Hearst kidnaps enthusiast pub, ‘Car Talk’ goes silent

John and Elaine Bond with Phil Hill

Road & Track publishers John and Elaine Bond, shown with Phil Hill

For the well-established auto enthusiast, these are challenging times. Well beyond the usual suspects, such as texting and Ford’s MyTouch, is the recently announced collaboration between Mazda and Alfa Romeo, the results of which – a new Miata and Alfa Spider – will be produced in Japan. And just when we began (with more than a little reluctance) to assimilate that we learn the auto enthusiasts’ Bible, Road & Track, is moving to Michigan and Car Talk’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi are pulling the audio plug.

The move by the Hearst Corporation, the current owner of the well-respected monthly, is ostensibly to put its operation closer to its new editor-in-chief, Larry Webster. Webster, previously responsible for the automotive desk at Hearst’s Popular Mechanics, is no stranger to automotive titles, having worked for Car and Driver (another Hearst title) from 2004 to 2008. Although Webster notes the move to Ann Arbor “will put us right in the middle of all the exciting developments this industry has to offer” his assessment fails to note all that’s happening beyond Detroit. And if the observation is truly his – and not that of the PR guy/gal writing the release – we respectfully suggest Mr. Webster get out more, for most of what is happening in the global auto industry is happening OUTSIDE of Detroit, not in it.

Purchased by John and Elaine Bond in 1952, Road & Track’s editorial philosophy seldom waivered, and its Southern California location allowed it to absorb that area’s varied enthusiasms – and Asia – while maintaining a close watch on both Europe and Detroit. And despite a youngish staff, regular contributions by R&T elders such as John Lamm, Dennis Simanaitis and Peter Egan gave the pub a steeped-in-the-industry foundation you can’t find when most editorial staffs (print and online) regard their ‘senior’ staff as anyone born before 1980.

We’ve also heard Road & Track’s move to Michigan may be accompanied by an editorial shift to a more lifestyle-oriented pub. While the lifestyle angle is certainly enjoyable, in the same way we don’t search for competent road tests in Bon Appétit we’re not inclined to search for lifestyle in R&T. Our immediate reaction to Hearst’s move – and rumored strategy: Rosebud.

On the opposite coast Car Talk’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi aren’t going anywhere; they’re simply going. What began as a guest spot on NPR’s Boston affiliate in 1976 begat a Boston-produced show, Car Talk, which ran in Boston for eleven years before going national in 1987. It now is heard by some 3 million listeners weekly on NPR outlets across the country.

With a 25th anniversary celebration this fall, the brothers will reduce their regular activity to their (existing) syndicated car column while contributing to both their website and Facebook. A production team will mine the archive, coming up with a new take on old shows broadcast over the last quarter century. So, if you incur a problem with your ’66 Corvair there’s a better-than-even chance they’ve had an answer to your problem, and that answer could reappear in the upcoming decade. Stay tuned – except during NPR fundraising.