Boot sale bargains and reliving the Yank invasion


Author: Martin BuckleyPublished:

I do like a car-boot sale and there’s a particularly good one at Cheltenham Racecourse on a Sunday. Obviously it’s almost 99% tat, but even a cursory glance around the trestle tables of old tools, baby clothes et al can turn up some interesting bits and pieces for the old-car afflicted.

I don’t mean actual bits of cars – although you do find the occasional one – but interesting ephemera. Buys included a wonderfully crude large-scale plastic model of a Ferrari Mondial (it must have been designed by someone who had only ever seen a blurry picture of the real thing) for £1 and for 50p several Top Trumps packs from the 1970s – Rally Cars, Dragsters and Fabulous Buggies.

For a fiver I bought 20-plus issues of Mechanix Illustrated from the 1950s with road tests – by Uncle Tom McCahill – of all the latest Yank barges and, interestingly, British stuff such as Vauxhall Victors and Ford Zephyrs that were sold in the States. Who bought them?

The July 1955 Issue I have on my desk has a story about what the new Continental might look like, with remarkably accurate composite illustrations; a road-test of a Rambler (Lord it's ugly); and lots of non-car-related fluffy features that give you a sense of the optimism and innocence of the times.

Great adverts, too. I particularly like the one for the ‘Manly’ stomach-support vest (Extra detachable Vitality Supporter FREE!) that claims you will instantly look smarter, taller and straighter. I could do with one.

On another matter, I can’t seem to settle into any bedtime reading at the moment and, even though I know things are really desperate if I’m reading car books, really enjoyed Over Here: The American Car in England in the 1960s.

Author Steve Miles' boyhood hobby was photographing Yank cars on London streets and he’s unearthed 300 great shots of almost every type you can imagine, simply being used as everyday transport swooping along Park Lane or through Piccadilly.

What fascinated me was the number of Billy-basic poverty models that were being brought in – rubbish straight-six stuff, not just Cadillacs and Lincolns – and how common American cars seemed to be in the UK back then.




I have a couple of hundred Popular Mechanics and Mechanix Illustrated from the 1950s through to the 1970s and regularly read them. 1959 was the best year, it's amazing how many of the future predictions were right, mobile phones, Internet, personal TV, GPS, robotics, moon landings and in cars, road tolls, ABS, auto wipers etc. Then there were a few that were wrong, the July 57 Popular Mechanics talks of flying cars by 1967, also predictions of "robot slaves" by 1966 and houses enclosed in glass bubbles by 1970 to control the environment so it can be heated and cooled to your desire. Moon landings they got right but their timeline had people living there by 1980 and manned trips to Mars by 2000. Biggest miss was pollution and energy - top tip was dig a hole and pour used engine oil in the ground as that's where oil came from, also nuclear was expected to provide so much electricity by 1970 there would be no need to measure or charge for it.
Some of the articles do shock as this was the era of racial segregation and "reds under the bed" also you can see Preston Tuckers point about how the big 3 in Detroit controlled the market but that changes in the 60s as Honda, Mazda and VW get a foothold in the US.
Anyway, Martin you're right, these magazines are well worth hunting down, you were lucky to find them in Cheltenham, best source is US Ebay.


I remember as a little 'un being impressed whenever I saw any American car in London, but yes, from memory they were not that uncommon back then. By the way, that book cover is Volume 1, That implies there is more to come?

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