Magazine Rewind: Autocar at 125 Years Old – The Cover Story

Britain still has one weekly motoring magazine of true stature and authority, Autocar. The slightly odd name is a hang over from it’s birth 125 years ago; it’s proud to have been launched (as The Autocar) when there were just six cars in the country.

The magazine and the magazine market have both changed a lot in that time. It swallowed its long tine rival Motor in 1988, and was published for six years as Autocar and Motor, before reverting to Autocar. It is now the only weekly aimed at enthusiasts rather those purely choosing a car.

The content, and crucially the impartiality, of the magazine is much better than it was when I bought it in the way home from school on a Thursday afternoon, although there is a discernible patriotic basis in the amount of content around Jaguar Land Rover, if not in the actual subjective assessments. But in general, it’s not a bad read, and the news and video content on the website is pretty good too.

The front cover was usually, until the early 1960s, a full colour advertisement – the only colour in the whole magazine of course. This was niornally taken by one of the major manufacturers or sometimes by a tyre or brake manufacturer. The magazine has now made available online an archive of the last 125 years, and while you may not want to read every test of the Hillman Minx or Austin Cambridge, you cannot deny that the traditional covers with their full colour advertising artwork are attractive, and perhaps more attractive than another a shot of VW Golf or an over-excited headline on a new Corolla. Here’s a few I picked out, but you could choose many others.

A Morris advertisement from 1924, when Morris was emerging as the dominant UK manufacturer, taking market leadership around this time.

But Ford was not taking this laying down – the response to Morris was to build the Dagenham plant east of London.

A nice pair of Wolseleys from 1935, or

a Humber? this is a 1934 cover.

And this is why Jaguar Cars as a company name was needed.

Some advertising locations seem to have changed little, apart from the subject, at least in advertising.

Lockheed Brakes were a regular advertiser – this is from 1940, when lights, except search lights,  were dimmed.

May 1945, and colour was back in our lives.

1948 was the year Britain’s industry really got going again with new product. Austin was proud to be exporting the A40 to the USA, and using artwork to add a lot to a pretty ordinary car.

This one puzzled me a little, until I read the small print – he’s a manufacturer trained mechanic.

1952, and Jaguar were now established as the leading affordable luxury and craftsmanship brand.

1957, and advertising brakes is still on the cover of magazines.

1962, and one of the last artwork covers was taken by Daimler for the Majestic Major – by then competing with in-house with the large Jaguar and gently fading away.

Plenty more here, and not just the covers, here