Magazine Memories: Sports Car Graphic, November 1969
In the basement are boxes of historic newspapers and old car magazines that I’ve saved since the late 1960s. The oldest items date to the Detroit Tigers’ 1968 World Series victory and the Armstrong/Aldrin moon landing the following year. The automotive publications are mostly from the early 1970s through the late 1980s, primarily Road & Track and Car and Driver from the US and CAR from the UK, plus a few odds and ends.
While looking for the newspapers on the moon landing I came across the November 1969 issue of Sports Car Graphic. SCG’s content was aimed more at the string-back glove set and road racing fans than Robert Peteresen’s other titles like Hot Rod & Motor Trend. I guess SCG was staking out a niche between C&D and Autoweek. I believe that TTAC contributor, Stephan Wilkinson was an editor at Sports Car Graphic during the 1970s so perhaps he can give us some historical background on the publication.
Picking up and reading a 40 year old car magazine evokes a range of thoughts and feelings. The physical object is both an artifact as well as historical source material. Certainly there’s a sense of nostalgia, as well as curiosity to look at the table of contents for cool cars. You read an old magazine differently than you’d read one that came through your mail chute today. If you still subscribe to C&D or R&T, you flip past the TireRack ads as fast as you can. With an old magazine you savor even the advertising copy, wondering if IECO still makes Corvair parts or even exists. Thinking Francophonically, there is an enduring sense not of déjà vu but rather of plus que change.
The cover reflects the perpetual dilemma faced by editors and publishers, trying to have broad interest without offending the hard core of enthusiasts: muscle or finesse, domestic or foreign, appliance or enthusiast? At the top of the cover is “New Volkswagen-Porsche Sports Car” with a photo of the 914, and below the title is ’70 Dodge Challenger Road Test. It would be hard to find two cars more different than the 914 with a glorified Beetle engine and the 440 Magnum powered Challenger. In the letters to the editor, one reader complained, “I… watched in horror as you succumbed to the onslaught of the
pseudo sports car hordes… Leave the ponycars for the straight line drag boys and bring back the MGs, Triumphs, Jaguars, Healeys, etc.”
The issue also has a test of the Rover 3500S with the Buick/Rover aluminum V8. It’s interesting that the “pseudo sports car” Challenger, carrying around that cast iron big block V8 over the front wheels, actually cornered flatter and faster than the aluminum engined Rover, 0.68g on the skid pad vs. 0.65, with significantly less understeer and body roll.
In hindsight we know that the Porsche faithful did not exactly embrace the 914 (the 914/6 was so rare in the US that it practically didn’t exist), but the feature article on the 914s introduction didn’t even consider that as a possibility. SGC’s view of the car, though, was mixed. It was seen as an improvement over the “underpowered, overpriced, sheep in wolfskin” four cylinder 912, but the 914’s nondescript styling was considered “a pleasant eyesore” and compared to “lavishly equipped shoebox”.
The article also reveals a forgotten historical fact – the 914 was introduced as part of VW’s newly formed Porsche-Audi Division, just then about to introduce the Audi 100LS, which was pretty much the start of Audi as a serious player in the US.
The first one of those the-more-things-change moments occurred while going through the monthly columns. Bob Thomas’ column described General Motors committing a PR blunder by insisting (remember, this was 1969) that the worst part of the automotive smog problem was “behind us”. With a few edits, the column could have been published a few times over the past 40 years, though today the reference would more likely be to CARB making the car companies and other Americans dance to their tune, rather than Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District. For what it’s worth, GM was probably correct in terms of photochemical smog, as early crankcase and tailpipe emissions controls had already started reducing the amount of hydrocarbons released. We forget just how much stuff vaporized off of a car before even simple things like PCV valves and contained fuel systems were implemented. A modern Mustang emits few hydrocarbons while driving than a vintage ‘Stang does just sitting there shut off. In any case, GM’s public relations ineptitude is not just a modern phenomenon.
What also is timeless is auto show coverage. Lots of new production and concept cars and pretty pictures. In this case it was the Frankfurt Auto Show, whose star was the great Mercedes-Benz C111 in all of its three rotor Wankel powered record setting glory. If you ask me, there’s a little bit of C111 in a lot of
In terms of automotive writing, this issue contains some gems. Esteemed automotive writer Karl Ludvigsen chronicled what were some of the final days of the BRM F1 team. The incomparable LJK Setright not only explains how turbocharging and supercharging work but also points out how the logical development of recovering exhaust energy is eliminating the piston engine entirely, i.e. build a turbine. I’m not much of a fan of off-road racing, so I almost missed “Survive Baja’s True Grit” until I noticed it was written by some guy named Bob Bondurant.
One of SGC’s selling features was motorsports coverage and the late 60s was a golden era for auto racing. Jackie Stewart’s win at Monza securing his first F1 driver’s championship was featured. Starting on the grid with Stewart were drivers named Hulme, McLaren, Surtees, Brabham and Hill. The magazine is filled with legendary race drivers in the prime of their careers. Mark Donohue makes an appearance in an ad using a Sears DieHard battery in the Indy 500. Other drivers still then in active competition mentioned in the issue are Peter Revson, David Hobbs, Sam Posey, Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney. The magazine is an embarrassment of riches in terms of legendary drivers.
Legendary drivers and legendary cars. Can Am may still be the wildest racing series ever, with virtually unlimited restraints on vehicle design. It was Can
Am that gave us aerodynamic (literally) Chaparrals with slushboxes, wings (moveable and fixed) and big block Chevys. This issue of Sports Car Graphic covers two of the Can Am races in 1969, at two of America’s great road courses, Mid Ohio and Road America. Both races were dominated by Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme in their orange M8Bs McLarens, with Hulme winning in Ohio and McLaren winning in Wisconsin, swapping the top two podium spots. Along with the McLarens were other iconic race cars like the Lola T70, Porsche 908 and Jim Hall’s radical streamlined Chaparral 2H. John Surtees, who drove the 2H, and never got comfortable with it, said that it was more suited for high speed European tracks like LeMans, than the Can Am series’ tracks. The fact that McLaren, Hulme and Surtees drove in both F1 and CanAm shows how specialized driving has become today. Back then, if you were offered a competitive ride, you took it. F1 drivers raced in CanAm while greats like Gurney and Jones had rides in TransAm.
Along with the featured articles the magazine has smaller sections for late breaking (by mid 20th century monthly magazine standards) competition and industry news. One item that caught my eye was datelined Pennsylvania, where Malcolm Bricklin had set up shop importing Subarus. Subaru was still
selling “the most dangerous car” in America, the 360, but they had just introduced the Star, which had front wheel drive powered by a water cooled horizontally opposed 4 cyl, the layout that provided the basis for Subarus growth over the next 40 years.
So that’s the content. Well, not all of it. I still haven’t told you about the ads. As cool as the editorial content is, old advertisements have their own appeal. The first two ads you see are for the 1970 Chevelle SS 396 on one page, and for Torq Thrust wheels from American Racing Equipment and you know you are back in the muscle car era. Alfa Romeo brags that they can’t get enough 1750 GT Veloces to meet demand and STP is “New car insurance only $1.35”. As expected, there are ads from oil and spark plug companies. Shell’s ad features the Chaparral. Among his innovations, Jim Hall was one of the first team owners to recognize the value of corporate sponsorship. Quaker State saluted Bob Tullius and Group 44. Lucas advertised those classic squared quartz halogen fog lamps, popularized by the Shelby Mustangs.
Not only was it the golden age of muscle cars, it was also a time when kit cars became popular. There are ads for the Empi Imp dune buggy along with a full page spread of The Girls of Fiberfab, featuring their clerical staff
dressed up in hip purple clothes with fringes hanging around an Avenger or Valkyrie.
Lot’s of performance parts. One small ad offers Weber carb conversions for your VW Bug and another is selling the same (well, with more carbs) for the Jaguar XKE. You had your choice of camshafts from Crower, Crain or Isky. MG Mitten is no longer in business, but their original supplier, Covercraft will gladly still sell you a cover for your TC from the original patterns. An official Datsun racing jacket was only $19.95, unofficial Ford & Chevy jackets, $9.95. There are ads for companies like IECO and Crown, who made performance accessories that are still desired by Corvair and VW Bug collectors, plus at least a couple of small ads from companies building the then new Formula Ford racer.
Air horns. Back then every company that sold stuff to sports car guys sold air horns. In this case, Continental of Santa Monica was selling Italian air horns with three chrome trumpets for $34.95, two trumpets five dollars cheaper. Wood rim steering wheels were $55.00. I think the steering wheels have held their value better than air horns. Autobooks had an ad, but mostly for technical and repair manuals, not coffee table books. Panasonic has an
ad for a portable cassette player, but 8-tracks were your thing, you could join the Stereo Tape Club of America and get a free tape player if you enrolled and bought only 6 tapes @ $6.98 each.
As one would expect in a “sports car” magazine of the era, many of the ads are for foreign cars. Along with Alfa Romeo, there are full page ads from Volvo, Fiat (124 Spider – $3240 p.o.e. NY), and Peugeot (504). Buoyed by the reception to the 1600 and 2002, BMW was introducing the 2500/2800 models to America with what would come to be recognized as one of the great inline sixes.
Much as they may have offended the sports car purists then, two of the ads draw particular interest today because they are for fairly rare muscle cars. There’s a full page color ad for the 1970 American Motors AMX, featuring their new 360ci V8, with 65 more ponies for the littlest pony car that could. Also in full color is the center spread for the GS455 Buick, perhaps the rarest of the A-body muscle cars, in Stage I form, with 360 HP, dual exhausts and positraction. You could still order it with a four-speed, most likely one of the last Buicks with a clutch. For real oldtimers, the ad even has the Body By Fisher logo too.
On just about every page, there is something that is sure to delight a car enthusiast. One ad, though, pretty much sums up what cool about old car magazines. In the front of the magazine, in a sidebar ad next to one of the monthly columns is an ad titled “Yenko’s Best Sellers!” from Yenko Chevrolet in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Yeah, that Yenko. Don Yenko knew a thing or two about promotion. This ad gives some perspective on those who turn their noses up at “Yenko recreations”. Most of the items offered by Yenko were legitimate speed parts: cams, racing blocks, roll bars, velocity stacks, pistons, exhausts etc. Along with the go-fast stuff, though, you could also buy a “Yenko Stinger Kit” for the grand sum of $10.00. The Stinger “kit” included: Full-color “Stinger” T-shirt (size large); Stinger bumper sticker; “Stage III” decals; Tri-Color Stinger aluminum car emblem; Tri-Color YENKO metal car emblem; Matching YENKO Tri-Color jacket patch; Mini YENKO stick-ons; Birth of the Stinger (Corvair Comunique); Stinger Parts Manual, by Don Yenko; YENKO TUNED decal; Stinger pin – BE-A-SWINGER-IN-A-STINGER! In other words, the Stinger “kit” included everything you needed to make your Chevy into a Yenko Stinger except the go-fast parts. My guess is that when a recreated “Yenko” goes across the block at Barrett-Jackson or Russo-Steele, as long as his family is getting a cut, somewhere Don is smiling
So that wraps up our little trip into the past. If you enjoyed it, let Ed know and I’ll see what else I can dig up. What era should I look at next?
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Ted West used to write a very funny column as did Paul Van Valkenburgh. Pretending they were legitimate in order to wax nostalgic about the ‘good old days’ is absurd. car insurance quote
Found this page by Googling for Ted West Sports Car Graphic. What a blast from the past! I too lost my old SCG issues during a move. So sad, because the writing was really superb. And Paul van Valkenberg's test setup put SCG way ahead of the pack. And the columns these guys wrote! And Paul V vs Bob Kovacik in their Ford vs Chevy modes .. especially rich given that Paul was a research engineer at Chevy during their secret [non-]racing years.