The man behind the manuals: Discovering John Haynes

John Haynes

The life of John Haynes is explored in a new book. We find out more about the man behind the eponymous workshop manuals

Autocar couldn’t let 2020 pass without tilting its hat in the direction of John Haynes (1938-2019), whose company behind the eponymous workshop manuals with their pages of detailed disassembly instructions (note: refitting is the reverse of removal) celebrated its 70th anniversary this year.

JH Haynes & Co was founded in 1960, four years after John Haynes produced his first manual, on his home-built Austin Seven Special (written while still at school) and five years before he published the first Haynes Owners Workshop manual, dedicated to the Austin-Healey Sprite.

The story of his life is told in a new book, called John Haynes, The Man Behind the Manuals. Haynes was a lover of telling it straight and would have been pleased with the book’s no-nonsense title. He was a one-time amateur racer, a life-long car collector and a highly driven character who, when others might have lost heart with the idea and challenges of producing a detailed workshop manual, would eventually see his business become hugely successful not only here in the UK but also in that most difficult of markets to crack, the US.

Below, extracts from the new book shed light on John Haynes’ journey from schoolboy to mechanic’s friend, while key statistics illustrate how big his car manuals business grew from the days when he produced his first on an old hand-cranked Gestetner mimeograph duplicating machine.

John Haynes, The Man Behind the Manuals (ISBN 978 1 78521 685 5) is published by Haynes Publishing and costs £20.

The Haynes Museum

By the mid -1980s , John Haynes had amassed quite a collection of classic and performance cars. He worried that they might have to be sold after his death, so he decided to put them into a charitable trust that would ensure their survival. From there it was a short step to displaying them in what is now known as the Haynes International Motor Museum.

“Dubbed the Sparkford Motor Museum, it was formally inaugurated in July 1985 with 27 of John’s cars. John was flanked by Richard Noble, who had recently used his jet-propelled Thrust2 to break the land speed record in the Nevada desert.”


The opening of the museum inspired Haynes to new collecting heights, and there was one model he coveted so much so that he was prepared to pay almost anything to have it.

“The Duesenberg Model J was intended as a rival to Britain’s Rolls-Royce. In early 1994 there was an advert for a 1931 Model J known as the Derham Bodied Tourster. Only eight of them were made. The final price tag – $500,000 – was steep. John had nothing like that amount of ready cash. Yet he arranged for a short-term loan for $300,000 of it, with Annette [his wife] happily pledging her Haynes shares as security, and the deal was done.”

US success

We may think that Haynes manuals are a distinctly British institution, but from the mid1970s the company was making serious inroads into the US market. Things really took off when Haynes began producing manuals for US cars, its first based on tear-downs of models belonging to UK-based US Air Force officers who were lent an Audi for the duration.

● The three best-selling Haynes manuals in the US are for Chevy, Ford and Dodge pick-ups .

● Annual sales of Haynes manuals in the US top 1 million.

● There are more than 240 million vehicles in the US and Haynes has books or manuals covering almost 90% of them.

● The US operation is based in the same offices that John Haynes established 40 years ago, near Los Angeles.

Austin Seven

In 1953, aged just 15 and still at school, John Haynes bought an old Austin Seven from a scrap dealer and rebuilt it, a process he documented in detail and which would inspire his later maintenance manuals.

“It ran to 48 pages. Using the school’s duplicating machine he produced 250 copies. He folded them into pamphlet form and stapled them at the edge. Then he placed a small advert in one of his favourite car magazines, offering them for five shillings a copy. Within barely a week, he’d sold them all.”


In 1965, while with the RAF in Aden, Haynes had the idea of producing a detailed manual that could be understood by the DIY mechanic. Needing a donor car, he offered to help restore an Austin-Healey Sprite belonging to a fellow officer.

“Over the next eight weeks they spent their off-duty hours disassembling and repairing or refurbishing each part. John annotated each step and photographed the entire process. It took another six weeks for John to finish writing his ‘owner’s workshop’ manuscript. The result was the first true Haynes Motor Manual.”

Haynes in numbers

> 200m – Number of car manuals sold

322 – Number of car manuals in the range in the UK

288 – Number of car manuals in the US range (including 19 in the Spanish language), plus 170 Chilton-published manuals (US rival bought by Haynes)

59 – Number of car manuals in the range in Australia

59 – Number of car manuals in the range in Sweden

120,000 – Average number of words per manual

1000 – Average number of images per manual


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Source: Autocar

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