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MY DAD, rest his soul, wasn’t really a car nut. But he was interested in keeping his kid off the streets and out of the pool halls. I’ve forgotten the first model airplane he bought me, but it would have been balsa, with a tissue paper covering made taut by misting it with water. I do remember the first Road & Track he gave me: May 1954. At that point, R&T was seven years old; I was 11.
The May 1954 issue of R&T was quite enough to infect anyone, especially an 11-year-old. Its cover read Road & Track. I didn’t realize it then, but the magazine’s ampersand had replaced and only a few months before.
This and/& revelation was confirmed years later in the late 1960s, when I was back in Cleveland in graduate school. I answered an ad and bought an R&T collection dating back to 1947 for $12. An old guy (ha! likely my current age) was selling the magazines—and an MG TD—because his eyesight was limiting entertainment of either sort. Being a grad student and all, I was sorry I couldn’t afford the TD.
The single road test in May 1954 was of a Ferrari 250 Mille Miglia, owned by a guy named Phil Hill. Briefly in the late 1940s, when Phil lived in England as a Jaguar trainee, he had already appeared on the Road and Track masthead as a European correspondent. By 1954, though, he was back in southern California and gaining a racing reputation that would earn him a Ferrari factory signing in 1956.
The road test’s title read, “Will Your Car do 0 to 60 in 5.1 Secs.?” This challenge sounded a lot more preposterous back in 1954 than it does today. “Never before have I accelerated so rapidly, traveled so fast, or decelerated so suddenly.” So read the notebook of R&T’s Technical Editor at the time, another familiar name, John R. Bond.
The ads from May 1954 were enticing as well, especially for this Cleveland kid who only occasionally saw an MG or—wow!—a Jaguar XK120. A London outfit called Autextra, Ltd. described something I had never heard of, a Lotus Sports Racing Car, “the most successful 1100 cc car in Britain… now makes its debut in the U.S. this year.”
Autexta listed five North American agents, two in Canada, one in Tucson, another in Houston—and one in Toledo.
Gee, dad, Toledo isn’t that far. Do you suppose….
According to its cover, the magazine cost “35¢ the copy.” A Letter to the Editor in the issue praised R&T for such linguistic precision. Another commented about “The Private War Against Sports Cars,” an article in the April 1954 issue. Wrote the reader, “The bleeding heart who is responsible for this bombardment of goose grease and marshmallow is neither accurate nor fair.”
Heady words for an 11-year-old. And, curiously enough, an editorial by Joel Kotkin, staff columnist in The Orange County Register, this past Sunday, May 29, 2016, was subheaded “Most Californians Unaware of [Governor] Brown’s Animus to Cars.” Personal mobility evidently needs defending to this day.
Among new cars highlighted was one that came to be a favorite of mine, the W196 in its streamlined configuration: “The first Mercedes Benz Grand Prix car since the war.”
The article cites “an unblown, 2.5-liter dohc straight eight, tilted to reduce frontal area” and notes “There is much speculation as to whether a lighter body will be substituted for the shorter, twistier type of circuit.” Spot on.
Other articles included a Technical Review of the Formula 1 Maserati, now much revered as the 250F; a report on the 12-hour race at Sebring, Florida, written by a fellow named Robert Cumberford; and “Cubic Inches on the Sand: NASCAR Speed Week,” bylined by Joe McCahill.
As noted, it was a posthumous piece, offered by Tom, his pal with the same last name. ds
All in all, R&T May 1954 was quite a magazine. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016