Collecting car brochures: images of desire

Collaring brochures at motor shows may be hard today, but as Gordon Cruickshank discovers, trading has never stopped

Memorabilia header
Browse pages

Like so many once innocent pastimes, collecting brochures about cars has slipped into a specialist groove. Once, every schoolboy was desperate to go to a car show and fill a bag with exciting automotive fantasy fuel. Now there is no official British motor show, and information comes from a website or a QR code. Yet brochures and the like continue to be traded. Once it was hard for the dealer to display his full stock; now it’s eBay all the way, making it far easier to track down that glossy pamphlet to go with the Sunbeam Lotus you are restoring.

That type of focused search is much more likely now than the more generalised collecting urge of the past, says Giles Chapman, who as well as authoring many books on automotive subjects also trades in brochures and the like.

“In the internet age there’s a lot for sale but things that were once costly – RS Ford Performance, Jaguar, MG items – have come down a lot because so there are so many people trading,” he feels.

Everything will sell, says Chapman, if only for a few pounds, but it’s about subject rarity rather than the quality of the item.

“A Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow brochure, for example, is a high-quality production and has probably been cherished for years, so there are many of them in good condition at £5-10, whereas a pamphlet for a Bond Bug, even though it was cheap and cheerful, could be worth £50.”

“A Rolls-Royce brochure might be £5, a Bond Bug pamphlet £50”

Hopes of that attic treasure chest full of Isotta-Fraschini and Duesenberg material are long gone, says Chapman. “The exotic pre-war stuff doesn’t come up in house clearances now – it’s all been either rescued or binned a long time ago. But there are still prizes to find: I bought a job lot of brochures for £12.50 on eBay and it included real rarities like Costin-Nathan, Broadspeed GT, Diva and Elva pamphlets.”

As generations roll on it’s things from 10 to 15 years back which are picking up speed, Chapman says, especially for cult cars such as Renault’s Sport Spider. But beware of high-quality copies.

Earlier brochures often had appealing artwork, though the illustrations could be plain deceitful. “Rootes was probably the worst for elongating the cars and shrinking the people,” says Chapman, “but they all did it. Graphically, some of the best are by Citroën. There was no commercial television in France in the 1960s so a brochure was the only way to get a message over. My favourite is for the SM. It’s just gorgeous. They didn’t have to compete against direct rivals – they were simply producing an image of desire.”


Bugatti 57 brochure

The more exotic the marque, the rarer the brochure and the higher the price. Bugatti (Ettore’s enterprise, not the VW offshoot) naturally qualifies, especially as its 1930s artwork often has an appealing Art Deco style, as here. This one is for the Type 57, Bugatti’s high-style high-performance grand tourer, and features Galibier coupé and Aravis and Stelvio cabrios. Not exactly easy to find.

Automotive Literature Europe


Allard Palm Beach pamphlet

Considering only 80 of Allard’s 1950s Palm Beach model were ever sold, the company’s advertising leaflet is a pretty rare item, too. This six-page single-colour fold-out elaborately extols the virtues of the swish three-seater (on a bench) sports car despite its far from sporting Ford Consul or Zephyr engine choices. It’s also an insight into Britain’s economic straits in the ’50s – purchase tax is more than 50% on top of the base price.

Andrew Currie, via eBay


Rear-engined rarity

Handsome and unusual, it’s a shame so few people fell for this Alpine-Renault (titled thus if you were a rally fan, vice-versa if you were part of the Renault PR machine). But the rear-engined A310, with four seats squeezed into its glassfibre body, was not exactly for the hide-bound. This brochure covers the later V6 version which finally gave the Gallic coupé the power it needed, if not the handling balance… Full colour, 18 pages, text in French.

Pooks, via eBay


Economical with the truth

Wizardry on wheels! So says BMC about its revolutionary family car, the Mini. This 1959 broadsheet offers “big car motoring”, promised by illustrations of suspiciously small people lounging in the new baby car. The 12-sided fold-out is illustrated with multiple drawings including misleading cutaways with that tiny family. A rare survivor from the introduction year of what would become a cultural smash – but no profit-maker.

Pooks, via eBay