• R.I.P. Automobile Magazine? The Rise and Fall of the Car Buff Book


    Look: The very First Ford Mustang Reviewed
    Look: The very First Ford Mustang Reviewed

    I was recently poking around in an antiques mall and I stumbled upon an old issue of Road & Track.

    The cover story of this May 1964 issue was a review of the 1964 Ford Mustang. “A 4-Passenger Cobra”. Perhaps not yet.

    I started reading the story and before I knew it my phone was buzzing with texts asking why I wasn’t back home for lunch.

    I had lost hours reading old reviews of cars I never knew I wanted but now wished I’d once owned. At their best, car buff books, as car magazines are sometimes known in the biz, let readers own and drive the most exotic and expensive cars in their imagination.

    Great car writers like P.J. O’Rourke did Top Gear long before Top Gear did Top Gear. Brock Yates who, writing for Car and Driver, penned some of the smartest car reviews ever written and David E Davis, who edited Car and Driver, were my heroes as a kid growing up in the Seventies and Eighties. They drove and reviewed my dream cars. Cars that even in eighth grade I knew I would never own. But that didn’t matter because in my mind’s eye it was me in the passenger seat of the Sunoco blue Ferrari GTB/4Daytona racing across the country. Brock Yates was on the way setting the trans-continental record which became known as the Cannonball Run.

    David. E. Davis
    David. E. Davis

    Last week the reign of the car buff books officially ended when Automobile magazine was gutted and moved to California from Michigan in the latest round of print publishing cost cutting. Automobile, which was started by David. E. Davis in 1986, follows in the recent footsteps of downsizing pioneered by Road & Track last year and the 2011 sale of Car and Driver to Hearst Magazines.

    How long before Motor Trend, which is owned by the same company as Automobile magazine, is scaled back and downsized just like the rest of the print publishing industry?  Let’s face it, the car buff books are in hospice, stabbed through the heart by the internet and Google. Once you let the free genie out of the bottle, you can’s stuff it back. All you can do is downsize, scale back, and hope to hold on for another quarter.

    That’s why I’m thrilled to be heading up TFL, because unlike the legacy print media, our team and online only publications are thriving in the internet age. I wake each morning and pinch myself because I still can’t believe that I’m living the same dream I once shared with my automotive heroes. Thanks to the internet and the millions of world wide TFL readers, viewers and fans, The Fast Lane is growing like a weed with TFLcar, TFLTruck and now even TFLClassics.

    We’re building an online publishing powerhouse focusing on electronic ones and zeros. In many ways, we are very lucky because we don’t have the same legacy print costs of the old school buff books. We also don’t have their advertisers and their ad revenue, but that only means that we’ve learned to be lean and mean. Our team works twice as hard for half the pay that was once enjoyed by the last generation of buff book writers.

    And you know what? That’s okay because we love cars and trucks, and we get to drive and review them for a living.

    How cool is that?

    I felt a stab of sadness reading that old Road & Track Mustang review but at the same time I knew that we can do so much more today. With YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and of course right here, we have immediate access to a global audience.

    We test and tweet.

    We record and review.

    We drive and post.

    Today, new car buyers and car enthusiasts have a bounty of choices for their automotive news, views and reviews. We’re just grateful to be a part of the conversation.

    I feel sad to see my old heroes pass from relevance to history but at the same time I know that if Brock Yates were to redo the Cannonball Run today, he’d be tweeting from the passenger seat of the Ferrari and he’d have at least one GoPro camera stuck to the side of the car.

    The times, they are a changing, and I can’t wait for tomorrow when I get to drive and review the new Hyundai Genesis sedan!

    How cool is that? Somebody, please pinch me.

    Roman Mica
    Roman Mica
    Roman Mica is a columnist, journalist, and author, who spent his early years driving fast on the German autobahn. When he’s not reviewing cars or producing videos, you can find him training for triathlons and writing about endurance sports for EverymanTri.com as our sister blog’s publisher. Mica is a former broadcast reporter with his Master’s Degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He is also a presenter for TFLcar’s very popular video review channel on YouTube and AOL.

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    9 thoughts on “R.I.P. Automobile Magazine? The Rise and Fall of the Car Buff Book

    1. Good article! I had 25 years worth of Car & Driver Magazines that I finally got tired of storing and donated to the San Diego Auto Museum. I hope others enjoy reading them as much as I did; I just found that once catalogued on my store room shelf, I never went back to read them. I needed the space and hopefully, others are enjoying reading them. Now, we pick up our tablets and laptops and read or watch to our hearts content. Keep up the good work TFL Car, Truck and Classics.

    2. One has to wonder if 50 years from now whether online-only articles written today will still be available / searchable, or whether they’ll be deleted as wastes of space that “nobody cares about” and aren’t worth the space to keep in the databases or backup plans.

      Will the museums or libraries of tomorrow keep zettaabytes of old online-only articles and videos for research purposes? Given the overabundance of amateurs publishing on the Internet today, who will determine what is worthy of keeping? Would copyrights prevent libraries from getting those? If the original authors shut down or go out of business for some reason, will that information be lost forever?

      You’re not exactly going to find those at an antiques mall…

      I am by no means suggesting that print is “better” than the Internet. Online articles definitely have their advantages. But some very good aspects of print are getting lost. This includes an inherent sense of expertise and respect for the authors and publishers, as it was required/expected by both advertisers and customers who were paying for the product. You could trust the contributors to the publication, at least to a reasonable degree, because they had been vetted and a lot of money was riding on their work.

      It also includes a solid practicing of the art of proofreading for spelling errors, grammatical errors and typos, which was standard practice in the print industry but is surprisingly quickly becoming a lost art in today’s online world. Correct usage of the English language, and probably many other languages, is suffering terribly online. People learn by reading, and the significant majority of articles I read online are rife with errors. This sets poor examples and, in my opinion, is very sad.

      None of this is intended as any kind of dig at TFL, which I enjoy very much every day for what it is. I have great respect for what the authors are trying to do with the resources they have available. It’s just some observations on changes in how information has been conveyed over time, with musings about the future.

      1. Hi David, you are so correct in all of your points. We will try to do a better job in proofing our stories but we just don’t have the budget for proof readers like was common with the print magazines once upon a time.

        1. Hi Roman. I hope you’re well, and having good luck getting that Tatra 603 back here.

          I never meant to imply the TFL team wasn’t doing their very best with the resources they have. I can’t imagine all the challenges you face, and I know that you are all doing your best. I love TFL every day. It was just general observations on how things have changed in the world when consuming information from most any print source a couple of decades ago to most any Internet-based source today. For example, I see errors all the time on the big news sites as well (e.g. CNN, Fox News, etc.)

          TFL is great, and I’m sure it will improve even more over time as it grows.

          Thanks very much for all you and the team do!

    3. While on the subject of great car writers , let’s not forget Peter Egan. Road&Track is just not the same without him.

      1. Completely agree. I enjoyed Peter Egan so much that I would even read Cycle World Magazine just for his column.

    4. Roman, TFL has grown on me and now it is my main source of car news. I look forward to your daily emails. Your reviews are outstanding. Your company is soaring and will soon be the benchmark in auto news.

      1. Thanks for the kind words Don. You and your comments are very much appreciated! Thanks for watching and reading. We’re growing because of people like you.

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