► Imagine being considered uncool
► No, even more uncool than that!
► Keith WR Jones pours his heart out
Being blessed with a forename like Keith, there’s a sense of inevitability that I’d dive head-first into one geeky indulgent fascination or another.
As my father - and paternal grandfather - were railwaymen, I could have easily donned an appropriate anorak for serial trainspotting. I still bear the hallmarks of that early childhood indoctrination: differentiating between LNER’s A4 Pacifics and the Coronation Class from LMS remains insultingly easy, although I’ve been known to be on the receiving end of sideways glances from strangers when explaining to my (ever-bored) kids what sets a Bo-Bo apart from a Co-Co.
The green shoots of an obsession sprout
But no, cars are my thing and have been - fire up the cliché cannon - since I was a toddler. Sat on my trike, front wheel poking through the wrought iron railings of the gate of our Sheffield town house, I’d while away hours absorbing the nuances between different makes and models.
Some of the first words I learned to read were the stamped inscriptions on the undersides of my fleet of Majorette and Matchbox die-casts.
As I outgrew those miniatures - and my imagination matured in such a way I could no longer see the fabricated road network in the carpet - by passion switched to collecting motoring ephemera.
In addition to purchasing magazines (November 1985 was my first issue of CAR), I began to torment car salespeople, frequently trudging around showrooms to relieve them of sales brochures.
Three decades on and I’ve amassed a personal archive of approaching 35,000 magazines, brochures, price lists and books. And yes, it takes up more space than you’re imagining right now. No. even more than that.
I should have shares in Ikea…
It still quietly amuses me when people see my collection for the first time: there’s usually a gasp, or a half-laugh, but beyond that it’s open-mouthed silence. Out of being awestruck? I doubt it - I suspect it’s more out of bewilderment that I’ve curated all of this yet still look, well, relatively normal.
Passions tend to be pigeonholed these days. These societal slots are swayed by the pendulum of fashion: those with influence determine which should have a positive light shone upon them where participation - however fleeting - is encouraged; others and their patrons are shunned, or even ridiculed. I’m with the gricers here in feeling seen.
There’s an irony to all this, because in spite of the millions of cars plying Britain’s highways and the multi-billion pound industry that supports the livelihoods of thousands, announcing oneself at a social gathering as a car enthusiast is akin to disturbing the polite chatter by proudly proclaiming ‘just in case you’re wondering, it’s me who’s got B.O.’
Not convinced? How often have you found yourself being excluded from hours of pub discussion because you’re unable to offer anything noteworthy about 22 folk charging around a field hoofing a leather sphere? Not being a devout worshipper of the Beautiful Game can leave you feeling like a social outcast.
What I’m not doing is calling into question anyone else’s passions. I firmly believe that witnessing how these deep-seated interests manifest themselves in others can be as fascinating as it is inspiring. Yet why is having a collection of Clarice Cliff teapots celebrated on the Antiques Roadshow, but if I showcased my full set of Volvo 66 brochures to Eric Knowles I’d doubtless be mocked?
Being ‘into cars’ seems to go against the grain
Further evidence of cars being culturally passe can be found when browsing the Transport shelves of High Street bookshops. It’s a sorry sight for the automobile fan: nestling between a variety of aircraft and locomotive tomes you’ll find a limited selection of workshop manuals and Clarkson-branded hardy perennials.
Will being made to feel like a pariah for daring to like cars continue? Are we on the brink of frantically clearing browsing histories on office laptops when a colleague looks over your shoulder and asks ‘were you just looking at photos of Renault 16s?’
And perrrr-leeeeease, don’t introduce me to someone who’s ‘into cars’ when that’s nothing but a sloppy euphemism for ‘they’ve memorised the scripts of every Fast and Furious film.’ Aaaaargh I was expecting a proper nerd who can wax lyrical about a Prussian Blue interior on a Metro Vanden Plas. And who pronounces it ‘Plass’, not ‘Plar’.
Make geekery great again
Fear not, for salvation is here in the form of social media, a welcome distraction for those of us with interests that lie beyond the voguish realms of convention.
Spend not very long at all on Twitter and you’ll soon be salved in the realisation that a passion for all things automotive does not make you a member of a tired, old club, declining in numbers.
There’s a sating wealth of interest, intellect and impassioned championing of all marques and models imaginable.
But back in the real world, there remain glimmers of hope; passers-by still stop and stare at beautiful and unusual cars, often proving to be an early-morning ice-breaker on filling station forecourts.
And magazine stands continue to be packed with a plethora of motoring titles vying for attention and a small amount of disposable income.
Perhaps 2021 might become the year influencers decide that car enthusiasm becomes cool again.
Anyway, having got that off my chest, I best get on - I’ve got a selection of 1970s Datsun price lists to sort into chronological order. No, I really have.