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From the Road & Track Archive: WHERE WERE WE IN 1953?

Jaguar C-TYPE courtesy of Jaguar Heritage Museum

Book Review

From the Road & Track Archive: WHERE WERE WE IN 1953?

From the Road & Track Archive:

WHERE WERE WE IN 1953?

In our now Amazon-infested neighborhoods, boxes on the porch are pervasive, and rarely arrive as a surprise. And while I knew the box from friends Karen and Richard was coming, and I thought I knew its contents, I wasn’t quite prepared for the arrival of a small number of Road & Track magazines, beginning with the November 1951 issue and concluding with December 1954. The binder holds but a partial collection of each year, and few of the issues are what I’d call ‘mint’ condition. But all of them open a window to a far different America, where an ‘import car’ was inevitably European. And inevitably a car. 

Having been born in 1953, it was the January 1953 Road & Track which drew my first look. The full-color cover featured a Glasspar-bodied roadster (sitting on a Ford-sourced chassis), and a captivating tease of The Fiberglass Body! HOW TO BUILD IT article in that issue. The Paris Auto Show was also highlighted, R&T announced its Sports Car of the Year, and an overview of engine swaps included a V8-powered MG. There was more than a little bit of the magazine I’d get to know in the mid-sixties, and more than a little bit of Popular Mechanics in its editorial mix. 

MG TD courtesy of Beverly Hills Car Club

As you’d hope, Road was credibly covered, within the context of the magazine’s Southern California base and Euro-centric enthusiasms. And so was the Track. A large photo spread was devoted to the Italian Grand Prix, Watkins Glen (which, at 70, I still haven’t seen…) and the Brighton Speed Trials. There was also, notably, club news from the Connecticut Sports Car Club, Narragansett (think Newport, Rhode Island) Sports Car Club, Arrowhead Sports Car Club, Westchester Sports Car Club and (finally) the Four Cylinder Club of America. Today, of course, you’d find all of these on Facebook. With pics!

Also of interest was a guide to European travel – A YANK ABROAD – by Burton Harrison. It was the conclusion of a 5-part chronicle of Mr. Harrison’s tour in an MG (I’ll guess TD), which was purchased new and delivered in London – for $1,500. Harrison spent 100 days in Europe, and expenses for himself and a companion averaged just over $15/day! Of course, 70 years later MG is a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate, and a latte costs you most of that $15…

Beyond the editorial content are, of course, the advertisements. And for automotive OEMs and what we now call the aftermarket, print still worked as the medium for their collective message. The inside front cover featured a full-page celebration of Jaguar’s XK120 Coupe and Open Sports, while the back cover was a full color look at the New Hillman Minx Mark V. Rootes was the importer of the upright, neo-classic 4-door, and its dealer, Peter Satori, had three locations in Southern California: Los Angeles, Pasadena and Beverly Hills. 

HILLMAN MINX MK V
HILLMAN MINX MK V

In between the covers was anything and everything. Newhouse Automotive Industries supplied dual exhaust systems, a ‘permanent’ oil filter (NEVER NEEDS REPLACING!) and a Continental Kit for just $24.50. Campbell Motors – in South Pasadena – pitched the new Citroen, and Phil Hill (yup, that Phil Hill) was pitching his gently used 212 Ferrari ‘in perfect tune and showroom condition’ for just $7,800. 

Finally, a shop I continue to enjoy in Burbank, CA – Autobooks/Aerobooks – had a full page ad devoted to its many publications, including workshop manuals, racing books and magazines. While it’s moved locations at least once since ’53, it’s still on Magnolia Boulevard, and will ship your purchase if, of course, you’re not.

I won’t need to tell you that the automotive landscape has changed dramatically since 1953, as has the magazine. Seventy years ago Korea was a non-declared war zone and not, notably, a dominant automotive supplier with several assembly plants in the U.S. And on the other side of the success equation, the Jaguar sports car is about to be little more than a motoring memory as the British brand – now part of an Indian conglomerate! – evolves into an all-electric future. 

For those without access to old car magazines, you have (of course) the Internet. But I’ll suggest a local Cars and Coffee, where vintage machines can be found, often with their now-vintage owners standing nearby.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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