One of the more enjoyable parts of my life is meeting regular readers of Motor Sport, not formal pre-arranged meetings in an office, they are tiresome, but unexpected and casual meetings. It happens all the time and often in unexpected places. There are those who start the ball rolling by saying loudly, so that their immediate circle of friends shall know they are well-read, “oh yes, I read your Grand Prix reports every Friday in Autosport” or “I think your magazine is the best, what is it called, Motoracing” or the really clued up ones who tell me they have read my articles in Road and Track for years! These chaps are popular. Then there are those who look very worried and say “Surely the left-hand inner universal on the 1952 Ferrari had a castellated nut, not a self-locking, like you said last month?” or even worse, those who say “In your 1949 report of the Naples Grand prix you said . . . (Quote, word for word) . . . was that really so?” This last category are usually young men who were not born in 1949. Between these two extremes there are a vast number of interesting people to meet and to talk to, and many just say “Keep up the good work” or “I’d give my right arm to be in your place”. Of course, there are those who say “Have given up your magazine, couldn’t stand your nonsense any longer” or they say “I only read it for the Vintage stuff, all this racing bores me”. The editor meets their counterpart who say the same thing, changing over the words Vintage and racing. Fortunately the world is big enough for us all and it takes all sorts to fill it.
Quite a large proportion are very honest and say “Always read the advertisements first” or they say, “I only buy it for the small advertisements in the back of the magazine”. There is a great deal of truth in this, though most of them do admit to reading some of the editorial content later, and practically all of the avid readers also read the advertisements right through as well, which must be rare for a publication. In consequence the standard of advertising amongst the small ads. is fairly high; I do not mean the standard of layout or subject matter from the Advertising Agents’ viewpoint, I mean the standard of integrity of the claims. There seems to be a feeling among readers that if something is advertised in Motor Sport there is a good chance that it will be genuine and this has come about for a number of reasons, mainly I think because it is well-known that if W. B. and D. S. J. think something is rubbish they are not afraid to say so, and Motor Sport is not afraid to print it. Naturally there are exceptions and a lot of what I say and write is not only libellous, but gets censored before too much trouble begins, and equally some very dubious advertisers get into our pages, but we always try to ferret them out. Now and then we get letters from readers who buy things through our advertising and are not satisfied, and they write and tell us so. We treat it as a sort of “family honour” to put things right, and quite often “right” comes out on the side of the advertiser, but if it comes out on the side of the buyer the advertiser is usually quick to make amends. He knows there might be some rude Editorial comment next month, or a reader’s letter will be printed in full, and with more than 150,000 people buying the magazine and goodness knows how many more looking at it, a remark like “Joe Blogworthy sold a heap of rubbish for a high price” does not look good. Also, he might be told by our Advertising department that there is no more space for him and our wide circulation is too valuable for him to miss the chance to sell his wares.
Recently a friend wrote to three Box Number advertisements in Motor Sport for interesting cars and complained that none of them had replied, suggesting there might be something wrong with our system. On checking through the system I found that the first one had received 12 replies, the second received 25 and the third, which was of particular interest, had received no less than 44 replies. All three cars were sold long before my friend’s letters were received, and there had been no stamped envelope enclosed anyway. Within a week of publication many of the Box Number entries receive ‘phone calls saying “Car sold, send no more letters”.
While motoring about, and I always seem to be doing that, I often make unannounced calls on some of our regular advertisers, especially the ones who take panel adverts with a photograph. My reception varies from a friendly welcome from the owners of small firms who are keen readers as well as advertisers, through cautious suspicion that they know who I am, to complete indifference and a very bare knowledge that Motor Sport exists, let alone that they advertise in it. With one glaring exception, who were obviously too anxious to buy Rolls-Royce cars, most of those firms I have called on have come up to a reasonable standard, and many of them I would not hesitate to recommend to my friends, while some of those in specialist trades connected with the rebuilding and restoring of cars, old or new, have been very praiseworthy. Naturally I have not been to all the advertisers, so perhaps I have been lucky with those I picked, but I know where I would not go to buy a sports car or to take their offer to try it. When prowling round some of the Mews garages in London I was continually amazed how a dowdy-looking pair of lock-up garages could comprise the premises of firms who spend so much on advertising. In one Mews, that always seems to lack the space to photograph a whole car, if the advertisements are anything to go by, I found a hive of coach trimming activity and an efficiency that the outside view gave nothing to suggest, and in another a specialist two-man firm really did have a large collection of the particular one-make car they had been advertising. Out in the country I found a firm selling vintage cars, with funny ideas of what constitutes a desirable vintage car, and even funnier ideas on prices, all hidden behind a very dull bread-and-butter exterior. A telephone enquiry to the chap in London who is said to be “back in 10 minutes” according to the advertisement, produced a very prompt reply and a helpful directive towards where I might find the sort of car I was asking about, for they did not deal in such exotic things; a similar telephone call to a firm whose address suggested “Fruit and Veg.” rather than cars, produced an interesting and friendly chat about funny motor cars, though no helpful advice.
Taking an average cross-section of those I visited or telephoned it would seem that our endeavours to keep our advertisers within reasonable limits of integrity is working satisfactorily, this feeling being supported by letters from readers.—D. S. J.