In the 35 years I’ve been reading motoring magazines, there’s been a whole bunch of writers whose words I’ve loved. From Mel Nichols’ colourful put-you-behind-the-wheel style (when I first read his Daytona drive story In CAR, as a kid in Australia, I was driving that big red Ferrari as much as Mel); to George Bishop’s witty woebegone tales of car ownership; to Steve Cropley’s deceptively simple fluid prose. And there are many other great car writers who I haven’t the space to credit (some are good friends of mine).
CAR: a hotbed for great writers
If pushed, I reckon my favourite three are Setright, Bulgin and Bayley. What was great about the late LJK Setright and Russell Bulgin – and what is great about Stephen Bayley – is that they all bring an eclectic knowledge of culture, arts and history to the sometimes narrow-minded speciality of car journalism.
Setright’s extraordinarily elegant and flamboyant copy was as likely to include references to Kipling, Hebrew sages and Virgil, as it was steering geometry and tyre compounds. He once wrote a column entirely in Latin, before helpfully posting the dumbfounded editor of CAR an English translation.
Bulgin knew whether brown or black was this season’s colour and frequently wore the opposite, just to be different. He knew about the soaps and sport, was just as comfortable talking about PlayStation, Paul Smith or the Pet Shop Boys, and among his best columns were ruminations on Damon Hill’s facial hair and why car designers should never wear grey shoes. Russell genuinely knew what was ‘cool’ and what wasn’t; his opinions were always cutting edge, and mattered.
Stephen Bayley – let me declare an interest here: our wives are first cousins – is an extraordinarily learned commentator on design and contemporary culture, and he brings this passion and knowledge to his iconoclastic and entertaining writings on cars. He writes, more specifically, about cars as art.
Like many fine artists, his work is at its best when the canvas is big; when Bayley can indulge himself quoting everyone from Le Corbusier to Le Quément, from Harley Earl to Aldous Huxley, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Walter Dorwin Teague; when he can write with his trademark free-flowing flourish. He is the only car writer I know who has been made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French minister of culture. Most of us would be happy with a Guild of Motoring Writers’ award.
Stephen Bayley: Cars: Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything
Stephen now has a new book – Cars: Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything
(the title is borrowed from a passage in ‘The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby’ by Tom Wolfe, a book which had a big influence on him as a writer).
At £75, it’s big, lavish, beautifully produced, entertainingly written in that learned and poetic Bayley style, and is handsomely photographed by Tif Hunter in tasteful black and white.
The book is a collection of the world’s most iconic cars, from humble Toyota Corolla and Renault 5 (both photographed examples are pleasingly city-scarred and rust-decayed) to high-end Ferrari GTO and Lamborghini Countach. The choice of cars is commendable; a pleasing mix of the ground-breaking and the gorgeous. There are one or two surprises – no Renault Espace yet the Renault Avantime is analysed? – and the Japanese are under-represented (no Prius, no Mazda Cosmo, no Honda Civic). Stephen has always had an unashamedly Eurocentric view of culture.
This is a beautiful book that will grace the bookshelves of anyone interested in cars or popular culture, written by one of the world’s pre-eminent writers on both subjects and, furthermore, a writer who enunciates better than anyone why the motor car is contemporary culture’s most magical manifestation.
New subscribers to CAR magazine will receive a free copy of Stephen Bayley’s new book, worth £75. Offer available while stocks last – click here for more information
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