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.