Car magazines: Olden but golden?

Major Waffle
PetrolBlog wonders whether the move towards digital car magazines will ever quite match the magical and nostalgic qualities of their printed cousins.

Being of a certain age, I've built up quite a list of things that I like to be 'just so'. For example, I happen to think that Coke tastes best when chilled and poured into a long glass with ice. It just doesn't taste as good straight out of a bottle, or worse still, straight from a can. I also like a glass of fresh orange juice with my weekend breakfast. Let it be said that I will also choose a BBC radio station over a commercial equivalent as I cannot stand advertisements interrupting my music. Not to mention the drone and forced jollity of a commercial radio DJ. All insignificant things to the majority of people, but to me they represent a small selection of factors that go towards making the world a happier place.

Which brings me nicely on to the subject of car magazines and in particular, the surge in popularity of digital editions. We are bombarded with suggestions to 'check out the stunning new iPad version for exclusive digital content'. Or 'download the magazine's app for behind the scenes footage'. All rather impressive and I have no doubt that digital magazines will shape the way we consume car content in the future. Unless you're prepared for the digital revolution, you may as well get off the bus now and start walking.

But in my book, to dismiss the humble printed car magazine is to miss the point entirely. There are certain elements of a car magazine that simply cannot be replicated in a shiny tablet version, even with 'exclusive', 'not-to-be-missed', 'behind-the-scenes', 'digital-only' content. This point was highlighted only this weekend.

Car magazines from the 1970sMaking a rare trip to Tavistock's Pannier Market, I stumbled across a rather large selection of old Car and Motor magazines from the 1960s and 1970s. I asked the stall holder where he sources the collection from and I was told that they had been rescued from the tip. I was also informed that the 50 or so on the table was just the tip of the iceberg - there were apparently a load more back in the lock-up. I did the honourable thing and selected six mags from the 70s and after a little light haggling, walked away with my purchase. Nice.

This isn't to say that I haven't already got a huge selection of car magazines in the attic. Hundreds of copies of Autocar, dozens of What Car?, Auto Express and Top Gear, along with a wonderful selection of old evo magazines, although sadly I don't have issue one.

To flick through the old car magazines is like taking a trip back through time. Reading the words of some of my favourite writers, LJK Setright, Russell Bulgin, Jesse Crosse, James Ruppert and James May to name but a few, is a form of escapism. I'm magically transported back to a different era where petrol reigned supreme and driving wasn't considered to be a dirty pastime. In the case of the magazines I picked up at the weekend, I can also head back to a time before I was born and see what my father would have been reading and what influenced his own buying decisions. So wonderfully nostalgic.

But it isn't just about the content. Whilst modern advertisements may seem like a nasty distraction from the road tests and reviews, seeing them 20 or 30 years later presents us with a brilliant cultural and historical snapshot. The copy, the photographic style and design of the ads provides an evocative backdrop to the magazine's content. They were the key to the magazine's survival back in the day, but today they represent a crucial part of the magazine's historical value.

Car magazines also attack the senses in other ways too. Firstly, the fragility of some of the old weekly magazines from the 70s and 80s is so in keeping with many of the cars from the same era. You simply won't be able to replicate this in a digital version of the magazine. Then there's the smell. Like that of old leather in a Rover P6 or the wonderful aroma of a Land Rover V8, old magazines have a unique and unmistakable scent. It is all part of the package and adds a layer of depth to an old article that will be impossible via an electronic device.

I realise that my thoughts sound like that of a man trying to stop the onslaught of change, but really that's not the case. I embrace new media and face it, without it PetrolBlog wouldn't exist! I just don't think that the car magazine can be written off yet. Digital content is lovely and adds a new dimension that simply wasn't available in the 70s or 80s, but I see it as an add-on as opposed to an alternative. You can lose yourself in a magazine in a way that's impossible with a digital screen. We spend most of our lives staring at a laptop or phone, so occasionally isn't it just nice to look at something different?

When I buy a new car I take some strange and perverse pleasure in hunting down magazines that featured road tests of the model when new. They help to add to a car's provenance. It just won't be the same if the review is only available on a tablet.

Having a library of old car magazines is also a wonderful distraction when heading up into the attic. The simple task of retrieving the Christmas tree each December provides the perfect excuse to spend a few minutes flicking through an old copy of Autocar or Intersection. Such a pleasure won't exist if everything is digital and available at the touch of a button.

So based on the above, look out for PetrolBlog appearing in all good newsagents and some bad ones very soon.