I’ve just finished reading a great PDF download by motoring writer Mel Nichols entitled “Literary and international influences in automotive journalism” He presented the paper last year at Cardiff University. It’s available as a PDF download from this link.
In it, Mel tells the timeline of his own career, from a student writer in Tazmania, all the way through to becoming editor of Car magazine and other very well known titles.
It’s around 19 pages of A9, so grab a coffee and read it, as he reminds us of some of the great automotive writers over the last four decades and analyses what it is, or was, that made them so successful. He touches on Jeremy Clarkson’s argumentative style of writing and what inspired him to take that route, plus stories about David E Davis, Steve Cropley and LJK Setright.
As a young student at college in the early 1980’s, I can recall reading many road trip stories and test reports, being inspired by the writing of Car Magazine and Fast Lane. Somewhere in the attic, I have Issue No1 of Fast Lane, complete with a hard cornering white Porsche 911, inside front wheel a few inches in the air, that famous OPR 911 number plate and an article written by Peter Dron. (Thanks to Peter Dron for the corrections, see his comment below).
Above all, Mel’s paper spells out the single thing that made Car and then Automobile magazine in the USA successful. They didn’t dwell on the statistics and technicalities, rather they put you in the jump seat of a Porsche 911 driving across Europe. In recent years, some magazines seem to have developed a trend towards what I consider a “Me, Me, Me” style of journalism which comes across to the readership as, “Look at me doing skids on Route Napoleon, racing round the ‘Ring…” I don’t think it’s the current financial climate that’s made readers spot this, rather that there’s a difference bewteen ‘Look at me” and “We both enjoyed this, didn’t we?” The right tone of voice, one that puts you there and enjoys every paragraph, is the key difference between readers wanting more and readers being openly critical, as in this Pistonheads thread from last year.
Great automotive writing is memorable forever, almost as if you’d done the trip yourself. Mel Nichols’ Lamborghini delivery drive is one of my favourites:
“It had the unreal quality of a dream. That strange hyper-cleanliness, that dazzling intensity of colour, that haunting feeling of being suspended in time, and even in motion; sitting there with the speedo reading in excess of 160mph and two more gold Lamborghinis drifting along ahead. Not even those gloriously surreal driving scenes from Claude Lelouche’s film A Man And A Woman were like this: that grey, almost white ribbon of motorway stretching on until it disappeared into the sharp, clear blue of a Sunday morning in France, mid-autumn, and those strange dramatic shapes eating it up. What a sight from the slower cars as that trio came and went! What a sight from the bridges and the service areas: witnesses there would have seen the speed! So would the police, of course, those same gendarmes who one after another apparently chose to look and drink it in, to savour it as an occasion rather than to act.”
Indeed Clarkson rates it as the best ever drive story.
And perhaps my two joint favourites of all time are the late Russell Bulgin’s Ayrton Senna, Rally Driver and Denis Jenkinson’s recount of the ’55 Mille Miglia alongside Stirling Moss. Fifty years later, it still grips you.
Nichols’ presentation is a great read, reminding everyone of some of the great motoring writers of the last five decades. This is the download page, the PDF is on the right hand sidebar. Or, you can download the PDF directly here.