MOTORING ENTHUSIASTS AROUND THE WORLD HAVE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF BILL TUCKEY. BUT IF THEY’VE READ MOTOR TREND OVER THE PAST 12 YEARS, OR AUTOMOBILE SINCE 1986, OR CAR SINCE THE 1970S, OR EVEN WATCHED JEREMY CLARKSON ON TOP GEAR, THEY’VE FELT HIS INFLUENCE.
As editor of Wheels, Bill’s energetic, intense, provocative and entertaining approach to writing and editing helped change automotive journalism forever, and not just in Australia.
Bill succinctly communicated a car’s strengths and weaknesses, often to the discomfort of car companies when they failed to live up to his high standards. But he was also a consummate storyteller. He delighted in capturing those ephemeral moments that distilled the essence of our love affair with the car. He put his readers behind the wheel, in the moment, and revealed the soul in the machine.
When I became editor a generation later, I was acutely aware I was custodian of a legacy that had been polished and tuned and honed by outstanding editors before me such as Peter Robinson and Phil Scott, but traced its roots back to Bill’s time in the Big Chair. It wasn’t a daunting thing, or a constraint. On the contrary, it gave me a lot of freedom; freedom to tell the stories I wanted told, in the way I wanted to tell them. Robbo, Scotty, me... we all put our own spin on Wheels. But Bill had shown us the way.
In 2001, I became the sixth Aussie in 40 years to have been made editor of Car in the UK, and every one of us had worked on, or for, Wheels.
every one of us had worked on, or for, Wheels.
Like me, Mel Nichols, Steve Cropley and Gavin Green had all been a part of Wheels in the post-Tuckey era, and his vivid, lyrical writing style influenced us all. Above right is a perfect example of that influence, an excerpt from a story written by Nichols and published in Car in 1977, about driving three Lamborghinis from Italy back to London.
I wasn’t the only future automotive journalist who vividly remembers reading that story for the first time and being forever impressed by how it put me right there with Mel as we stormed across France in three howling Italian supercars. “I remember thinking that it was a great, very well-written story and how much I’d like to write stuff like that,” Jeremy Clarkson told Nichols in 2011. “I still think it’s the bestever drive story. Now I’m trying to do stuff like that, only on television.”
These were the stories that made Car stand out from the stuffy, heavily formatted, road testcentric British automotive weeklies of the time.
And when David E Davis Jr sought to shake up the American magazine establishment with the launch of Automobile in 1986, it was Car’s attitude, exuberance and, most of all, its vibrant storytelling he sought to emulate.
Make no mistake, the talented, erudite, literary David E made Automobile what it is. But I like to think that right from the start there was just a little bit of Bill Tuckey in the mix, too. Just like there still is in everything I write.
Angus MacKenzie was editor of Wheels from 1994 to 1999. He now lives in the US and is editor of Motor Trend, which sells more than one million copies a month.
“It had the unreal quality of a dream. That strange hypercleanliness, that dazzling intensity of color, that haunting feeling of being suspended in time, and even in motion; sitting there with the speedo reading in excess of 160mph and two more gold Lamborghinis drifting along ahead. Not even those gloriously surreal driving scenes from Claude Lelouche’s film A Man and a Woman were like this: that grey, almost white ribbon of motorway stretching on until it disappeared into the sharp, clear blue of a Sunday morning in France, mid-autumn, and those strange dramatic shapes eating it up. What a sight from the slower cars as that trio came and went!
What a sight from the bridges and the service areas: witnesses there would have seen the speed!
So would the police, of course, those same gendarmes who one after another apparently chose to look and drink it in, to savor it as an occasion rather than to act.”