Some of the people who held the reins to Autocar over the past few decades reminisce on the experience
Editing any magazine is a challenge, but taking charge of one with a 125-year history is truly daunting. Some of the brave individuals to have held the reins in more recent times reflect.
Michael Harvey, editor from 1991
In the early 1990s, Autocar’s management let the kids in. I was 27 and Andrew Frankel and Steve Sutcliffe – the spine of our road test team – had somehow acquired driving licences while in their early teens. The bosses knew that youthful energy would define that stage of Autocar’s life, and the reason was a megabucks launch against us. The old lady (it celebrated its centenary on my watch) survived, beating off the opposition. Handsomely. Less to do with me, much more to do with Frankel’s and Sutters’ allergy to sleep. Long days and even longer nights, but some of the best of my life.
Patrick Fuller, editor from 1997
This tale sums up life at Autocar in the late 1990s. Against Ferrari’s wishes, the road testers drive a Porsche 911 to the 360 M launch at Maranello. Then Goodwin (911) rear-ends Sutcliffe (360) in a ‘no-fault accident’. Snapper Stan Papior arranges the cars so the damage isn’t visible. It makes six pages in the mag. Ferrari forgives us because the 360 wins the test. Legitimately. Oh, and I haven’t mentioned the highs of (1) our 100,000-selling Jaguar/Rover motor show issue, (2) working with a team that included nine former or soon-to-be editors and (3) discovering Chris Harris.
Rob Aherne, editor from 2001
Where to start? With some severely edited highlights from my two stints: lapping Brands Hatch seven-up in a Vauxhall Zafira GSi, 150mph for £500 in a Jaguar XJS (we nearly did it), setting up the Sideways Challenge, watching Chris Harris win his class in a Ford Fiesta on Rally GB, designing a concept car with TWR (where is it now?), running our 0-100-0mph competition, spending a fully off-the-record afternoon with McLaren supremo Ron Dennis, endless road trips and office late nights. Great writers, great snappers, great colleagues – and great, great days.
Chas Hallett, editor from 2006
It’s simply the most exciting job I’ve had. Why? As Autocar editor, you’re at the epicentre of the auto industry, knowing everything and everyone. I don’t miss the late nights or the accompanying dodgy takeaways (I’m now several stones lighter). But I miss the camaraderie and the sheer speed at which things happened. The best bits? I helped launch autocar.co.uk and led a radical redesign of the magazine, a format that has largely been retained. We won a major award for it. Quite right too.
Jim Holder, editor from 2012
It’s a Saturday evening. I’m out with my wife and kids. Family time. Then the phone rings.
It’s a contact. He has just heard that Aston Martin is plotting a new hypercar. Goodbye, family time. A call to another contact, this one at Aston. No denial. The original source calls back: it’s happening.
The story is written, subbed and published online. What happens next? It goes global. This is the moment that I finally understand the power of Autocar. The story of the Valkyrie has begun.
Matt Burt, editor from 2015
I went from Motoring News to Autocar, a well-worn path. MN provided superb journalistic training; moving to Autocar was akin to joining a rock supergroup. The best of the best in every area: news desk belting out world-beating scoops, road testers delivering respected new car verdicts with metronomic precision, columnists and writers adding creative licks, sub-editors and art teams honing the look and feel. Each issue was a source of pride: ‘We made this’. Now, seeing it as an outsider, I’m even more in awe of what this team achieves.
Mark Tisshaw, editor from 2017
Two to five years is how long you’ll last, they said. You’ll know because you’ll run out of ideas. Of all the advice that I received when I took Autocar’s editorship in January 2017, this friendly word of warning, albeit delivered tongue in cheek, is the one that stuck with me.
While initially striking the fear of god into me – what would I do for a job when the mag was done with me? – I soon found the opposite to be true: Autocar is something so many people cherish that you soon learn there are far more ideas than you can feasibly use – from readers, contributors, staff colleagues, industry contacts and even people in the pub. The document that I use to keep track of ideas currently runs to 394 entries, and every one is viable.
One of an editor’s key tasks is to listen, to filter good ideas and to keep them safe, then to curate them into a magazine that’s relevant to car enthusiasts of the day. And after five years, I suspect I’m going to find I’ve only just started.
My job differs from the roles of my predecessors because of the huge and continuing growth in our digital output. It’s not just a mag now but also a website with more than three million users per month, plus a video channel, social media presence, newsletters, live events and more. Autocar has never been seen by more eyeballs than it is today.
Yet it’s the magazine pages that set the tone and remain the centre of our universe. Only because of that original 125-year-old publishing icon have we been able to expand into the digital arena and let Autocar’s uniquely authoritative and voice be heard across the world of modern media.
Making a magazine is a fabulous process. It’s a distillation of what we believe you need to know about the world of cars every week. We know we sit in a privileged position, but there’s always excitement when the magazine lands in our hands on Wednesday. We hope it’s the same for you. Perhaps it sounds like a cliché when I tell you how great the Autocar 2020 team is, but it’s true. Don’t take my word for it: Steve Cropley, who joined Autocar 29 years ago, says today’s crop is the most talented bunch of all-rounders he’s ever worked with. That never ceases to fill us all with pride.
Whether or not Autocar is as good as ever is for you to judge, not me. But I believe that it has survived for so long because it strives to be relevant to you, our loyal readers. We never forget that your gift to us is our success, and we’ve been amazed and grateful, in difficult times, that your appreciation of our efforts has been so often and so warmly demonstrated.
Above all, we see ourselves as guardians of Autocar’s sacred relationship with you. The mission is to keep it relevant and hand it on to future colleagues who will take it to platforms not yet conceived. However, if you ask us to forecast when we’ll stop printing pages, as people sometimes do, we simply don’t have a sensible answer — beyond being extremely confident that such a date is far beyond the horizon. Onward, Autocar magazine, towards the 150th!