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Modern Motor history from Barry Lake

Sep 25 '16 at 22:27 (UTC)

Modern Motor history from Barry Lake

I found this interesting story about Modern Motor magazine's past written by Barry Lake on Autosport's forum pages.
Original post (18 February 2006): http://forums.autosport.com/topic/85539-modern-motor-magazine-australia/?p=2277067

The magazine was always "Modern MOTOR" from its inception in June 1954 until some time in the early 1990s when it was changed to MOTOR while David Robertson was editor.

There had been other occasions, earlier, when the "Modern" became smaller and "MOTOR" larger, at least at one time with a view to dropping the "Modern". But it never quite went away.

I was a reader of the magazine from issue number 2, later bought number 1 from a second-hand book and magazine store, so had a complete set from very early days.

As early as 1957, while still at school, I went to the magazine's office, then in Bridge Street, Sydney, to ask the founding editor, Jules Feldman, for a job. He said he would have loved to have been able to employ an extra, sorely needed, staff member, but did not have the budget.

When they did later employ a junior staff member, he was killed in a light aircraft crash while following a car trial for the magazine. There, but for the grace of God... and all that...

First stories I had published in Modern MOTOR (probably with no by-line) were on the Tasman Series races in 1972. I joined the staff as Associate Editor in 1979, long after I had forgotten that was what I had once wanted to do. I was about to start as editor of Overlander magazine, having been on Off Road Australia for two years and was happy with that deal - looking forward to more adventures in outback Australia and the east coast forests and mountains. But Wayne Cantell, with whom I had worked on ORA, was made editor of MM and he wanted me to go with him - eventually persuading me to do so.

I was given the title of Editor in 1981, from memory, though control was still held by a managing editor. About 1982 or 1983 I became Editor in fact as well as name, and remained as such until the end of the decade, during which time we had the highest audited figures in the magazine's history. We even overtook Wheels magazine in one audit - prompting a huge upgrade of that magazine to all-gloss paper, full colour, increased staff etc.

In 1990, thoroughly frazzled, I went freelance, although the majority of my work still went to Modern MOTOR, including comparison car tests, tyre comparison tests, and a regular column. Over the next 15 years my input gradually reduced until, by 2005, only my technical column continued.

The Wheels vs Modern MOTOR story is interesting. The former first appeared in May 1953, produced by Jules Feldman (Editor) and Colin Ryrie (Advertising) for K G Murray Publishing Company. Before the first year had been completed (the way I understand the story) Feldman and Ryrie realised the magazine was far more successful than they had imagined and that they had undersold themselves. When a request for a better deal was refused, they clandestinely created Modern MOTOR, leaving K G Murray's and launching the June 1954 issue of MM.

The two magazines have been intense rivals ever since. When I joined MM it was part of the Modern Magazines group which had grown from it, including such titles as Modern Boating, Modern Fishing etc, based in a former warehouse at Rushcutters Bay.

In 1979 K G Murray Publishing bought Modern Magazines and also (PM Publications?) next door, which published Overlander, but left them to operate as they were (but without any in-house management - which worked amazingly well) until 1981. At that time, we all were moved to K G Murray's in Clarence Street Sydney.

Within a year or two, Kerry Packer's Australian Consolidated Press bought K G Murray's. ACP in turn, on-sold some of the publications to Federal Publishing, the then quite recently created publishing arm of a large printing company in a near southern suburb of Sydney.

We at Modern MOTOR hoped we would go to Federal, partly to separate us once again from Wheels, partly because we thought ACP would be too serious an operation compared to the fun-loving life we had been leading.

In the end we went to ACP, as did Wheels. Fortunately, it turned out to be far better than we had hoped. The professionalism of the company made a lot of things easier, and we still had enough freedom to have a lot of fun - although there was no longer any motorcyle testing in the hallways and long lunch breaks (more than made up by working late) to play squash with the best looking young ladies in the company, as we did at Rushcutters Bay.

Rivalry between Wheels and Modern MOTOR was even greater when they were in the same company, the same building. And it continues to be so. In recent years, while Wheels has remained largely a general motoring magazine, MOTOR has headed for a 100 per cent performance car content.

In those early (1950s-1960s) issues, Bryan Hanrahan ("Hanrabags") - at the time, I think, motoring editor of The Sun in Melbourne - contributed many of the road tests, which were OK. He had no real grasp of motor sport at all, as proven by the dreadfully inaccurate captions in a little book of motor sport photos he was once asked to write.

But something motor sport historians often overlook is the fact that David McKay, then a current top-line racer himself, wrote Modern MOTOR's motor sport reports from 1955 and into the 1960s. These gave far greater insight into the nitty-gritty of big time motor racing in Australia in those halcyon days than any motor sport specialist magazine ever did.

I have a carefully bound (hand stitched) set of Modern MOTOR and also a set of loose magazines. While I was Editor, I searched for, and found, another full set in absolutely mint condition and had those hand-bound by the same German craftsman. In the late-1990s (a bit of history that had slipped my mind in the above story) MOTOR spent some years based in a suburban Melbourne office before being returned to ACP head office in Sydney. The bound copies were in a bookcase in a much-used hallway and, to my grief, some of them disappeared.

Modern MOTOR did not have a full set of its own issues when I first went there and again, now, as far as I know, no longer has a full record of its history.

But, as far as I can tell, no-one seems to care.

(I didn't realise Barry Lake had passed away on 20 July 2012. There's a story about his passing here: http://www.speedcafe.com/2012/07/23/barry-lake-1942-2012/)

Last edited Sep 25 '16 at 22:51 (UTC)

Jan 18 '19 at 04:33 (UTC)

When his daughter started selling of some of her father's collection of magazines and race programmes, I was lucky enough to obtain some of them. A friend of mine was also able to purchase his whole collection of information and documents on the 1993 London to Sydney marathon re-run, that Barry had entered to cover the event.
He was a great writer and helped develop the car magazine scene in Australia.

Apr 10 '19 at 07:42 (UTC)

Interesting article about Barry Lake and Modern Motor - Great Post ! I indexed In depth most of them from 1970s to 1990s and Wheels from late 1960s to 2000 I think both publications were at their peak from 1960s to 1980s - they former shadow of themselves today ..in my opinion!
Its not surprising that many of the copies are not kept -The arrogance by many of publishers and editors is pretty bad in Australia in my experience when i ran the website carmagreviews and had to deal with some of them They don t reply to emails ; they don t answer their phones ..
although I think publisher of Unique Cars has started to scan a few 50s and 60s issues of modern motor which is a good sign

Here in NZ the oldest Modern Motor kept here in our National Archives is September 1971 and Oldest Wheels is December 1974!
We used to have a large collection of Australian Motor Manual from 1958-1977 but one our large city libraries in their wisdom put the collection in the skip!