place which is what Oakland was. It could just as easily apply to anywhere in post-war Denmark.

    2. “Dorothy Parker writing about Oakland”
      Oakland the place or Oakland the car ?

    3. Hmm. Appears I can only reply to my own post, not replies to my post.

      Apparently it was Gertrude Stein, writing about Oakland, California. From /Everybody’s Autobiography/, published in 1937: “…what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or any-thing if I like but not there, there is no there there.”

  14. This is a timely article, Andrew – Car magazine is 60 years old, this month.

    They’ve produced a few pages online which celebrate this.

    The period up to 1995 was Car’s heyday to my eyes, due to the quality of the writing and the range of content.

    As others have said above, DTW shows that people can write about automotive-related subjects interestingly and not everything that could be said, has been.

    Mind you, DTW covers design, technology, engineering, history and profiles of significant people, among other topics, so it’s not just about describing the characteristics of a certain car, which is what a lot of automotive journalism seems to be about these days.

    One of the greatest pleasures of reading DTW is that I am almost always motivated to find out more about a topic which I knew nothing about, or to look further in to a subject where I thought I knew a great deal.

    I also get the impression that there is quite a variety of backgrounds, areas of specialism and personalities among the contributors to DTW and I’m sure that helps a great deal, too.

    1. You hint at something in your last para, Charles. It´s hinterland. I think the big change in Car related to the sharp narrowing of the writers´ backgrounds or else their willingness to bring in their “hinterland” of experience. The more you know the bettter the writing is.

  15. The idea that there was a time when Car was ever required reading (By myself and others), now seems as alien and did-it-really-happen as smoking on buses and having to wire plugs onto your new domestic appliances. I happily devoured Car, Bike and FHM- hark, is that the gender warriers sharpening their pitchforks- every month. By coincidence they were all published by EMAP and all seemed to lose their way at about the same time. Contrary to what others have said I think they lost it long before Bauer “Media” brought them which was 2008. I stopped reading them regularly a few years before and never brought any of them after getting my first house in 2007.

    The withering of Bike was the greatest loss, as motorcycling is oddly social despite the central bike riding bit been more or less solitary and a strong, relevant “Biking” press was part of the community mortar.

    The Car magazine and watch love in almost makes sense. Although watches can be gorgeous; I have too many, they are not inherently interesting enough to justify their own magazine. But they do come into their own when driving, as I defy anyone who doesn’t have a Maserati Biturbo to know where the clock is in their car!. If worn miliatary style on the inside of your wrist you can see what time it is, well all the time.

  16. I was a Car addict from December 76 (scoop shots of the Porsche 928) until sometime around the mid-90s. Initially I kept them all, but eventually reality hit me and I got rid of the later editions…although I still have December 76 up to December 79 – which means I have the Countach edition featured in this item (I wonder how many other people can say that ?!)

    The reason I was attracted to Car back then was because it was very different to any other car magazine on sale at the time. In newspaper terms all the others were tabloids, whereas Car was an in-depth, intelligent magazine which assumed its readers had an above-average interest in the subject.

    Looking at them now (my collection of 76 -79) I’m amazed how staid and monochromatic they are…but at the time they were ground-breaking in graphic design as well as editorial content. They were obviously constrained by the printing technology of the time (no computers) so under the circumstances the rend result was impressive.

  17. A couple of observations, if I may.

    Firstly, my humble thanks (on behalf of the team) for all the warm words regarding our output here. It is very gratifying to be compared with a publication which at its best, was the industry benchmark. I’m not convinced we are much of one by comparison, but then, as those who know me will attest, I am not a reliable judge of such matters.

    Stephen Patrick Morrissey once wrote the lyric; “has the world changed or have I changed” to a song which resonates at a particular frequency at this moment in time, but it is a question one could ask when we speak of Car’s latterday fall from grace; to say nothing of Stephen Patrick Morrissey’s Icarian plummet. As much as I lament the falling of, not only journalistic standards, but those of the written word at that once hallowed title, does it not reflect the trivialisation of popular culture at large?

    In Richard’s recently republished piece on the Lancia Stilnovo, he quoted Car’s Gavin Green from 2008. Now Green was a writer who was perhaps a little too keen to play the controversialist, to allow his need to be opinionated to override the service of the sentence he was writing, but this quote suggests an over-zealous editor breathing down his neck. An overwhelming imperative to “get with the funny”.

    It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where Car’s editorial content began to nosedive. I might be tempted to cite the point where they upped the paper size – around mid-90s I’d hazard. The listicles started around then and a rather forced imperative to be ‘iconoclastic’ and ‘edgy’ (see above). The point when they really lost me was when they offered Piers Morgan airtime. There was no going back from there. I worked for EMAP during the 2000s. I recall going up to Peterborough for a meeting and the culture and atmosphere amid the open plan offices where Nuts, FHM, Max Power, Practical Classics, BIKE and CAR (amid innumerable other ‘Mens’ publications) were editorialised was drenched in the worst aroma of cheap testosterone and hastily applied Lynx anti-perspirant. It was a long way from my somewhat naive imaginings.

    But we owe Car a debt of gratitude, for is it responsible for DTW’s inception, not simply because our platonic ideal of it formed an inspiration, but because myself, Sean, and Richard were refugees from its below-the-line online pages, which was once upon a time a lively place; far more so than the magazine itself by then. We had a somewhat vainglorious idea we could do better. We are trying.

    I find the old issues of Car a somewhat frustrating read nowadays. The staff writers and editors wore their prejudices on their sleeves, which might have been refreshing then, but is infuriating now. Only the columnists are really worth the price of admission for me now, but even if I cannot read the old issues for pleasure any more, they remain benchmarks. Car was the Gold standard. That it isn’t any more suggests more that our relationship with shiny metal objects has changed than anything intrinsic.

    Christian: Mr. Bulgin did a few televisual programmes in the 1990s, for Channel 4, if I recall. One was a series on car design on Without Walls called Auto Erotic* and another on the (40th?) Anniversary of the Mini. He came across rather well, I thought. I had them on VCR. God alone knows where they are now. Or where the VCR player is, for that matter…

    *Fun fact: This also featured a pre-Partridge Steve Coogan on voiceover duties.

    1. A point of inflection for me might have been the relentless bullying of the Ford Probe. Was that really necessary or justified?

      Eoin’s evocation of the the Morrissey song leaves me with another thought:

      By the time I started reading, George Bishop was already leaning heavily into his self-mocking nearly worn out curmudgeonly demeanor, for which I had little use at the time. But perhaps his passing also marked a point of inflection, editorially speaking.

    2. Good heavens – I had no idea about DTW’s origins. I’m very glad that you all did what you did.

      Re Auto Erotic, there are some episodes on YouTube, including one called ‘The Streamliners’. It looks rather good.

    3. Eóin, your reply exemplifies why we are all here reading DTW. Erudite, concise, thoughtful, and lyric. Qualities scarcely found anywhere else, if at all.
      Thank you.

  18. This thread has actually got me wondering. I’m away from base at present, but when I return to the Kingdom I’ll venture into the attic and see if I have preserved any CAR back issues among the boxes of Autocars.

  19. My collection was destroyed by a flood in the late aughts. There are a many pieces and passages that I yearn to re-read to see whether I might understand them better than I did. And speaking of wearing biases on one’s sleeve… here are two that vex me still, on which I hope the DTW commentariat might be able to shed further light.

    – One in particular is Setright’s effusive enthusiasm for the then new A8, in which (if I recall correctly) he declared that the frontal, “facial aspect” of the A8 represented a parsec jump in advancement over the 7 and S-Class. I struggled with that then, granted that W140 and E32/E38 were incremental evolutions of their predecessors; but so was the A8 (whose predecessor was the V8). I still wonder now what he was seeing that I still am missing.

    – Another more technical Car piece I struggled with mightily was the scoop about Jaguar’s 4WD system, which appeared just around the time (if I recall) that it became obvious that XJ41 wasn’t ever going to happen, so I imagined the piece was released because the system was slated for a version of XJ40, which also never happened (X400’s AWD system(s) were completely different).

    But despite the “game changer, so brilliant because it is simple, everyone will be knocking on Jaguar’s door to license this” nature of the piece, it seemed to me that the ratio of distribution of torque to the front vs. rear wheels (a planetary gear set described using the word “annulus”, I think for the carrier of the planet gears, which was connected directly to the prop shaft) depended entirely on what gear was selected; and that would never fly. Of course I must have misunderstood? Then again, not another word about this was ever spoken!

    Anyone recall these? Still haunting me, closure on these matters would be helpful. TIA!

    1. Gooddog: As regards the A8, I can only point you towards the good Mr. O’Callaghan, who has a piece (or two) on the A8 in the works and might be able to shed something akin to light.

      I do recall Car’s ‘scoop’ on the Jaguar four-wheel-drive system. Even at the time, I wondered about (a) the necessity, and (b) the execution – not to mention the fact that the sketch looked like something doodled on the back of an A4 sheet. (It probably was). The story that accompanied it was pure Cropley-copter. “This is so incredible, it will have everyone else running, no, sprinting back to their drawing boards, once they realise how incalculably BRILLIANT it is”. He should have been a Fast Show character. Maybe he was…

      I suspect it’s a Jim Randle doodle. Beyond that, I can’t speculate. What I do know is that there was to have been a four-wheel-drive version of XJ41 – the feeling being that the twin-turbocharged version’s torque would require it. There were XJ-S based mules running with the XJ41 driveline and powertrain – I’ve seen them in Jaguar’s Heritage collection. I don’t know what the exact technical layout was definitively to have been however.

      Not much help I’m afraid…

    2. Eóin, Your coincident remembrance, and concurrent opinion offers me solace. Thank you.

      Daniel, I hope the LJKS take on the A8 will prove helpful to your research. Looking forward to it.

    3. Hi Charles, As Eóin recounted, the Car doodle was ludicrously simple by comparison and only showed two planet gears.

      However, the article you linked specifically outlines a clear relationship between FF Developments and Jaguar. Even though the production version of the XJ220 was driven by its rear wheels only, FF was retained to design and manufacture that car’s transaxle, and given Jaguar’s complete inexperience in this area it seems unlikely that FF wouldn’t have been involved in the system scooped by Car’s Brown’s Lane cheerleading section, and it surely would make a lot more sense than the fantastical story we were fed*.

      Given the proximity between erstwhile DTW contributor Steve Randle and FF, not only via Jaguar but also McLaren (F1).

      It seems possible that he could unlock this mystery.

      * We might use this example in a related discussion of whether episodes such as this are causally related to the decimation of journalistic quality and integrity over time as opposed to a decline in interest in the subject matter itself, as has been suggested.

  20. From dropping my daughter off to start her university journey earlier this weekend, combined with the calm pause the United Kingdom is currently working its way through, my schedule has been a touch awry over the last few days, apologies for coming across this article later than I would have otherwise.

    Any enthusiastic reader of Car magazines past will likely differ as to when the rot set in and have various views as to its heyday. However, peak Car was glorious whilst it lasted, bringing a joy to me that hasn’t been remotely matched by any other publication. Of the many magazines I bought, it was the only one that would pass muster with my discerning grandad and conversation at the dinner table concerning LJKS’s latest opinions was always a shared pleasure. That it hit such peaks and resonated so strongly with a core group of readers makes its downfall into insignificance so troublesome.

    I’m clearly not the only one here that can remember their first copy, mine was April 1984 – in an instance it made me question my allegiance to Motor which was only bought on certain occasions subsequently. The general thread throughout was enthusiasm, excitement for motoring, design and what was coming next. Regardless of the writer, there was a distinct Car voice, one that I haven’t come across as strongly in a magazine since. I felt a consistent support for the underdog, covers showing Panther, Midas, Skoda and Reliant always made it stand out from the rest. The wonderful top 10 cars of the year photoshoots were testament to this; invariably amongst the top 10 there would be cars such as a Thema, a BX, 2CV, a Corolla coupe. Vehicles that other magazines didn’t champion.

    I persisted through the late 90’s at which point the comfortable voices of old had mostly disappeared and I think I held on until around 2004 at which point the laddish dialogue and almost a decade long fascination with anything born and bred in Germany proved more than I could take. It was a wrench to leave it behind though. It was clear long before that it would never return to the period I saw as the glory days but as with a failing but once wonderful relationship, the slender hope of recreating the highlights caused me to hang on for far too long. Looking back, a final bell may have tolled when Alexi Sayle, a contributer at the time posted a monthly review of his long-term test car. Whilst expressing views in an anarchic style I though befitted the traditions of Car, they can’t have been shared by management or the advertisers, as he didn’t return to report on the car again. The banality of service schedules and mpg figures was what was expected now. A great fall from the days of its disregard for advertising with the brave lemon VW cover.

    Car magazine was for me worth so much more than its constituent parts. The joy seeing it on the shelf in my local newsagent on the expected Thursday is a pleasure that hasn’t been found with anything similar since. I also still find myself asking ‘what would car say’ when looking at new vehicles. Whilst I take great pleasure in driving cars that the Clarksons and current periodicals have decried, I would shudder at the thought of LJKS disapproving of one of my current vehicles.

    My collection was taken away by a chap from Northern Ireland in his Volvo 740 many years ago to make room with a house move. A decision I regret regularly.

    A flick through the 1984 to 1992 issues would bring so much joy; I think I’ll settle for an ebay search of September 1990 and relive my youth for a few hours.

  21. Testing the water here – any fans of triple C ? ( Cars and Car Conversions)

    1. Wow, that’s a blast from the past, Mervyn! As a youngster, I used to receive copies second-hand from a colleague of my dad’s who was a car nut. I used to enjoy the readers’ modified road cars feature.

    2. At school in the early-mid ’70s there were definitely CCC and Hot Car factions.

      I was a Hot Car boy and don’t regret it. It was good on technical explanations and broader-based than CCC with kit cars and reader’s specials featuring monthly, along with interesting and well researched historical articles on the sort of not-quite classics which would be within the financial reach of the imagined readership. CCC majored on rallying, rallycross, and autocross – all were a big deal in these days.

      Custom Car hadn’t yet reached its soft-porn period, but was regarded with some suspicion as being a bit hippy-ish and countercultural.

      Only one of my fellow pupils managed to persuade his parents to give him a subscription to CAR. It was very different from anything else, with its John Byrne cover art and layout design more like Private Eye than the mainstream weeklies and monthlies. Expensive too. I thought it pretentious, and wasn’t won over.

      In the years which followed, the boy with the CAR subscription rose to the highest rungs of academia, and is a significant figure in the nation’s cultural elite. He’s never driven a car in his life.

  22. So many comments on here resonate with me, it really is like a Car Anonymous Meeting in this article.

    I can remember my first copy of Car, August 1990, bought as a 12 year old to take on my first foreign holiday. I was so taken with it, it instilled a work ethic in me by default, as such labour was required to buy it each month. My brain is playing tricks on me, but my affaire with Car and the highs and lows seem to coincide with periods of my life. I can pick up pretty much any copy of Car from 1990 – 2005 and it will bring back a memory. They were that anticipated and appreciated by me.

    The rot, as Robert correctly states, started when Performance Car, a fine publication in itself, was subsumed into Car. Car was no longer pure. Then, and I’m surprised nobody else has picked up on this, the cancer spread and accelerated when Top Gear magazine was launched. By then my work ethic was honed to such perfection I bought both for many years. Car had its first real rival and it panicked. Richard Bremner left his editor role before it started. It never recovered.

    By 2005, Car was a cross between FHM and Top Gear and as good as neither and nothing like as good as Car in 1990s. Bulgin and Straight had left for Autocar, Green was still MIA after doing a management role for EMAP where Max Power was the real money spinner. There was no romance, no product knowledge, no enthusiasm. The magazine format itself transitioned from from elegant simplicity to chunky noise.

    I’ll buy this months, then that’ll be it until I’m once again stuck in an airport, train station or hotel for any lengthy period of time.

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