Punctuation Bingo!

Please gamble responsibly.

Image: The author

Best start with the facts. This is the cover composite from the November 2010 edition of Car magazine. It was, as we can discern, a busy month for the UK periodical. Big Georg Kacher was flown out to the United States (business class no doubt) for an exclusive ‘drive’ of Jaguar’s shapely CX-75 hybrid-supercar concept, while the fullest possible coverage was provided of the three conceptual offerings from the fevered imagination of Lotus’ then CEO, the much unmissed Dany Bahar.

Britskrieg ! screamed the headline, as stridently as a dive-bombing Stuka; a tortured and needless piece of bellicose verbiage which previously only the UK’s Red Top editors might have considered. Such language was not only rather inappropriate, but references such as an “all out sports car war” were really Infra Dignitatem for a once high-brow title such as the EMAP monthly. It would be interesting to establish whether they ran this cover outside the UK? But aside from matters of taste and sensitivity, there was a good deal more that was unfortunate about this word salad – namely, just about everything.

Far too much information, for a start; so much is going on in this single cover image, one struggles to make sense of it all. Yet as we now know, not one of these vehicles stumbled across the line into production. Jaguar’s CX-75 was probably the closest to realisation of any of the cover stars but foundered amid an evaporating business case. The Lotus revival was of course, an infamous piece of vaporware, and it is rather doubtful that Audi ever had any serious intention of productionising the Sport-Quattro concept.

Meanwhile, twelve years on, the contents of the issue fail the test of time in other ways too. The writing was forced, the opinions self-conscious; one senses an editor attempting to maintain qualities he didn’t necessarily understand or necessarily believe in as the title haemorrhaged relevance in a post-Top Gear landscape where everything was stated with a sneer and a knowing wink.

Not that we should dismiss any of this as being easy. Writing pithy headlines is something of an art, and as such, should be taken seriously, by those who enjoy them as much as by those who create them. I should know. I write a good deal of the headlines you see here and can attest to how much time and effort of mind is required*. It is after all, relatively easy to sit in judgement from afar. Mr. Editor MacNamara had a lot of plates to keep aloft in 2010, so spare a thought – at least one.

But if we take away the headlines and the vehicles so highlighted, what are we left with? Little else it would appear, but a hatful of hollow and dizzying selection of exclamation marks. I counted eight. This must be some kind of record.

*Opinions will differ as to the quality thereof.

An English teacher of my acquaintance used to decry the use of exclamation marks in her pupils’ writing. In her view, they were akin to laughing at one’s own jokes.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

24 thoughts on “Punctuation Bingo!”

    1. I stopped reading Car when they started their ‘Green’ supplement, around 2007 or 2008. My first issue had been from 1989 with a comparison of Corvette ZR1 and Porsche 928.
      The decline in quality was shocking and for me it started with the loss of contributors like Phil Llewellyn (my favourite, much more so than bumptious LJKS).

  1. Good morning Eóin. That cover is horribly shouty, desperately seeking attention. In better times, Car Magazine would instead attract us with delightfully simple and beautifully photographed single-theme covers such as these:

    1. So “AML” number plates aren’t as special as I thought.

      Nonetheless, the “V8 AML” plate can be yours for a just £16954 (including VAT and transfer fee, hurry before it’s too late).

      Quite mystifyingly, the “V21 AML” plate is even dearer (to whom? it’s only £17240, finance available). As if! (topical semi-gratuitous exclamation point, because I crave attention, TIA)

    2. And the perfect descriptor for anyone who would pay £90k for it!

      That said, my ‘X10 DJO’ personal plate is shortly to bite the dust when the Boxster is re-registered in Ireland a week tomorrow. The new Irish plate will be something anonymous like 142 C 12345. The 142 stands for the second half of calendar year 2014, C stands for County Cork followed by a sequentially issued number of up to five digits.

    3. Good morning Daniel. Your new Irish plate sounds to be a paragon of logic. Here in Australia each state or territory issues its own plates, to its own system. My wife’s 2015 Mini Cooper bore the Victorian plate 1FB 5OM; neither the 1 nor the 5 signifying anything except that 2 and 6 hadn’t been reached yet. 🙂

  2. My ignorance of current cars (especially “supercars”) is such that I believed this was the cover of the last issue of Car Magazine, not one from twelve years ago…
    That kind of cover fatigues my eyes and inmediately I lose interest in reading the mag. Car Magazine knew how to make brilliant covers, like this

    (The article about the Discovery in the Sahara is very good, too)

    1. I have this very edition of Car, bought used via eBay. Like many covers of the period it seemed to aspire to be a book cover. One strong photo! As little other information as possible! Simple! Calm!!! These days??? WELL, CAR IS NOW AN ALL-CAPS KINDS OF PUBLICATION!!!
      On really BAD paper! WITH VERY *** PHOTOGRAPHY!

      My collection of Car contined way past the point when it was worth a fraction of its cover price. They are stored in my loft and one day I will throw them away. I have given some of the post-2010 copies another look and they are as unreadable/uninteresting now as they were when they were published.

  3. I started to buy Car Magazine in 1994, it was expensive and difficult to get here but the effort was worth it. I left in 2006, when the magazine suffered that restyle. So I bought a 1989-1994 issues lot. Wise decision.
    In my collection the 1989-2002 or so mags are well used and dog- eared. I try to keep them in good condition but I´m continuosly re-reading them. The 2003-2006 issues are almost as new.

  4. By the way, to me that December 1989 cover with the “G- WAC” Disco going down a sand dune is more evocative and moving than any picture with five vaporware supercars will ever be.

    1. It is an analogue image, from camera to printing. It´s clear and readable and at least looks like something you could have seen in the moment. The images now are brittle, flat, artificial and unrealistic. Is this what people want from photography?

    2. Richard: presumably the current art director thinks it is what readers want, or he/she/they wouldn’t commission the images that way. I agree it’s rather ugly. It needn’t be so: there are still beautiful car magazines. Visually, I like ramp magazine from Germany, the Road Rat (which can only be purchased online) or Octane, which is at least available at my local newsagent. ramp and the Road Rat are very expensive, though, especially if you have to get them delivered to Ireland. None of these depend in any way on new car news; I wonder if that’s significant? Mind you, ramp is pretty lifestyle-ish, but makes up for it in my book by once embedding a photo of a theologian (Hans Kung – it would be he) in an article.
      On the analogue versus digital photo thing: there has been a vogue in some quarters in recent years for taking photos using analogue equipment again. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I appreciate the argument that doing things this way forces one to slow down and consider each shot much more carefully but I’m not convinced that an digital image captured with the same degree of care is inherently inferior to an analogue one. Different yes, worse no. Like analogue audio equipment, one might, according to taste, prefer the analogue image, but that’s a different matter.

    3. May it’s more of an indirect link to analogue vs. digital photography.
      When I bought my first 6 x 6 camera about forty years ago and did my first experiments with it it was a revelation and a completely different kind of pictures compared to my 135 film type cameras.
      The completely different possobilities of playing around with DoF made the pictures look different.
      (Carrying around the camera also was a different experience to a Rollei 35).

      I wonder whether modern pictures are taken with large format digital cameras regarding the cost of for example Phase One equipment or whether the effects are ‘filterted into’ pictures taken with smaller format cameras.

    1. That was indeed a memorable article. I re-read it earlier this year when moving my bulky stack of “Car” magazines. In another one he went on a launch bash for the XM, based somewhere in the Midlands. He asked to borrow the car before dinner for a short test and went with his wife to Scotland and back for about ten hours or more.

  5. From CAR magazine:
    “Phil Llewellin
    Phil Llewellin understood that cars were more than mere boxes of metal: he pioneered the drive story, the sideways tale, the way of taking a vehicle beyond merely its engineering make-up. His articles were more literary than journalistic”
    Yesterday a cousin brought his new car to my family
    To see
    To enjoy
    To take a ride
    How nice it was
    Well, now
    back to normal
    I wish him so many more miles

  6. What a horribly busy cover.
    I have to wonder how many browsers in the newsagent are attracted by such over-busy covers, and how much of that excess verbiage simply goes unnoticed.
    On the other hand, it would take a very confident editor to run with the old-style CAR single-feature covers. You would have only the one chance to catch the occasional-buyer’s attention. If he wasn’t interested in Daytonas (I was) he wouldn’t bite.

    1. It means, perhaps, Car hasn´t captured the *interested* customer but instead has to vie for the attention of the casual buyer. Well, that just takes the committed buyer for granted and doesn´t guarantee the casual punter is hooked.

    2. That’s a problem for all car magazines.
      The buying public has changed fundamentally over the last twenty-five years or so.
      As younger people are losing interest in cars on a large scale potential buyers for magazines as we knew them disappear. If magazine makers rely on their traditional buyer structure they will be left without customers in a couple of years.
      Magazines have to become shouty to attract attention from people not interested in cars.
      That’s why crap like connectivity issues or inattentiveness compensators (assistance systems) are treated by the press as if they were just as important as the car itself because for the magazine buyers they indeed are.

      Car magazines are facing a dilemma.
      Ever decreasing sales numbers make it difficult for them to fill the pages with their own work yet manufacturers need them to ram home their marketing messages. Therefore (at least over here) magazines are subsidised by manufacturers and they return the favour by directly regurgitating the marketing crap manufacturers hand them.
      Thereby they alienate customers like me because I’m not prepared to pay money to read the same crap I find at no cost in my postbox from where it would be thrown away immediately.
      If magazines would take a more critical position regarding the worst nonsensical excesses like overdose of nannying electronics and autonomous cars they’d lose the money from the manufacturers and would be out of business very quickly (which at least to my eyes would be better than the current situation).

  7. “the much unmissed Dany Bahar.”

    I enjoyed her on The Word, although probably for less than wholesome reasons. Probably several people’s gran now…

  8. Thanks Eoin, excellent article, although the subject of Car’s fall is a depressing one.

    As already mentioned some of the classic car magazines do a reasonable job of uncluttered covers.

    Classic and Sports Car usually manages to keep to a single main shot and headline with a secondary story grafted in.

    Octane do a very good job here, the latest edition is just a single side view shot of a patinated Bugatti 35 spare wheel, for text there is not even a headline, just the magazine title header and their strapline in the footer.

    Maybe both these titles can be a bit more relaxed in their approach knowing that their readers are a broad church and will pick up the magazine even if the front cover is not one of their special interests.

    They are still reliant on the grace and favour of their patrons, a lot of drives of special cars close with a note that the car in question is for sale, but at least the words are the author’s own even if a few punches might be pulled – not good form to mention that the reviewed car handles like a blancmange and the wheels frequently fall off especially if you want to get a chance of another drive in a for sale car. And a lot of effort goes into the photography.

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