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Column: Decision to shutter performce car magazines is — sadly — a sign of the times

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette

Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 — While I was scanning Google News for news reports about the bankruptcy filing of McClatchy, the parent company of the Lexington Herald-Leader, I ran across some other publication news that really hit home on a personal level.

TEN Publishing, the publisher of 22 car and truck magazine titles, ceased publication of 19 of those 22 magazines at the end of 2019.

The survivors are notable and familiar to those of us who have an interest in cars and trucks — Motor Trend, Hot Rod, and Four Wheeler magazines.

But the 19 titles that ceased publication include some titles that I have read and subscribed to in the 40-plus years since I received my first driver’s license.

Those titles include my all-time favorite car magazine, Car Craft; my second-favorite car mag, Super Chevy, and others I enjoyed from time to time, which included Lowrider, Mopar Muscle and Street Rodder.

Those magazines became my high-performance auto mechanic textbooks. I read them from cover-to-cover, following each magazine’s latest projects, which included engine builds, interior rehab, car exterior repairs, and plenty of how-to-do-it- yourself articles that saved me a ton of money and helped me avoid making mistakes.

It was boy-meets-car, circa September 1978. Click to enlarge.

When I was 19, I purchased a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door hard top. The car had a long history as a street racer; it had a one-piece fiberglass front-end that tilted forward to reveal the engine. Equipped with a 327 V-8, high-performance solid-lifter camshaft and a Holley 850 carb and a low ratio rear-end gearing, the car was a blast to drive.

But hotrodding a hotrod has its consequences. One night I dumped the clutch at high RPM, and subsequently stripped several teeth off of first-gear in a Muncie M22 “rock crusher” 4-speed transmission.

The guidance of the car magazine articles walked me through the steps to safely replace my 55’s transmission. I would later turn to the same magazines for articles on rebuilding a small-block Chevy when I replaced the 327 with a 350 with four-bolt mains.

My freshly painted and reassembled 1955 Chevy in front of my parents’ home on Maple Hill, Spring 1982. Click to enlarge.

The cars (and trucks) featured monthly in these magazine titles were spectacular examples of workmanship. They served as inspiration for their many thousands of readers, many of whom (like me) may have had primered hot rods “in the process” of being rehabilitated or restored.

Car Craft also was the magazine that started the Street Machine Nationals in 1977. The event was basically the largest national drive-your-car-there car show for 1949 and new cars. The event began in Indianapolis. After reading the magazine’s coverage of the event and all the cars, I drove to Indy as a spectator for the 1980 nationals.

Click to enlarge.

It was an amazing event, jam-packed with beautiful cars (which were driven to the show, not trailered), vendors, tech support and numerous events. I vowed that year at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds to return with my 55 Chevy the following year.

The event was moved to Springfield, Ill., in 1981, and I drove my freshly painted 55 Chevy across the corn and wheat fields of Central Indiana and Illinois for what was a weekend in horsepower heaven.

I returned to the Street Machine Nationals in 1982, ’83, and ’84. In 1985, the event moved to East St. Louis. The biggest difference between the locations was that the racetrack at East St. Louis was devoid of trees, and the sun beating down on hot June afternoons was tough on human and vehicle cooling systems alike.

Click to enlarge.

I met some of the magazine’s staff and photographers. My 55 was nice, but not of the caliber to be featured in the magazine. But getting published was never the goal — being part of a large event that was a celebration of horsepower, creativity and ingenuity was worth more than the entrance fees.

In today’s digital age, my new source for “how-to” information is usually YouTube, though the quality of the advice can vary widely by the individual making the video. While Car Craft and other magazines weren’t video, you could trust the advice and guidance they offered was tried and true.

I held onto my 55 Chevy for 34 years, finally selling it in about 2011 to help cover the tuition costs for the masters degree I eventually earned.

Click to enlarge.

At times I miss my old Chevy. But I still have copies of Car Craft magazine that covered those years’ at the Street Machine Nationals.

But the economics of printing on paper isn’t what it used to be, particularly since advertising revenue continues to move away from printed paper and to any of the many digital forms of advertising.

I can’t help but feel sad about the loss of the magazine titles. To their credit, most of them were early adopters of the internet and had very active (and interactive) websites going back nearly 20 years. And according to TEN Publishing, the publications’ websites will continue, for what that might be worth.

So long old friends, you’ve served several generations of gearheads — of all ages — well. Thanks for inspiring our creativity, ingenuity and the desire to be able to do-it-ourselves.

The list of print magazines discontinued at the end of 2019 include: 4-Wheel & Off-Road, Automobile, Car Craft, Chevy High Performance, Classic Trucks, Diesel Power, Hot Rod Deluxe, Jp, Lowrider, Mopar Muscle, Muscle Car Review, Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords, Mustang Monthly, Street Rodder, Super Chevy, Super Street, Truck Trend, Truckin’ and Vette.

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