Doctor Diesel

Soapbox – Motoring Journalism

I guess it dates me somewhat to confess that as a lad I used to buy Autocar when it was “one and nine pence” in old money (around 9p today) when a new Porsche 911 cost well under £3,000. Many young boys in those days dreamed of writing for the weekly Motor, Autocar and monthly Car and Motor Sport magazines, all of which I bought, and it was a very sad day when I parted with a collection of Car magazines that went back to the launch of the Austin Allegro and the Triumph Dolomite. There was always a certain glamour attached to being a motoring hack, particularly when one read people like Ronald “Steady” Barker, and LJK Setright, who got to drive all the exotica and passed their evenings at model launches eating gourmet food and sipping good claret. But they were always up early for breakfast and an early drive to avoid traffic – which was fortunate for other road users, as Setright was renowned, on four wheels or two, for using all of the road. That he survived to the ripe old age of 74 was something of a miracle.

But times have changed, as have demands of readers, and a somewhat more frenetic style of journalism now demands instant reports on previews of the new cars of 2017, road tests of press cars that carry as much as 40 per cent of their value in optional extras, and hectic schedules that frequently require journalists to spend much of the week away from home, writing their copy ‘on the hoof’ and often despatching it back to the office by e-mail from airport departure lounges. In the process it has lost the more relaxed and literary style of writing, such as that of the late Diesel Car contributor Phil Llewellin, who at just 64 sadly died of a heart attack in 2005. Diesel Car was most fortunate to have him as a contributor and, as The Guardian wrote “he was one of the best motoring writers, if not the best, of the past four decades. He wrote with a flowing, highly readable style, spiced with a lively humour and based on faultless research.”

Remember those last few words, any younger readers who may still dream of putting pen to paper in the cause of motoring, because without such faultless research you will be found out, and humbled! Press offices feed us with many facts and words, but they are never faultless, as the editor discovered only last week when I suffered the agony of having to point out a factual error in his writings, sourced from a media pack of one of the more prestigious manufacturers! (Hehe, as Ian would say.) For Diesel Car is possibly the most carefully researched and comprehensive of all the UK motoring magazines – mainly down to the fact that owner and editor Ian is utterly committed, and does the work of at least three people. As Headline Auto wrote in their 2014 motoring journalism awards “It’s great to see a smaller magazine at times doing things better than the big boys.” There’s probably no better example than The Data Files, at the back of the magazine, which I had the doubtful honour of producing a few years back. You’ll find a compilation of vital facts and figures that is without any doubt the most accurate, comprehensive, and user-friendly of such car data offered by any UK motoring journal. It shames the poor efforts of some of the “big boys” who just don’t seem to have the inclination to present and update such vital information which, for many readers, is surely a prime motivation for purchasing any publication? Above all though, what you’ll also see within the covers of Diesel Car are the words and pictures of journalists hand-picked by Ian Robertson, who qualify to write for Diesel Car only if they meet his demanding standards, share his enthusiasm for the history, independence and specialism of our magazine, and appreciate that we have the honour of writing for diesel enthusiasts who are as discerning, demanding, and loyal, as any magazine readership in motoring journalism.

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