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I’m thankful for: Car brochures

Chris Haining November 23, 2018 The Carchive 17 Comments

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 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)

  • That is surely the result of years of activity, and not something that fell into your lap. I’m thankful that you keep sharing the content with us, it’s always a highlight, especially on the long-day-at-office fridays. Share & Enjoy!

  • hwyengr

    Was there a Carchive feature on the Testarossa?

  • Sjalabais

    Very recognisable. I started collecting brochures as a kid, too. For a while, my grandfather and I would cut out the cars and design our own brochures. One day, he did this before I came to them from school. I was so angry – didn’t get to see the original brochure, didn’t get to share the process with him. I have since regretted my reaction a fair bit, but it’s also been a lesson in parenting I try to remember occasionally: For kids, the process counts as much, or more, as the result. The collection itself, mostly a fairly complete bunch of Volvo brochures throughout the entire 90s, was given away a few years ago. Sort of regretting that, too – a bit.

    • I can relate. Went through a period of ‘not appreciating what I’ve got’ in early puberty, when a fair chunk of my collection was lost in ‘Mum’s great tidy up” of 1992. Taught me that, if there was one thing that needed to be kept tidy, it was my car brochures.

      • 0A5599

        I used to like to gather brochures, even those for mundane cars I would never consider owning. Many got purged–not right away, but perhaps a few years later.

        I do remember getting one for the GMC Syclone. Several years later, I happened to acquire a Syclone. I searched for my brochure, but it never did reappear.

        Since you mentioned your 1989 Ford brochure, and one of those currently resides in my driveway, I wonder if you have any plans to feature that brochure as an upcoming Carchive subject.

        • Hey, great idea. Watch this space.
          Or one just like it.

          • 0A5599

            The request lines are now open!

  • Monkey10is

    My collecting of car brochures was much smaller scale and more random than yours, but it is strange how 30-40 years on I can still remember much of this clearly. My father never bought car magazines and I could never afford to subscribe (I still treat them like a guilty luxury) so the small number of brochures I did acquire where my way in to car culture:
    1. When I was still only 6 or 7 my grandparents went to visit my Aunt & Uncle who had emigrated to Canada from the UK. Along with postcards of the many tourist sites they saw my Grandad gave me a brochure he had picked up when he went to a car dealership with his son-in-law. It featured the Jeep range available in Canada in the late 1970s; Wrangler, Cherokee and most wonderful of all a Wagoneer pictured fording a stream with woodgrain sides and chrome grille.
    2. Long summers were spent with my grandparents in rural Yorkshire; including trips to various agricultural shows and country fairs. Aside from the agricultural equipment the companies marketing at these shows tended to be low-cost new entrants into the UK market with a focus on utility rather than flair. That is why I had brochures for the Daihatsu Wildcat, Subaru pick-ups and even the short-lived Lonsdale rather than Ford or Jaguar.
    3. I must have been 10-12 when my dad took me on a coach trip to the Vauxhall factory in Luton. Despite muttering his own dislike of Vauxhalls (“their gearboxes are rubbish” he said) I was fascinated by the production line. One of the brochures I remember picking up was for the then brand new Mk1 Astra.
    4. As a teen my father took me one year to the Motor Show at the NEC in Birmingham. I am hazy on what year and I don’t remember what the big launches that year were. However I loved my Official Audi Accessories brochure and treasured the Toyota carrier bag printed with a Celica on one side and Supra on the reverse.

    • Ah, the promotional bags I’ve thrown away over the years. Can’t keep everything, more’s the pity…

      • Edit: This was supposed to go on the post below about the Silhouette poster… Oh well.

        I had a large wall in my room as a kid in the early 80s and I plastered it with car brochure pictures, mostly of pretty common stuff because it was what I had. As I remember there was a Buick Skylark, a Saab 900, a Riviera, and a Fiat Strada among a bunch of others.

        I go to the NAIAS in Detroit each year and I grab every brochure that I can. In recent years more and more companies don’t have brochures, they just point you to their website. Not the same.

        When I moved a couple of years ago I tossed all of them because they were just gathering dust in my crawl space. It was the right decision, but I still kinda regret it.

  • Victor

    Am I the only person that read the Owners Manual ?

  • tonyola

    I don’t have any brochures but lordy, I’ve wasted uncounted hours browsing online brochure sites.

  • wunno sev

    I never had the same intense relationship with the brochures, but the main goal of my annual trips to the Chicago Auto Show after getting posters was collecting brochures. posters and other promotional trinketry went quick, but there were always brochures, so we’d stop by whichever brand was giving out bags that year and I’d come home with a healthy sack of literature. these would be briefly perused and then stashed under the bed with the rest of the brochures, which I might go through once every year or two and (gasp) purge of the cars I found uninteresting. some of the posters, and the memories of the rest, as they were much more present in my day-to-day, are all I have left. though I did not hang onto mundane brochures, mundane posters were worth more – the Oldsmobile Bravada had a place on my wall for probably five to ten years, and I still remember thinking it was kinda cool even though 2018 me knows better.

    • Ha, I had a small fold-out Olds Silhouette poster on my wall for some years. I suspect I’m the only person in the whole of the UK — perhaps even Europe — who can say that.

  • dukeisduke

    I have an okay collection of some ’60s stuff, but I had tons of early and mid ’70s stuff before I was too slow in collecting a footlocker, when my first wife and I split up. I had a pickup truck load of stuff, and no room for the footlocker. I meant to go back and grab it, but never did. There were also some chunks of meteorite in it, too. 🙁