Here at home, I sit on a stack of old Car and Driver magazines large enough to equip every bathroom in my neighborhood with at least two and-maybe-a-half issues of car-related reading material.
I accumulated most of those magazines during my childhood years — starting around age seven, every year for Christmas an uncle of mine would buy a new subscription for me, and that continued for a number of years up until it became easier to hand out actual money instead of giving gifts. I believe my subscription finally ran its course at the end of 2006 or 2007.
Growing up, I loved thumbing through them, mostly to gawk at photos of sports cars and satiate a dashboard fetish I had at the time. As I got a little older and actually began reading them more, I was fascinated by the Upfront section that kept track of industry news and future models — especially if there was a drawn rendering involved — and captivated by articles like "Battle of the Beaters." I mean, long before the hosts of Top Gear started buying shitty second-hand cars for a pittance and driving them like morons in a bold display of glutenous self-abuse, here was three Car and Driver editors doing the exact same thing years earlier and the end result wasn't any less of a hilarious failure. How could I not be entertained? I made sure back then to have a copy or two on hand for long backseat trips.
I was almost ready to graduate high school by the time my subscription expired, and it was around this time I stumbled upon another magazine — Car (no Driver this time). Car, for those of you who couldn't tell, is a car magazine that hails from the country that gave us Mini Coopers and that rambling lobotomy patient CNN just sent packing to the unemployment line (note to the UK: we're fine with the former, but for the love of all things holy, please take back the latter). I was blown away by the slick gloss of its cover, the beautiful photography that lined each page, its clean, well-detailed layout. Even the size of the thing was impressive; it could swallow adjacent magazines whole. Even better, the writing was brutally honest and unbiased with just enough dry humor to keep things light-hearted and that kept me reading the damn thing from masthead to buyer's guide until the front cover started to fray around the edges.
Other than John Phillips, who I hope continues writing about cars until we actually start hearing trumpets in the sky, Car and Driver just didn't seem to stack up to its Euro counterpart once I started comparing the two. The format was a trainwreck. The photography and writing was usually about as flavorful as a lettuce sandwich with cardboard for bread, and it was now obvious to me that someone at C&D was lacing the punchbowl with Honda manufactured Narcozep. The featured articles were more miss than hit (articles like "Battle of the Beaters" seemed to be all but forgotten about, save for a sequel released in 2003) and the amount of overall content to the amount of advertising was nauseatingly in favor of Jamie Ireland ads and products only pertinent to someone who yells at their crotch for its ineptitude.
It wasn't just Car and Driver that suffered from the same problems. Motor Trend, Road & Track, and Automobile all were lacking in one if not all of the same respects, too. My opinion didn't improve once I had discovered Top Gear had a magazine, either.
Now, I could really draw this out at this point and start talking about the effect the internet and blogging has had on the traditional format of automotive journalism that C&D and its ilk represent on top of how they stack up to car mags from the Old World. I could also ramble on about my trepidation about devoting my in-progress college career to journalism and how I'm not entirely sure if I've made poor decisions because of it. I could also discuss how McAlister's chili is awesome, but immediately sends me running to the nearest stink lodge. But you don't want to hear about that, right? Of course not. Even I don't.
American car magazines, bless their hearts, have tried to right those wrongs. Road & Track most certainly has shown some considerable effort as of late and might be the best one to crawl out of the scrap pile. But, you know, I'm still not entirely sure they're delivering on the same levels of content as their British counterparts. Something there is still missing ... or more to the point, something there seems like it's still holding them back (cough, advertisers, cough).
Or maybe it's just me. What do you think? Do American car magazines suck? Are they the best out there because 'MURICA!? Or is reading any sort of magazine in this day and age make about as much sense as carrying a beeper and listening to Kylie Minogue records?
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