What makes a car magazine truly great?

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Our circulation department tells me our numbers are up 36% so far this year. Sounds like a good time to kick back and crack open a cold beer, right? 

Perhaps, but that’s not how I roll. I’m not saying I’m opposed to having a beer or three once in a while, but kicking back and resting on one’s past results is not the way to stay successful in the constantly changing media business.

I’ve been a student of car magazines since I was a kid. I’m currently rereading all the Sports Car Graphic magazines from 1962, complete with the introduction and detailed pictures of the Elva Mk VI just like the one I’m building. 

Another highlight from that year: the road test of the original 289 Cobra. If they only knew how significant that car would be some 60 years later. 

I grew up reading Hot Rod and Road & Track. Sadly, in my opinion, those two publications have gone the way of corporate America and have lost their spark. I’m trying to make damn sure that doesn’t happen to us.

Personally, two of my favorite current car magazines are Classic & Sports Car out of England and, lately, the Porsche Club of America’s Panorama. I don’t always want to read about only Porsches, but when I do, my longtime friend Rob Sass is doing a fantastic job steering that ship.

A friend recently sent me a copy of Classic Cars out of England. He knew the cover feature on the 60th anniversary of the Lotus Elan would pique my interest. While our mission differs from Sports Car Market’s–we each occupy a different niche–I have a lot of admiration for Keith Martin and his crew. 

For me, running a car magazine was never about the money. Sure, I wanted to earn a decent living and have some cool cars, but after that, it was about building the best possible publication and earning respect. 

I guess combining more than a touch of formally undiagnosed ADHD and the way I was raised (always being told I wasn’t good enough) has me constantly striving for perfection and respect.

So instead of celebrating that circulation number, I sat down for a few days and did some analysis of our own and other publications. From there, with my own answers in hand, I went to my staff and asked what would make this magazine better and, more importantly, what makes a car magazine truly great?

Some goals for our near future:

  • More feature articles: I’d love to get more cars into the car magazine.
  • Better photography: What can we do make stories better jump off the page?
  • More columns: Can we share more voices from our world with you? 
  • More comparison tests: Is this better than that? Let’s actually run them head to head.
  • Improved buyer’s guides: How can we better help you buy that next car? 
  • And to take even more steps to put you behind the wheel. 

What I think makes a car magazine truly great might be important, but what’s more important is hearing what you think makes a car magazine truly great. 

So please, send me your thoughts on what we’re doing right and what you think would make your magazine even better. Your feedback has always proved invaluable. Thanks for constantly pushing us to make the best magazine possible.

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View comments on the CMS forums
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
12/19/22 10:02 a.m.

I mentioned to David on Saturday that I'm eagerly waiting for the results of the new 200 TW tire. Tires are a big interest with the autocross crowd.

pres589 (djronnebaum)
pres589 (djronnebaum) UltimaDork
12/19/22 10:06 a.m.

Repeat after me:  Sexy.  Editors.

Woody (Forum Supportum)
Woody (Forum Supportum) MegaDork
12/19/22 10:38 a.m.

Fun attitude, great writing, and absolutely no Special Advertising Sections regarding watches and their longtime relationship with motorsport.

jharry3 Dork
12/19/22 11:05 a.m.

Ya'll are great but I also remember the old days of Car and Driver with Patrick Bedard, PJ O'Rouke, Brock Yates, et al.     Those guys were entertaining.   And how to forget the Cannonball Baker Sea-To_Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.

frenchyd MegaDork
12/19/22 1:51 p.m.

In reply to Tim Suddard :

Writers of the quality  of Peter Egan, BS Levy, etc.  who can pull you into a story  you have little if any interest in.  
     You already have such a person but not on your staff. Calvin Nelson. If you go on UTube and follow his postings ( nivlac57). You can't help but be drawn in.   His latest Volvo rescue where he puts a 6 cylinder Chevy  with 824  horsepower already developed from a Stock bottom end junkyard motor with 175,000 miles on it already. Unopened.  Yeh!  Stock everything from the junkyard!! 
     Or his Studebaker. With the same engine.   8 second Ford Fairmont station Wagon?  

12/19/22 4:05 p.m.

Sports Car Graffic is my all-time favorite.  Maybe because I was at that particular age (in my mid teens to 20's) when it was published.  I really was disappointed when it went out of print.  I kept one about the 429 Cobra pristine, in a zip lock bag.  Comparing cars with the tables they printed on each one was fastinating, even if somewhat stilted.  I recall they had a series about reconfiguring the timing advance with a new spring in the distributer for what they claimed was unbelivable performance improvements.  I know now that it was probably a lot of false hope, but it was fun to imagine.  (I had a FIAT 124 Sports Coupe which was one of the engines they claimed to have improved so much, but I figured that the factory would have done it if that's all it needed.)  Its hard to replicate what SCG did because those cars and days are but a memory.  A heated up TR 6 is a dog compared to new, economy cars.


robertdhogan New Reader
12/19/22 4:09 p.m.

Is there any automotive magazine that has ever written about 3D scanning of vehicle(s), the sources of a scanning service or the methods to employ 3D scans in restorations and modifications?

CM should consider articles that assist the owners of older cars with sources, maintenance, methods and various other information articles or unpaid advertisements.

12/19/22 4:57 p.m.

Hagerty magazine is pretty darn good IMHO. Mostly because of the columnists.

jimbob_racing SuperDork
12/19/22 5:01 p.m.

The times are changing.  More classic Japanese cars and radwood stuff. That's where the market is heading.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
12/19/22 5:19 p.m.
robertdhogan said:

Is there any automotive magazine that has ever written about 3D scanning of vehicle(s), the sources of a scanning service or the methods to employ 3D scans in restorations and modifications?

CM should consider articles that assist the owners of older cars with sources, maintenance, methods and various other information articles or unpaid advertisements.

We've written about it in Grassroots Motorsports:


And I'm working on more 3D scanning content now.

CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter)
CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter) New Reader
12/19/22 7:36 p.m.

For me GRM has always been the best place for DIY technical information combined with coverge of car culture that said "Yes, this is my tribe." So that's what made it the best for me, I guess.

I haven't been a subscriber of CM but probably will as I drift into classic status myself...

CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter)
CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter) New Reader
12/19/22 7:46 p.m.
jimbob_racing said:

The times are changing.  More classic Japanese cars and radwood stuff. That's where the market is heading.

Lots of JDM stuff on the GRM side. 


Sacul55 None
12/23/22 4:56 p.m.

I am a big fan of TSD rallies - 

The joy of seeing classic and vintage vehicles out on the open road or a marque club running a tour of senic drives and questionable eateries - priceless

Would love to see articles on events of this nature from around the nation -

Add in Rally cross and Gambler 500 like events as new facits of automotive passion. These revolve around affordable cars and event specific preparation that should draw parallels with exsisting motoring enthusiasts sharing similar goals

I asked at a car show of a Hot Rod Lincoln with chrome blower for a hood ... " You drive this much ?"  - Answer "Sure do, drive it on and off the trailer for ever event " .... Sigh 

Staying in the public eye - on the road again, thats Sharing the passion 


ddavidv UltimaDork
12/24/22 8:40 a.m.

Good writers. It's important for both TV shows and magazines. I stuck with Autoweek because of Satch Carlson and later, Corey Farley. Peter Egan I regard as almost god-like in his ability to relay a factual tale. David Freibuger speaks my language. Carl Heidemann ranks high on my list of tech writers.

Lose good writing and you'll lose regular readers. Last Man Standing was a hit show until it went to Fox and got new writers. The series quickly became a shadow of its former self and was canceled a couple of seasons later (fresh in my mind as I just finished watching the run this week). 

Good writers will make even bland subjects interesting.

OHSCrifle UltraDork
12/24/22 8:55 a.m.

I like the magazine pretty well as is but an improvement I would like to see is a deep dive article (say one per issue or at least regularly recurring) on some of the characters and projects found here.


edit: I will also say I think the editorial columns sometimes seem forced. I definitely don't think "more of those" are the magic spark that makes a car magazine. Would even recommend rotating authorship rather than struggling to get one for each person into each issue. 

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
12/24/22 8:59 a.m.

Specific to tech content, I want before and after data. No "lighter is better so we went lighter," I want "with this change we were two tenths quicker," etc.


TJL (Forum Supporter)
TJL (Forum Supporter) Dork
12/24/22 9:20 a.m.

Im a fan of anything approachable and within the ability/scope of your average driver that maintains their own junk. 

porschenut HalfDork
12/24/22 10:25 a.m.

Raffle off the project cars to subscribers.  

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