How we photographed 50 cars for CAR's birthday cover

Published: 10 October 2012

Many months ago CAR magazine's editor hatched a plan to gather together the 50 greatest cars of the past 50 years to celebrate CAR’s 50th birthday. So we found a huge aircraft hangar, picked a week far too near in the future, and I made some calls and sent some emails. And then made more calls and sent more emails, and pretty much spent the next month pulling together our cover shoot.

Within a few days our first car was confirmed: a Ferrari F40. But then Bugatti called to say we could borrow a new £2m Veyron Vitesse, only it had to return to France the day before we could get hold of the F40. So we called the Ferrari owner and politely declined his offer, reckoning another F40 would be easier to get hold of than a Veyron…

More supercars followed. An anonymous Australian owner offered his McLaren F1 for four days – albeit with a minder from McLaren’s Special Operations department to make sure no one pinched the titanium spanners or took it to 240mph – and two taxi-driving brothers agreed to loan CAR their lovely red Lamborghini Countach. And a gorgeous neon green example of its predecessor, the Miura, came from JHW Classics.

How to collect 50 cars for a photoshoot. And age 50 years in the process

Then we had a flurry of modern cars confirmed: a Nissan GT-R, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Porsche 911, Caterham Seven, Range Rover, Ariel Atom V8 and Ferrari 458 Italia came from manufacturer press offices. And UK manufacturers' heritage collections were put into action too: Renault supplied the mint 4 and 5, Audi lent us its original Quattro and recently acquired NSU Ro80, Jag its E-type and XJ6, Vauxhall its Lotus Carlton, Mini its, err, mini Mini, Honda its NSX, Lexus its LS400, and Ford had a Mk1 Focus and Sierra Cosworth while one of its workers volunteered a Mustang. Straight from Olympic Torch relay duties came BMW UK’s E30 M3 and E60 M5, and VW UK sent us its Mk1 Golf GTI to sit on the front row alongside the Veyron.

Some cars come from further afield. Citroen sourced a 2CV and DS from its museum in France, and then very patiently found another 2CV and DS after we pointed out that these early examples rolled off the production line before CAR was in existence. (We were equally awkward with Land Rover, requesting a Series IIA – and the pristine car that arrived turned out to be a gift to the company’s founder upon his retirement.) And a visiting-from-America Ferrari 250 GTO sent our insurance people into meltdown: ‘ours’ was the second one ever built, and at £22m accounts for two-thirds of the cost of all 50 cars.

Hot hatches alongside a £22 million GTO

Peugeot contacted an owner who happily sent along his 205 GTi while he was on holiday, Lotus found an Elan, Mk1 Elise and rare JPS Esprit for us, and Fiat tracked down a Multipla (finding one not abused on the school run was hard), a first-gen Panda (one of only six in the country) and a beautiful Lancia Stratos. Other patient owners travelled the country in an S-class, Smart, Alfasud, Saab 99 Turbo, Impreza P1 and Evo XI. We struggled find an FF until I found JHW Classic’s sister company was just down the road from our shoot location and had a car – thank you Studio 434!

And in between all of this we were arranging the features you’ll find in our 50th birthday issue - big thanks to the kind owners of a Corvette, MX-5 and DB5 (the actual car used in the new 007 Skyfall movie) agreeing to attend multiple shoots, while I hit 200mph in a Veyron in Spain and Chris Chilton took a pair of 911s to the Alps. Plus art consultant Pete Allen and I spent an afternoon arranging/playing with 50 toy cars to fix our cover image. And then had cold feet thinking they wouldn’t all fit in the hangar. And still no F40.

Then, with mere days to go, I had an email out of the blue from a Ferrari owner, wondering if we wanted to use his F40 and hoping he wasn’t too late. We had all 50 cars. If everyone turned up…

What if all 50 cars didn't turn up?

I didn’t sleep the night before, worrying that one single, absent owner would ruin everything. But on Wednesday 18 July 2012 everything went off without a hitch: it was like a depot at first, truck transporters opening to reveal precious cargos, Veyrons being unloaded alongside 250 GT0s, Phantoms next to 2CVs. And then the owners arrived, gawping at the scale of out little operation, at the other 49 cars around them, while we gawped at their cars. It was surreal to watch them queuing up outside our anonymous hangar, all waiting to take their important place. 

The time-lapse video (below) betrays the fact it took two days to get our one cover shot, and after that the Countach, F1, 250 GTO, Mark Walton and I went straight to the New Forest ready for another CAR50 shoot. By the time it was all over I was knackered, and then ill for the next five days. Thank goodness it’s another ten years before CAR is sixty!

>> Check out the results in the golden anniversary issue of CAR magazine, the October 2012 issue on sale now. Click here for a preview

>> And don't forget to try the new CAR magazine app - the director's cut of CAR every month

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy