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Early motoring publications

Wednesday 14th April, 2010

The early years of motoring continue to fascinate historians, car enthusiasts and anyone with an interest in our industrial heritage. The pioneering days of the 1890s and 1900s are now well beyond living memory and it is to the printed word that we must turn for first hand accounts. Many of the researchers visiting the National Motor Museum’s Reading Room come specifically to look at the oldest examples of motoring magazines. Fortunately our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors were well provided for when it came to motoring related reading matter.

The earliest specialist motoring journal was of course The Autocar, published by Illiffe & Son from 2 November 1895 onwards. Our Reference Library is fortunate to have a virtually complete run. Its major competitor for many years, The Motor published by Temple Press Ltd. was a relatively late starter, not appearing until 1902, initially as Motorcycling & Motoring before adopting the better known title in January 1903.

There were a relatively large number of motoring journals around in the late Victorian and Edwardian era, interesting given the small number of motor vehicles actually in existence. Most popular with motoring historians is The Automotor Journal (originally The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal) launched in 1897. This covers technical developments in some depth. Lord Montagu’s father, John Scott Montagu, launched The Car Illustrated in 1902; a beautifully illustrated large format magazine subtitled A Journal of Travel by Land, Sea and Air. As well as motoring it gave coverage to the latest developments in speed boating, aviation and railway technology. Topics such as motoring fashions also featured regularly.

These are perhaps the best known of the early motoring titles but there are several others that are worth consulting when undertaking research. For example The Motor Car Journal which started in 1899 and Motoring Illustrated of 1902. How about Motoring News? Generally referred to as (Irish) Motoring News, it was published in Dublin and gave a particularly Irish view of the years 1900–1904. Needless to say, coverage of the 1903 Gordon Bennett race was pretty good!

Developments on two wheels received varying degrees of coverage in many of these early periodicals until Illiffe & Son launched a dedicated title, The Motor Cycle, in 1902. Rivals Temple Press followed suit in 1910 with Motor Cycling.

The years immediately preceding World War I saw the rise in popularity of the cycle car. Those two leading protagonists in our story Illiffe & Son and Temple Press once again went head to head with their respective titles Light Car and The Cyclecar. The former soon fell by the way but the latter, renamed Light Car & Cycle Car, maintained its popularity through the cycle car and small car boom of the 1920s and on into the 30s, eventually (somewhat confusingly) shortening its title to simply The Light Car.

Commercial vehicles initially received coverage in magazines such as The Autocar and Automotor Journal. March 1905 saw Temple Press launch a dedicated weekly magazine The Commercial Motor which was followed only a few months later by a rival publication in the form of Motor Traction published by – yes, you guessed it – Illiffe & Sons. Motor Traction became Motor Transport in 1921. Both journals give excellent coverage of developments in both lorry and bus technology although unfortunately our collection of Motor Traction/Transport has some substantial gaps particularly around the First World War period.

There are also some hidden gems; early magazines that seem to have been forgotten by many modern researchers. The snappily titled Automobile Owner and Steam & Electric Car Review, was first published in 1906 and we have a short run from Volume 2 of 1907 up to 1912. It appears to have been aimed at the more practical car owner as it contains many tips for subjects like vehicle maintenance and how to set up a home workshop. The various activities of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland (ACGBI, later the RAC) were chronicled in the Automobile Club Journal from 1900 onwards, the library’s collection starting at Volume 2 in 1901. The name changed to The Automobile Club Journal & Motor Union Gazette before becoming the Royal Automobile Club Journal in 1907.

Clearly Edwardian news stands must have been creaking under the weight of motoring magazines alone!

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