We carry out our own Giant Test: Car 1978 versus Car 2020.
‘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.
The first modern motor journalist? In praise of Thomas Jay McCahill III.
“Part of every dollar goes into the redesigning and styling pot, in an attempt to make your current car look doggy, outdated. It’s a successful trick that closely borders fraud.” These words from possibly the last known living descendant of the Scottish highwayman, Rob Roy. And if, as Henry Ford proclaimed that history is bunk, the story of this particular fellow could as easily be a work of fiction.
Thomas Jay McCahill III was once America’s foremost automotive journalist with a character as large as his substantial six foot two, 250 pound frame. The grandson of a wealthy lawyer, he graduated from Yale with a Fine Arts degree (possibly English, his story changed over time) and was surrounded by the automobile – his father had Mercedes-Benz dealerships.
Taking on two garages of his own, the Depression excised the McCahill wealth, leaving him destitute in New York. That city’s Times newspaper carried an ad for an Automotive Editor at Popular Science with a remit firmly stating: simple technical review, no brand names. McCahill’s sarcastic leanings, mentioning those taboo brands got him the sack only to be hired the very same day as a freelance writer with rival magazine, Mechanix Illustrated.
Our North Western England correspondent, with only a torch for company, takes to the lesser populated byways, for your Sunday amusement.
Autocar remains the weekly go-to on matters motoring since its 1895 inception. Born alongside the British car industry, the periodical has witnessed multitudinous change with probably its most profound being the transition to digital. Although the weekly printed copy remains (£3.80 at all good news vendors), one can be updated many times a day via the website. Subjects diverse as Industry News, Car Reviews, Features, Technology News and Opinion, all available without a proper search engine.
Life is lived forwards but understood backwards. Something similar applies to magazines.
Sometime last week I picked up a copy of my usual car magazine. This is something of a futile exercise, a triumph of optimism over experience. I did as I always did and started leafing from the back pages to the front. For a long time some of the most interesting nuggets have lived in the back of magazines and as one moves forward past features one then gets to the dust and detritus at the top of the cereal box. In between one passes the meat of the sandwich, the long form-articles that are supposed to command our attention. Continue reading “Reading Backwards”