Monday, August 5, 2013

Henry N. Manney III

Henry getting some help finding the footwell (or maybe levering himself out) of an early 1960's Formula car.  

Jay Leno has mentioned once or twice how, as youngsters, we waited with baited breath for the next issue of a car mag to show up.  He does not exaggerate.  It was our lifeline--our only one--to what was going on.  Everything we were anxious to know about was there: timely and thorough road tests, coverage of new models introduced at the motor shows, race reports.  Road & Track even covered SCCA Nationals (which were really regional) before there was such a thing as SCCA pro racing.

Times change.  The internet out-competes car mags for timeliness and breadth of coverage.  The printed page no longer engages many people like video does.  About a year ago, I blogged that I might let my never-lapsed subscription (1959!) to Road & Track expire.  Its technically-oriented, long form journalism has long since gone out of style and out the magazine.  Some recent editorial changes have improved it,  but not enough for this dinosaur's tastes--even though it still has Peter Egan, who's columns and reporting remain the best in the biz.

My regrets over Road & Track's "passing" remind me of its best and funniest writer: Henry N. Manney III.  That was his byline, not "Henry Manney" or "Hank."  He succeeded Bernard Cahier as the magazine's European Editor and race reporter in 1961.  He stopped writing for Road & Track in the late 1960's and no one, before or since, has been as entertaining.  (It's a stellar list, too: Cahier, Rob Walker, and Paul Frere, among others.)  Manney wrote a column, "At Large," which he signed as "Yr. Faithful Svnt."  His writing was prolix and convoluted; his Edwardian Gentleman persona was a hilarious, intentionally anachronistic, put-on.

His most famous line, long-since in the public domain, was that the Jaguar XK-E was "the greatest crumpet-catcher known to man."  (This was in those Boys' Club times when it was presumed that women wouldn't read or care about insulting language in publications like Road & Track.)  My own favorite line was from his report on the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix.  Dan Gurney's silver Porsche eventually finished 5th.  But for much of the race he ran 3rd, punching above his weight, between the Ferraris of Phil Hill and Wolfgang Von Trips.  "Like an anchovy embedded in a pizza," Manney wrote.  A favorite re-usable line was "Practice was the usual shambles," after which Manney would explain the slings and arrows suffered by drivers and teams in setting the starting grid.  (Race car reliability was nowhere near then what it is now.)  His imagery put you as close to an event as you could be without being there.

For those interested in more Manneyisms, here's a link.  (Disclaimer: I share almost no views on matters social, political, and automotive with those expressed in Joe Sherlock's blog aside from his admiration for Manney). 

Manney in the early 1960's: the Inspector Clouseau Look before Peter Sellers made it iconic.  He walked the walk as
well as talking it: in the late 1960's, he owned a Ferrari GTO after they had become obsolete race cars, when you
could still buy one for the price of a small house.


S/V Lillia said...

Thank you for remembering Mr. Manney. One slight quibble, I believe the phrase is "Crumpet Collector". Henry did a piece on the London Auto show and acted as his own photographer. He included a photo of a scantily clad. long legged model posing on the hood of an E type. The caption read something to the effect that "Jaguar showed the new 2+2 with additional head room but unfortunately cluttered nose". Still cracks me up 50 years later! Keep up the good work!

Ian Wilmoth said...

I'm a young until at 40 but I think without manney there would be no top gear..

Ian Wilmoth said...

Young one I meant. I learned of him through reading my father's back issues. I wonder if any youngsters are aware that Mr regular has precedent..

Ian Wilmoth said...

I'm a young until at 40 but I think without manney there would be no top gear..

Pilote Ancien said...

Hadn't thought of it that way, but, yes. Manney's humor sensibility was a combination of Clarkson's outrageousness and May's irony. Glad you discovered Manney "in the original"--nothing better.

Christopher Perez said...

I grew up reading Henry N. Manney III. One of my prized possessions a rather too short "Road and Track Henry Manney at Large & Abroad." It was a little publication R&T put out back in the day. It's still brilliant to read after all these years.

You can certainly see where Peter Egan's style came from. Peter learned directly from Monsieur Manney the craft of writing for publication.

Our retirement has brought us to Europe to live out our days. When I visit le Mans or the Paris autoshow or read about Monaco and the F1 circus I can't help but see these modern events through the word images of the Master. Rose colored glasses and all that, I realize. But is there any better way of seeing the world? In fact, I need to go back and reread his account of the Targa Florio this very eve.

Thank you for your post.

gambofoto said...

It seems a pity that in all of the rememberences of Henry Manny, no one mentions his photographs. Those H.M.III centrefolds in Road & Track were beautiful. In fact the photo he made of Jim Clark at Zandvoort (August 1962?) is what inspired me to become a photographer. I find it odd that no one at R&T haven't thought of putting out a book on Henry's writings and photos. Anyone at R&T listening . . . . ?

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