Auto Journalist'S Research Library

by Bob Hagin

October 17, 2001

Being the eclectic automotive journalist that I am, I need two things; a broad-based automotive library and a vivid imagination. The first item is obvious. To write on a subject as convoluted and complex as the multi-faceted automobile world, a writer has to have a overabundance of information at his or her fingertips, even if the fingertips are just used to dial-up a source of information on a subject. The second necessity, a good imagination, is handy if there are no hard facts to fill in the gaps.

Over the years, I've come to categorize my personal automotive magazine library into several divisions each of which ostensibly fits a particular type of feature. Keeping them divided is something of a chore since they sometimes overlap in content and it helps to be able to remember small unrelated bits of information that may help in a search. A comprehensive computerized database is a great help too, since it eliminates the need for scores of file cards.

But whether it's on a personal computer or on cards in dozens of shoe boxes, a useful automotive magazine library has to be indexed somehow and these are the sections I've set up over the past three decades:

MAGAZINES ABOUT NEW CAR STUFF - Although they've become more and more tied to their advertisers over the years, there's still a lot of good information to be found in the pages of what is commonly referred to in the business as "buff" magazines. Motor Trend, Car and Driver, Road & Track, AutoWeek and the newcomer Auto World have lots of useful stuff on new vehicles although they're not very critical. Some of them have interesting technical information and even a few travel stories although these are usually funded by the makers of the vehicles the writers are traveling in. Automobile magazine fits in this category too but it's a bit erudite to be lumped in with the "regular guy" magazines.

MAGAZINES ABOUT OLD CAR STUFF - Being an old guy, current magazines about old cars are my favorites although the category is a bit thin. First among them is Special Interest Auto although it's evolved from being "funky" ("How to cast your own Triumph trunk hinges") to being strictly entertaining and educational. It's been ongoing for over 30 years and has been going progressively upscale but thankfully it hasn't falling into the very profitable trap of reviewing new cars. Automobile Quarterly is also in this category although it's hard-cover and only comes out every four months. Each of its stories are well written, researched in-depth and accompanied by luscious color photos. It's even older than Special Interest Autos and my first editions are dated 1962.

OLD CAR MAGAZINES - By "old" I mean issues of magazines that were published 'way back when. I have dozens of them and although some of their covers are tattered and turning to dust, I still refer to such gems as Auto Age of April, 1953, Your Car of October 1953 and Motorsport of June, 1956 for historical data of that era. I also have old issues of Motor Trend, and Road & Track that go back to the '40s in some cases but they're very different from their modern namesakes.

INDUSTRY PERIODICALS - Although most auto enthusiasts turn a blind eye to it, there is a business side of the automobile world and it often involves its human aspects. Automotive News is considered the bible of the industry. It comes out weekly in periodical form and I keep issues for only a year because they're bulky and take up a lot of space, and any "news" about the fast-moving car industry that's more than a year falls in the realm of ancient history. It includes things like which CEO is getting the boot in a hostile takeover, what company has won or lost a court case and as an aside, what new cars or trucks are on their way to showrooms. The other "business" side of the business is the retailing and wholesaling of vehicle parts. It's a multi-billion dollar industry world-wide and has its own world of corporate takeovers, law suits and power struggles. I get Aftermarket Business and Automotive Marketing, both of which cater to the retail auto parts industry and the wholesalers who sell to independent and factory-captive retail facilities. Of particular interest to me are their stories that have to do with in-depth analysis of market trends and surveys of consumer attitudes about the repair business. Although I do get lots of journalisticaly useful information from their pages, I guess I like these magazines because I'm still a mechanic at heart.

SERVICE MAGAZINES - And there are a couple of magazines that cater strictly to us mechanics although the younger guys like us to refer to ourselves as "techs." The oldest is Motor, an auto magazine that's been around since the days of the horseless carriage, Motor Service, which is not as helpful to us "techs" but has good tool and tool-use features, and Import Service, a magazine whose name explains its target market. Besides getting useful hands-on information, I can glean what technical problems are cropping up in late model vehicles. I keep all copies regardless of date.

FRINGE MAGAZINES - I have a separate grouping for magazines that don't fit into any of the aforementioned slots. I don't subscribe to Lowrider, Hot Rod, Hot Mustangs, Kit Car Illustrated or any of the other specialty magazines but if I come across one that contains items that might be of interest to me or my readers, I squirrel it away. Also included in this category are Racer, Automotive Engineering and other non-essentials.

Fortunately I have a large house and lots of empty bedrooms now that the kids have grown and gone. I have the rooms filled with shelves packed with magazine storage boxes. Now I have to remember which rooms they're in.


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