Feature Story

HOW TO BE AN AUTO EXPERT

by Bob Hagin

July 12, 1996

My dad used to say that if you study something for just 15 minutes a day, you'll be an expert on that subject in eight years.

But if that "something" is the entire auto world, eight years may not be enough. A neophyte "expert" would do better to narrow his or her studies to a more manageable automotive "splinter."

As we all know, the best way to study any subject is to read about it and since the auto world is an ongoing and expanding subject, the best sources of automotive information can be found on the shelves of your local magazine stand. Most of you are aware of periodicals like Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Road & Track and AutoWeek, but in recent years, those publications have concentrated the majority of their features on reviewing new cars and trucks. Quoting them would make you sound like a public relations flackman for the industry and quickly discredit you as being a "puff" rather than an expert.

But they aren't all like that and while the small specialty auto magazines don't have the advertising income of the "biggies," those I've listed here can be studied by readers who yearn to become an expert on "something."

CLASSIC AND SPORTSCAR - And we're not talking about the modern "jellybean" coupes that are being called sports cars, either. This magazine is produced in England (original home of the sports car) and the latest issue has a short feature on the bug-eyed Austin-Healey Sprite of '59, numerous short "snippets" on famous sports cars going back to the '20s, reports on recent races and rallies held around the British Isles for vintage sports cars, and numerous ads (with photos) for old British cars, clothing and knick-knacks. The perfect magazine subscription for budding experts on the vintage sports car scene.

EUROPEAN CAR - Not "clubby" like Classic and Sportscar, this American-produced monthly goes into technical detail about a variety of Continental exotics. Featured in the July issue was the 355 Ferrari (complete with cut-away illustration), a "massaged" late model 850 Volvo wagon (good for 163 MPH), and a trio of turbocharged Porsches built by PowerHaus, an American speed shop that makes late model Porsches go almost 200 MPH. Digest a year's worth of European Car and you'll be the automotive toast of the office water cooler set.

VW TRENDS - Also European but a horse (or horsepower) of another color. VW Trends is dedicated to air-cooled Volkswagens of all kinds with just a dabble of Golf, Rabbit and GTI water-cooled stuff thrown in. Its ads are for the vast array of hop-up equipment still being made for the venerable Beetle engine while its featured-car articles included a totally restore '55 convertible Bug, a '65 that's a rolling 1000-watt Boom Box, and an immaculate '64 21-window, split-windshield Kombi microbus that has been restored and resides in England. Your newfound interest in Buggness may even lead you to attend the annual VW-Porsche Toy and literature Show in Los Angeles next spring. Then your Volkswagen expertness training will be complete.

OLD CARS WEEKLY - Special Interest Auto magazine is great for in-depth pieces about vintage cars and Hemming's Motor news is full of classified ads on old cars and old car stuff but there's no depth. And being monthlies, their news is dated by the time you get it. Old Cars Weekly sharpens your historical car acumen by giving you what's new about what's old every Thursday. It's in newspaper format with short shots sent in by readers ("The First Hemi Transplant" from a reader in Portland.), old auto photos (also from readers), and facts about upcoming old car shows and swap meets. Casual car buffs will flock to your table during the lunch break to seek your pontifications on automotive history.

ON TRACK - Even the most die-hard racing fan can't watch all the world's first-class events on TV (Formula one races are usually shown around 5AM on Sundays) so taking On Track keeps you on the cutting edge of what's new on the world's race tracks. You'll know that Olivier Panis won the Grand Prix of Monaco recently and gave car maker Ligier it's first Formula One win in 18 years. You'll know that NASCAR has nixed a hot-rod Lincoln for John Andretti in stock car racing. You'll know that Ford made a comeback in World Rally Championship competition at Medan, Indonesia. Read it for a year or so, wear a motorsports jacket to work every Monday and your coworkers will be sure that you follow the racing fraternity around the world on the weekends.

So pick your subject, send off your subscription, start studying and by 2004, you'll be a recognized as a vehicular guru. You might ask how I know so much about all these expert-making magazines. The answer is simple: I subscribe to all of them myself.

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