Simon Taylor's Notebook

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Hoarding magazines has been a Taylor pastime for five decades. He still has a long way to go to approach Peter Richley

Most of us start amassing piles of old car magazines because we are too young to afford, or even to drive, the real thing. In childhood, when we first show an enquiring interest, we are mollified with handed-down copies from a parent or relative. These are devoured hungrily, and hoarded in wardrobes and under beds. Later, when driving or working on a car becomes more important than merely reading about it, the more sensible among us thin out our piles of paper. We go on buying our favourites each week and each month, and we keep the most precious — a run of Motor Sport, perhaps, and a few others featuring favourite cars or events. But the rest we pass on for another eager young mind to absorb. Or, suppressing our withdrawal symptoms, we finally take them to the local dump.

But a few of us cannot bear to part with the thousands of pages, tens of thousands of images and millions of words that have fostered and nurtured our passion since childhood. Odd issues missing from otherwise complete sets are hunted down in autojumbles and boot sales: more piles are bought from house clearances, and sifted into gems and swaps. The most organised of us devote time to indexing, and funds to binding. We find we have accumulated a huge historical resource, and a huge space problem.

When I was five years old I picked up an old copy of The Autocar in my uncle’s house and at once became absorbed. My aunt, seeing a way of clearing the piles of magazines out of her house and into ours, rapidly filled the boot of our Triumph Renown. My father needed little encouragement: he soon amplified these with a weekly order for The Autocar and a monthly order for Motor Sport, which he scanned before posting them on to me at boarding school. I absorbed every word — especially the classified ads. Along with my grubby school uniform and my almost unmarked football boots, they filled my trunk for the end-of-term journey home.

Not only do I have them still, but my collection has been gradually extended back to the 1890s and up to the present day. Thanks to my faithful bookbinder (the excellent John Robinson of Mytchett), most are converted into bound volumes, the only elegant way to keep a semblance of control. I’ve had to erect an edifice at the bottom of the garden to house them all. I try to keep my ailment quiet, but friends who know shake their heads and throw pitying glances at my wife.

Sufferers from the disease in its most chronic form have difficulty throwing away any object that’s remotely car-orientated. A pencil-box with an Alfa 158 on the lid, a tin of biscuits depicting a SunbeamTalbot 90, a doorstop clumsily shaped to resemble a Bébé Peugeot: all get squirrelled away. The most rabid focus more on getting complete runs of a particular magazine than enjoying the content. Fine copies are part-exchanged for even finer ones, but they may never be opened and actually read.

Peter Richley wasn’t like that. Everything was bought to be read: nothing to make up a set or to fill a shelf. His large house in Kent, and various other bits of property nearby, were filled with every type of printed matter to do with the motor car: magazines, books, catalogues, press kits, posters, letters and photos. Later he bought a former bread factory and converted it to contain shelves and shelves of material, logically laid out, while the rarest and most beautiful items filled his house to overflowing. It was the largest collection of its type in the world.

Peter combined his collector’s fervour with a voracious appetite for knowledge, a fierce intelligence and an unquenchable enthusiasm for his subject. Much of his collection was unbelievably rare. One example: between 1906 and 1930 Vincenzo Florio published just nine editions of Rapiditas, a landscape-format periodical about the Targa Florio, filled with beautiful artwork. Peter had all nine, picked up years ago in France. And he’d read them all.

I have never met a man more knowledgeable about motoring history, or one who took a more humorous delight in the stranger byways of the motor car. Any phone call to Peter to elicit a piece of information would produce a brisk, authoritative answer — and then an uproarious diatribe covering myriad disconnected backwaters of car lore. “Interesting” was his favourite word, delivered in booming tones, as in “Here’s something rather interesting”. And it always was, too.

As a youth he was sent to school in Paris to learn French. He found he learned it much more quickly by playing truant to comb country villages and lock-ups for cheap Bugattis. Exchange & Mart in its heyday, with its large collectors’ section, became his bible. It was published on Thursdays, but he found a wholesaler who, in return for a packet of fags, would let him have it a day early, so he could get to the bargains first.

Near the end of his life he realised that so huge a collection would be difficult for his executors to liquidate after he had gone. So he took the unselfish decision to sell it. Everything went as one lot, for a seven-figure sterling sum, to the Collier Collection in America. After a long illness, Peter died just before Christmas. For those of us who have contracted the collecting virus, his legacy is this: treat your collection not as something to be gloated over, but as something from which to draw knowledge and entertainment — and then, when you have done that, to be passed on, so that other minds can benefit.

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