It will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that, with Friday night being Carchive night, I should choose the day after thanksgiving to express my gratitude for car brochures. They’re the closest thing I have to an addiction, one I’ve been a slave to through the 34 odd years that I’ve been able to read the words as well as just enjoy the pictures. Like a desperate smoker’s bored fingers will plead to hold a cigarette, my own digits will spend any aimless minutes I find myself endowed with scrolling through eBay listings for anything that has somehow escaped my collection.
Actually, I’m exaggerating pretty wildly there, because it’s quickly getting to the point that my eBay browsing proves fruitless for the following reasons. Firstly; I enforce a pretty strict budget — nothing that exceeds £2 plus postage and packing falls within my search parameters. Secondly; my tastes are somewhat mundane. I will salivate vigorously at the prospect of gingerly teasing an envelope open to free the FSO Polonez brochure ensconced within. And thirdly; I’m actually starting to run out of ‘don’t haves’ that I actually want.
So, my obsession is actually pretty well under control. Furthermore, I get to share it with an enthusiastic audience right here every Friday evening, which is something else to be grateful for. What I’m not sure I’ve ever actually shared, though, is why I started collecting, nor why — at age 37 — I haven’t stopped.
At first, it was all about the pictures. My parents had recognised my liking for cars at toddling age, and much of the nursery-issue reading material at my disposal had a vehicular theme. My grandparents had cottoned on, too, and would help me cut cars out of newspapers and magazines to form a scrapbook. Then, somewhere around 1985, my grandfather (Rodney) handed me a 1972 Vauxhall brochure and asked if I’d like the pictures cut out — and I declined the offer. I wanted the brochure in its unsullied form. I found it interesting. It became a favourite thing to read. I took it to playgroup, read it in the garden and on the beach, and it soon became the foundation piece of a collection. It’s desperately upsetting that I lost it at some point in the late 1980s. Sorry, Grandad.
The collection would grow whenever new parts were required — and they were many and frequent — for the Ford Cortina and then Sierra my Dad ran in the ’80s. I’d always visit Westwood and Clark Ford with him, and return home with an armful of glossy, ripe-smelling brochures, the vast majority of which I still have. And here comes the first reason I have for maintaining this collecting habit: nostalgia.
It’s more than nostalgia, really. It’s all about retaining a tangible connection to the past. My 1989 Ford range brochures still feel directly connected to those days that we visited that Clacton parts department for a new propshaft centre bearing and sundry other essentials. The dealership is long since demolished and I last saw the Sierra two decades ago. But the brochures, now slightly yellowed, live on. Every brochure I collected — pre internet era — has a similar story to it, especially those I collected in foreign climes. I know, for example, that my ’93 Ford Thunderbird, F-Series, Probe and Crown Victoria brochures all sat on the back seat of a 1993 Chevy Lumina Euro Sedan (license plate NEP81J) while I was walking around the EPCOT centre in a state of slack-jawed wonder. A week later, they came home to England on a Delta L1011.
Those memories aren’t just alive, but throbbing with vibrancy. I was 12 years old, reading about MN12 Thunderbirds while laying on a couch at 5324 Jade Street, on the Indian Wells development (by Greater Homes) in Kissimmee, Florida, having just returned from the Publix on the corner of Ponciana Boulevarde, where we bought Lays chips and Angel Food Cake. I’m right there, right now, recalling how strange it felt to sleep in an air-conditioned house, and marvelling that a two-bedroom bungalow with an open-plan layout should have marble window sills and afford as much space to the car as it did its human occupants.
So, that accounts for the ones I’ve collected organically, you know, just picked up as I’ve gone through life. Those that have come to me via The Internet don’t have any direct emotional links, but they still hold enormous significance. You see, for me, the brochure and the car it’s connected to are one and the same.
The way I see it, a car brochure is an integral part of a car’s development and product life cycle. A car is designed and engineered, and then, at around the same time as production begins in earnest, the brochure is designed and copywritten. The marketing team will have decided, with advice from the design and engineering team, exactly what to crow about. Which vital points of the car need to be shouted from the heavens. A good brochure is an ambassador for a product and a far better spokesman than a sales person. A bad brochure, though, will detract from everything the manufacturer has otherwise achieved.
The car magazine — and I love those as well — is the antithesis of the brochure. The latter expresses what the manufacturer wants you to think, while a well-written review will tell you The Truth, warts and all. Ideally, you need both — the brochure to show you what a car can do, and the review to explain how well it does it. But, as with the memories recollected above, cars and brochures are transient things. The brochure is a fascinating snapshot in time, and the way a manufacturer chooses to present its products can change as quickly as the products themselves.
And, lets face it. If there’s one tiny memento of the Ferrari Testarossa development programme that’s within my fiscal means to secure, it’s the brochure. The Testarossa was my overbed poster — I always thought the Countach a bit obvious. A bit Bon Jovi to the Testarossa’s Faith No More. Nobody liked both equally, and I Cared A Lot for the Testarossa. And that brochure is a connection to the car. It would be proudly handed to the client, gazed at longingly, taken home, considered, then perhaps taken back to the dealer for a bit of “OK, this is what I want” finger pointing at the images within, and maybe carried back to the house one final time on the seat of a brand new, freshly purchased, Ferrari.
It’s a romantic image and a wildly fanciful one, but brochures are, I believe, the closest you can get to owning the car without actually owning the car. And my collection gives me intimate access to thousands of cars — from the worthless to the priceless — without needing infinite garage space. Most recently, my fancies have taken me to importing brochures from Japan. Such cars as the Nissan Leopard, Mazda Luce, early Toyota Soarer that were denied to many territories outside Japan, are now permanent residents in my collection.
It’s a bit pricey to ship these things all the way from the Southern Hemisphere, but many of these JDM brochures go into quite fastidious detail about cars that I will never physically encounter. With every JDM brochure I purchase, I’m pretty much guaranteed to learn something new. For example, did you know that the SW20 MR2 had an optional ‘Airfantasy’ fragrant system, long before Mercedes’ Air Balance system or Citroen’s perfume vials? Or how about Toyota’s ‘Bodysonic’ transducer system that allowed listeners to feel as well as hear their music? I wouldn’t know about any of this stuff without vintage brochures imported from Aichi.
I say that my collecting is slowing down, but there are still a few unicorns that have escaped me. In fact, it takes a lot of willpower to prevent me throwing all my cash at trying to find. The 1981 Mazda Cosmo, for example. An Australian 1979 Ford full line brochure, for another. There are more besides, and I like to fantasise that some day one or either will fall into my lap some time in the future. I guess that’s another thing I’m thankful for. Hope.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everybody.
(All images are of untidy shelves that get into such a state because they’re constantly raided for reading material. Oh, and a Testarossa brochure for whom Ferrari owns the copyright)