Sunday, January 04, 2009

Archives

In general, I’m not an obsessive hoarder. When I moved house a couple of years back, I was able to do so with the use of a couple of taxis, a bicycle and a backpack. The exception to this, though, is a pile of old magazines reaching nearly to head-height sitting in a corner of my flat. Sad to say, I can’t bring myself to throw out my old copies of Autosport, and I’ve been reading it since I was a kid in the late 1980s. Why not? Partly it’s my probably delusional belief that a complete set of the magazines might be worth something, but mainly it’s that every now and then, I am hit with a strange urge to dig out the race report for the 1992 Le Mans 24 Hours or the 1996 Belgian Grand Prix, an interview with Pierluigi Martini, a track-test of the Nissan R90C, a particular Fifth Column or whatever random bit of motorsporting trivia happens to spark my interest at a given point in time.


Trouble is, they do take up a lot of space. I remember some years ago bringing a woman back to my flat and her remarking, on seeing the huge pile of magazines (which then lived under the bed) “Is that your porn collection?” I’m not sure she was much relieved or impressed by the fact that, no, it was in fact 15 years worth of magazines about motorsport, come to that. However, it appears that help just might be hand. This Christmas I got my hands on a DVD containing every copy of Motorsport Magazine published between 1980 and 1989 – 120 issues in all. It doesn’t replace the pile of Autosports, but it does at least ensure I won’t be tempted to start buying up large quantities of its old green rival from Ebay.


Motorsport was an odd, ornery sort of a publication through the 1980s, seemingly losing a bit of direction and unsure whether it was a contemporary journal of record or a sort of historic motoring bulletin. Hence reports on the F1 and World Sports Car championships nestle alongside William Boddy’s ‘Veteran to Classic’, articles on 1960s Formula 3 and, just to really confuse matters, road tests of contemporary sporting road cars. It is however, well worth having for Denis Jenkinson’s race reports and F1 columns alone. Jenkinson was, even in his time, something of a legend among racing journalists, not least for being one of relatively few to have attained success in the sport himself, co-driving Stirling Moss to victory in the Mille Miglia in 1955. As a pure writer, I wouldn’t rate him as highly as Mark Hughes, but as an enthusiast, whose dry sense of humour and encyclopaedic knowledge of the sport permeates every page, he was all but unparalleled.


One of the delights of going back through old copies of magazines is that of getting a contemporary viewpoint on much talked about characters and events. What was made at the time of drivers and events which have subsequently gone down in legend? Take Ayrton Senna’s famed first win in the wet at Estoril at the beginning of 1985. David Tremayne, to my mind, called it right – his report began “It would probably be a very slight exaggeration to say that Ayrton Senna has brought a fresh standard of driving excellence to Formula 1 simply on the strength of his splendid flag-to-flag victory in the rain at Estoril in Portugal, but it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration.” By contrast, coverage of the Grovewood Awards in December of 1979 was very much focused around the potential of winner Mike Thackwell, while runner-up Nigel Mansell was dismissed with a single sentence, along with that year’s Formula Ford champion Terry Gray (and no, I’ve not the faintest idea what became of him either…) As it would turn out, the difficult Brummie would go on to rather greater things that the young New Zealander ever did….


It was nearly 2000 years ago when Ecclesiastes observed that there was nothing new under the sun and while he may only have been half-right, he did have a point. Witness the considerable coverage given over to the dispute between the sport’s governing body and commercial rights holder, the FIA and the teams, then led by gamekeeper-turned-poacher, Bernie Ecclestone, in the early 1980s. A 4 page collection of photos taken in the pitlane and paddock at the 1985 European Grand Prix was accompanied by a brief piece by the photographer bemoaning how the increasing corporate influence over the sport had made it all but impossible for the ordinary fan to get into the paddock and pitlane and see the cars up close (something which, while absolutely the case now, was actually far from true back then, as pictures I recently stumbled upon of me, aged 7, sitting in Derek Warwick’s Renault RE60 in the pitlane at Brands Hatch at that very race testify to.) Or Denis Jenkinson’s 1987 F1 season preview in which he bemoaned the ever greater restrictions being put on the design and development of F1 cars. He wasn’t impressed by the boost restrictions on turbo engines, the ban on ‘two stage’ turbos or by fuel limits and control tyres and wondered whether the major manufacturers would really be able to continue to justify their involvement in the sport if it was no longer open to engineering innovation. He wasn’t a great fan of attempts to slow the cars down anyway, as he observed “If you cannot go faster than you did last year, it may seem pointless to go at all.” What on earth he would make of standard engines and electronics, were he still alive to see it, I can only speculate upon.


The other great thing about the MotorSport 1980s DVD is the photography, which was always a cut above that in Autosport. They went over to colour pictures a little earlier than Autosport did, perhaps because it was more affordable to a monthly magazine than a weekly one, and the World Rally Championship photography, in particular, is fantastic, and brings back memories of a time when rallying was actually interesting


The Motorsport DVD is not a perfect solution for my magazine/space problem, sadly. For one thing, the quality of the scanning is far from perfect – to the extent that some of it is actually quite difficult to read. I’ve achieved better results myself with a camera and tripod. A publishing house with access to quality scanning equipment ought to be able to do better. It also runs frustratingly slowly on my computer, with a page-turn taking 5 to 10 seconds to take effect. Even leaving that aside, I’m afraid that reading a magazine on a computer simply doesn’t feel quite the same as thumbing through what 21st Century techies would call the ‘dead tree’ edition. Nonetheless, if Haymarket follow Motorsport Magazine’s lead and produce some sensibly priced DVDs with electronic editions of old Autosport magazines, I’d be interested. I could certainly do with the space currently being occupied by the nearly 800 copies of the magazine I’ve accumulated over the years.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Alianora La Canta said...

You must have an enormous collection if it's head-height (I assume this is measured from the floor). My magazine space still fits on one shelf...

4:21 AM  
Blogger Gordon McCabe said...

My collection covers Autosport 1980-1981, 1983-2004, Motoring News 1984-1996, and Grand Prix International 1983-1984 + various 1979-1982. I've 'solved' the archiving problem by leaving them all at my parents!

Motoring News was by far the best, most-informative publication, and its effective destruction when Haymarket bought it at the end of 1996 was a publishing tragedy. Mark Hughes is a product of the Motoring News academy of motorsport journalism, and I doubt any of today's publications, with their combination of low word counts and average photography, will be able to produce such talent.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked on Motoring News in the early 1990s and very much appreciate the kind comments. However, it is not fair to say that Haymarket's purchase effectively destroyed it - they actually saved the title (and the staff) as its then-publisher was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Without Haymarket we reckoned MN would have had three months left at best - it was unfortunately embarked on a period of sales decline that it has never managed to pull out of. Its 'time' was the 70s and 80s, I am sorry to say.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Alianora - essentially, with some gaps, it's a collection of Autosports from 1986-2009...some 23 years worth.

Gordon - I rarely read Motoring News, more due to a snobbish preference for good quality paper than anything else. Didn't know Hughes started out there, but I recently got hold of some late 1990s Motorsports (after they went historic, but before they surrendered to the coffee-table classic car collector crowd) which has some rather fine articles by Mark Hughes.

Under Roebuck, Motorsport is actually becoming a worthwhile read again these days - quite impressed with the last few copies I've picked up.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Gordon McCabe said...

Interesting stuff, Anonymous, about the circumstances at Motoring News in the 1990s. I guess the whole motorsport magazine industry was changing with the larger audiences. Magazines which were formerly targeted purely at enthusiasts were evolving into a form which was targeted at that wider audience of slightly more casual fans.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever you do, don't get rid of your collection. I can't tell you how many people I know that have collections like this, get rid of them in a moment of weakness, only to regret it years later.
Best wishes,
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10:29 AM  

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