I bought the issue of Collectible Automotible that you see about off eBay because I was alerted to the fact that it contained a piece on the 1971-1976 Cadillac full-sizers. Those cars are near and dear to my heart because, as all my MOST DEVOTED fans know, I once drove a ’76 Fleetwood Talisman across the country. (If you’re just getting here, the review of the car itself is here and the story of the trip is on two parts, Carless In Nashville and Fried Chicken At The Crossroads.)
Collectible Automobile is probably the highest-quality auto rag out there. They do the research, the writing is almost always of a consistent, workmanlike quality, and the photography/art is in service of that writing, not the tyrannical master of it. But if you read it nowadays, you’ll sense a growing desperation between the lines — and their problem will eventually affect the rest of us.
The best way to sum it up is like this: Automotive history is like oil. It took a long time to make, there’s a fixed amount of it, and all the easy stuff’s already been used. Consider, if you will, the nice people at the aforementioned magazine. They’ve been in business since 1984. Here are some of the cars they covered in their early years:
- 1962 1/2 – 1966 Mustang
- 1949 Olds Rocket V8
- 1970-1974 Dodge Challenger
- Continental Mark II
- Chrysler Turbine Car
- 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbird
After twenty years of publication, they were covering:
- 1971-1978 Mercury Capri
- 1954-1960 Dodge Trucks
- 1967-1971 Ford Thunderbird
- 1937-1939 Chevrolet
- 1970 Full Sized Chevrolet
The newest issue covers
- 1955 Corvette and Thunderbird
- 1964-1967 Pontiac Mid-Sizers
- Gene Bordinat Profile
The sharp-eyed reader will notice that at least some of the current issue covers ground that’s already been covered. In other words, CA is starting to redo articles. To recycle them. Because they’re running out of fresh material. Because they are consuming automotive history faster than it’s being made. They’re in the same unenviable position in which the editors of the various World War II magazines find themselves. The first couple years are easy: you write about the ’57 Chevy and the Battle of the Bulge and Pearl Harbor. Then you write about the ’63 Chevy and the rescue of Mussolini. Before you know it, you’re doing retrospectives of the Celebrity Eurosport and detail pieces on Polish troop movements during 1938. Eventually, there will be nothing left.
And Collectible Automobile is just one publication in a field that has swelled exponentially since the Internet became universally available. There used to be about twenty magazines with an automotive focus, only a few of them mainstream enough to be on every bookstand. Today there are hundreds of “major” websites. At every press event, I meet people from websites of which I’ve never heard and they profess to have never heard of TTAC or Jalopnik or even Road&Track. All of these sites need articles, they all need content. There’s only a certain amount of news and new-car testing to do, so they all want retrospective articles.
Whatever you could imagine writing about, it’s been done. The easy stuff’s gone so now they’re fracking, using hydraulic pressure to break out history where it didn’t exist before. The W124 500E has now been written about more times than the hanging chad. Every douchebag who fancies himself a restorer of aircooled Porsches has received a panegyric from the second-tier WordPress blogs. The British magazines are doing nostalgia pieces that are so recent they’re being written by the people who were around for the actual history, because they’re still employed by the same outlet. “I remember that day I was invited to the launch of the Veyron.” Well, of course you remember it, it was only eight years ago.
The hunger to write about something, anything, besides the last new-car launch has resulted in the utter trampling of previously cherished bits of automobile culture. Aren’t you totally fucking sick of the Nurburgring, the T-shirts, the merch, the records, the spy shots, the drama, the impending closure and inevitable rescue? Haven’t you heard enough about: the 2002tii, the Volvo 240, the Sultan of Brunei’s cars, Yenko Camaros, James Hunt? Do you have E30 fatigue, Miata soreness?
It might be okay if these articles were written with original research, the way the obscure stuff in CA is, but instead they all rely on the same old Internet-available articles, the Wikipedia article, the reprinted magazine tests. It’s just reheated cafeteria food. Stale and old and unsatisfying.
But it could be worse. Imagine working for Vintage Guitar. Those guys have pretty much run out of vintage things about which to write. The Golden Era of guitars lasted from about 1952 to about 1964 and it’s been analyzed and interviewed and done to death. Most of VG nowadays is reviews of new equipment and conversations with collectors and the various C-list musicians who weren’t worth interviewing as long as there were B-list musicians available.
The past is like land: they’re just not making any more of it. Or if they are, they aren’t making it very quickly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to write up a nostalgia piece to sell to R&T. I’m thinking the Magnum SRT-8. Who remembers those? Ancient history, man.