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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

January 16, 1998

MOTOR TREND, CAR and DRIVER, ROAD & TRACK are the Big Three of "generalist" car magazines and they do endless road tests of new cars. Their features are fine, if you're in the mood to buy new, want to be up on the latest merchandise on showroom floors or like "concept" cars.

But for marque enthusiast who only wants to read about "their" brand, there's a plethora of magazines on the market that should cater to their tastes. I spent an hour or so at our local book store and found these gems on the magazine rack:

PONTIAC - HIGH PERFORMANCE PONTIAC is HOT ROD magazine with tunnel vision. Its area of concentration is Pontiac, to be sure, but don't expect articles on how to get your '89 Sunbird GT coupe ready for trade-in or descriptions of aftermarket fold-a-beds for the new Trans Sport minivan. The latest issue features a story on how Pontiac V8s have changed compression ratios over the years (it includes casting numbers), another on a '65 GTO that the original owner modified to turn a 10-second quarter mile, and a how-to on rebuilding a Borg-Warner T-5 transmission. There's a road test of a new Pontiac, of course, but it's not the '98 Grand Am sedan. Rather, it's the '98 Firebird Firehawk factory street racer with 330 horsepower. Another review shows a rotogravure of a '66 GTO with text describing it as a "pavement pounder" along with photos featuring a blonde model with big hair and a tight skirt. HIGH PERFORMANCE PONTIAC is a kid's magazine, and I loved it.

MG - Being British, MG ENTHUSIAST is quite different from American- made magazines for marque buffs. Like HIGH PERFORMANCE PONTIAC, it covers competition events that center around MGs, but they're more eclectic in nature (vintage car road rallies, road races for race- prepared MGs of the current era, and concours d'elegance events). A review of a reader's restored '34 MG KN "pillarless" four-door sedan details that its restoration so completely that it notes that the owner "skinned" the body panels from the ash framework. In a story titled "Giant Test," nine MGFs (the newest not-for-sale-in-America MG sports car) were wrung out at a local race track to evaluate one standard model against one that had undergone factory-authorized "tweaking" plus a comparison with seven other hot "private" MGFs.

MUSTANG - MUSTANG MONTHLY is another all-American product but it's not as rambunctious or "boppy" as the Pontiac journal. The January '98 issue has how-tos ("Modify Door Panels," "351 Cleveland Detailing," etc.), a comparison of two fast Mustangs separated by 30 years ("SVT Cobra vs. Cobra Jet - Clash of the Titans"), a couple of features on restored Mustangs and a used Mustang price guide. The gossipy "Seen & Heard" column explained that the three Saleen Mustangs that raced at last year's 24 Hour of Le Mans had been sold to European buyers for international racing, and that Mustang deity Carroll Shelby may once again become involved with Ford at age 75. Another article from the buyer of a new Mustang Cobra describes how he "walked" his own vehicle's construction through Ford's Dearborn Assembly Plant.

LAND ROVER - Here in the U.S., the Range Rover has become a big-buck status symbol but it's not necessarily so in its English homeland. LAND ROVER WORLD is dedicated to enthusiasts who not only drive current Range Rovers, Discoverys and Defenders, but those who restore and drive (often to the off-road limit) '48 and up Jeep-like Land Rovers. There's even a feature on vintage Land Rover FC108 fire trucks. The current issue graphically traces the Land Rover back to its 50-year old roots as a farm vehicle made from surplus military parts. Since the early days of motoring, the English have been keen on "trials driving," events that send competitors up and down the nastiest, muddiest and most appalling byways of that perpetually damp island. Land Rover clubs find this "their" element, according to LAND ROVER WORLD, and its pages brim with photos and tales of Land Rovers up to their door jams in sticky goo.

CORVETTE - Although a few of the readers of CORVETTE FEVER complained about the bad fit and finish of their new C5 versions, they seem as devoted to their mounts as other readers who polish and drive their '65 Sting Rays. CORVETTE FEVER has been in business for 20 years and on its current pages are stories of a modern run on Route 66 ("..from Chicago to LA..") in a '98 Corvette, a how-to on rewiring an ailing Corvette firewall, and a pilgrimage to the National Corvette Museum in Phoenix. A history of the '61 bob-tailed Corvette shows photos of a reader's car (complete with wide whitewalls) and there is an illustrated Christmas gift list that includes a rooftop mountain bike rack for the Corvette owner who has everything - except cargo space.

BMW - Although the BMW is German, BMW CAR ("The Independent BMW Magazine") is as British as four-o'clock tea. BMW CAR has several of the mandatory reviews of BMWs owned by readers, but it also waxes loquacious over BMW motorcycles. One story describes in detail how readers can buy "exotic" Bimmers from European countries at a great saving, but they come with the steering wheel on the "wrong" side. There's a road test of the new 3-Series, and tidbits on BMW's return to Formula One Grand Prix racing. And as if to pinpoint the target market population of BMW CAR, page 52 is a full-color, one-page ad for the Princess 22 Metre, "The World's Most Sophisticated Motor Yacht." It's for the right crowd.

These magazines aren't as available as the well-known Big Three, but most big book stores carry them on their shelves. Now if I could find one that caters to us Hillman owners, I'd be happy.