Automotive Paper Trail

Collecting car brochures can be a serious business.

Image: YouTube

For those with a hobby that is somewhat outside the mainstream, it can be difficult to give a satisfying reply to questions from new acquaintances when the nature of one’s objects of affection is revealed. Collecting art or antiques seldom requires an explanation, but other forms of collecting often do; the collecting of car brochures and related materials such as press kits – which would be your author’s poison – is a good example.

“So what do you do with all those brochures? Do you ever read them after you’ve filed them?” What to say? Yes, I do regularly fish out a few and enjoy the little trip back in time, but it would be going too far to say I read them as one would read a book. And yes, to be honest, with such a large collection, there are brochures in there that I have not looked at for years.

My collection also serves as my personal databank to retrieve information on the cars about which I write. However, I appreciate that it is not as easy to understand as someone with, for example, a wall full of classic literature. To those with no interest in cars, collecting such brochures can be as unfathomable as a collection of microwave oven instruction manuals(1).

The worst question is, of course the simple “Why?” One could give a snide reply along the lines of “If you have to ask that you wouldn’t understand anyway,” but that would be rude, so I usually try to cover the field by sprinkling terms like styling, colours and fashions, socio-economics, photography and artwork plus changing tastes and styles of communication over my reply and hope the interrogation ends there.

Recently, however, an unlikely ally in explaining my pencheant for collecting car brochures has revealed itself in the form of the Police Department in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. Beginning in the mid-seventies, its police officers working to solve crimes where cars were involved such as hit and run accidents, carjackings, robberies and suchlike started to put together a library of car brochures. Whenever they came across a car dealer and time allowed, they gathered as many pieces of literature as they could – not only from domestic manufacturers but also from imported makes – creating a body of reference over the past forty-odd years that is now over 17,000 brochures strong.

Initially, only front, side and rear view photos were carefully cut out from the brochure pages, as well as the specifications pages and colour chart if present. These were then glued onto card and filed in binders. As car ranges became increasingly extensive in terms of different equipment levels and special editions however, it was soon decided it would be more practical to simply keep the brochures in one piece.

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Misaki Hamaguchi is a 28-year old officer working in this traffic investigation division. She was attracted to it since she is, in her own words “Always looking at cars on and off duty and paying attention to distinctive details.” Recently, Hamaguchi was able to solve a night time hit-and-run case that had confused the police for some time: all they had was a split second of blurry video from the dashcam of the car that had been hit.

Officers deliberated and identified the vehicle as a Toyota Aqua(2) but, having looked at the video material again, something did not feel right about it with Hamaguchi; it was almost without doubt a Toyota, she agreed, but perhaps not an Aqua. She consulted the brochure library, sifted through the Toyota section, analysed and compared, and identified the culprit as a special edition of the Toyota Vitz(3). Ultimately, Hamaguchi’s work led to the succesful tracking down of the Vitz and its owner.

Image: YouTube

With many cars being made available in a plethora of different versions, equipment levels and colours, especially in Japan, the brochure library requires constant updating. Brochures of limited editions are particularly welcome, as is publicity material on very expensive and rare foreign luxury cars. “We make enquiries to dealers and importers as soon as we find information on new models and limited editions in magazines or on the internet,” Hamaguchi explains.

All this effort does pay off, with requests now coming in regularly from other police departments in Japan to help solve mystery cases, and at least one other police department has started to build a brochure archive of its own. “It’s an array of precious materials collected by successive generations of officers maintaining an observant eye,” Hamaguchi says. “It’s both our asset and weapon.”

The thought may arise (it did with me, anyway) as to why a physical, printed archive is kept that takes up an increasing amount of space when at the touch of a few keystrokes you can find what you are looking for on the world wide web. I’m afraid I don’t really have an answer, other than that may be one more example of the Japanese trait of keeping traditions honoured and intact while still embracing progress.

On a personal note, what I can state with a reasonable amount of confidence is that if someone wants to know, for example, the colours and their names of a particular car of a given year, I will have retrieved the brochure in question(4) while he or she is still in the process of deciding which of the many Google results to consult. On top of that, actual paint chips are more representative of the precise hue than what a computer screen can show you and, as in any investigation, both speed and accuracy are important.

In any case, when in future someone asks me about the “Why?” of my brochure collection, I can now always add the potential solving of crimes – case closed.

(1) No disrespect to microwave oven instruction manual collectors of course; over the years it has become clear to me that there is virtually nothing you can think of that isn’t being collected by someone, somewhere on our planet.

(2) A Toyota model also known as the Prius C outside the Japanese domestic market.

(3) Known as the Yaris in most other markets.

(4) Provided it is part of my collection of course, otherwise the web wins.

Sources: The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, YouTube

Author: brrrruno

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

12 thoughts on “Automotive Paper Trail”

  1. Good morning, Bruno. I knew about the car brochure collection of this particular police unit, but every time I read about it, an unexpected use of something more or less trivial, it puts a smile on my face.

    My own collection of car brochures is relatively modest. I haven’t solved any crimes (yet) 😉

  2. I used to keep glossy high quality brochures of Volvo 240 series, Peugeot 505, Audi 5000, as well as high end audiophile gears from Bang & Olufsen, Bowers & Wilkins, Nakamichi, etc.

    A lot of technical knowledge contained in there

    1. Apart from car brochures I have a large batch of Bang & Olufsen brochures and workshop manuals dating back to 1987. There are also some brochures of watches and yachts in my modest collection.

  3. I’d love that job!

    I imagine that Ms Hamaguchi is the automotive equivalent of one of those ‘super-recognisers’ whom the police employ to identify suspects from grainy CCTV images. They have an amazing ability to recognise and recall faces from thousands of photos. (There are, of course, computer programmes designed to do the same thing these days.)

    1. Just imagine Robbie Coltrane’s Cracker
      “The car we’re looking for lives alone, has a rusty exhaust and a dark colour. It has had some parking dents and drinks too much oil”…

    2. Hello Bruno, as I work in an archive, I can certainly relate to the tribulations of collecting and organising things, including the changing perspectives on how to organise it and even what to keep.

      Daniel: your mention of camera ‘super-recognisers’ reminds me of a Dutch project where people with autism work as camera specialists for the police. Not necessarily for their extraordinary ability to recognise the right face from grainy source material but for their (our, since I’m autistic too, but don’t work for the police) ability to maintain the required level of concentration whilst looking through many hours of footage. Neurodiversity at work, literally. Apparently, it’s something of a success.

    3. Hi Tom. It’s good to hear that employers (and the wider public) are beginning to realise that many individuals on the autistic spectrum are differently enabled and not disabled per se. I used to have someone working for who was on the spectrum and he was an excellent and highly meticulous worker, as long as he was given tasks that suited his abilities

    4. It certainly is, Daniel. I’m happy you have good memories of a neurodiverse employee. One of my observations is that the window of “normality” in (job) culture is narrowing ever more, pushing an increasing amount of people out. Being rather introverted myself, it strikes me how much is tailored towards extraversion. Not that there’s anything wrong with being extraverted, but the two can have quite contrasting or even diametrically opposed demands and extraversion, usually perceived as more ‘fun’, increasingly wins out.

    5. Hi Tom. We were conscious that, as an organisation, we tended to recruit people who were ‘just like us’ and produced very similar results when put through, for example, the Briggs-Myers personality test*. That is fine if you want everyone to sing from the same hymn-sheet, but it stifles creativity and alternative thinking.

      We tried to address this, but with limited success because the firmly embedded corporate culture tended to make the ‘differently thinking’ feel somewhat isolated and not understood, so they moved on, which was a shame.

      * Except yours truly, who’s strongest Briggs-Myers score by far was towards introversion! Just as well they didn’t test me before they employed me. I’m very happy being an introvert. Extroverts can be annoyingly needy, in my experience!

    6. It’s difficult to successfully tailor an organisation, especially a large one where human agency is limited, to – frankly: any kind of minority. You need some kind of basic understanding of each other (and not just the minority understanding the majority) things like the fact that the introvert ‘skulks’ about the hallway and avoids contact isn’t because they don’t like you, but because they need to limit the amount of stimuli. I think it’s wonderful watching people who get energy from being (noisily) around other people. I just don’t want to be part of them because it very literally overwhelms me. I definitely get along better with fellow introverts, but being open about your needs can go a long in helping you to get along. “You’re not wrong for being loud, I’m not wrong for being quiet”.

      People with autism are often perceived as being rigid and lacking expression, but that rigidity is more often than not shell shock from being overwhelmed by all the stimuli. Trying to stimulate someone who is in that state into showing more expression doesn’t help matters. To put it very mildly.

  4. Identification of two cars was key in solving two serious crimes in London by DI Colin Sutton back in the 90s, so I can well appreciate the efforts of the Tokyo Police. Never knew about the brochure dept. though.
    As a youth I used to haunt the local dealers collecting brochures, even cycling 20 miles to the Jag dealer to get a few. I still have a few favourites so appreciate Bruno’s dedication.
    Sadly some manufacturers are not playing ball. I enquired at our local BMW/MINI importer for a brochure for the latest JCW MINI … “no can do Sir, look online, saving paper/planet blahblahblah”. So I’m expected to splash out half year’s wages and you can’t even be bothered to print a brochure.
    The story down the Lexus dealer was quite different…

    All the best DTW.
    Andrew

  5. I collected brochures on a random basis for about five years. It was a delight to get a pack of some ancient glossy brochure and slowly pore over it. I never looked at them again though. They are in folder boxes somewhere. I notice they got less interestafter the late 80s. The brochures I got at car shows c. 1999-2002 lacked much visual appeal. Maybe they´ll be interestnig in another ten years.

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