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‘Final authority’ on auto history up for sale

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

This week we’re not going to showcase a way to soup up, modify or customize your vehicle. Instead, we’re going to look at a way to supercharge your automotive library, or perhaps even start your own automotive magazine.

There have been many magazines written, edited and published by and for car enthusiasts, publications such as Motor Trend and Road & Track. Several of them — Automobile, AutoWeek, Car and Driver — are or have been based in Detroit or in nearby communities. Most, except for AutoWeek, are monthlies.

But from 1962 into 2012, there was another car magazine that was a very different sort of publication. It was Automobile Quarterly. As its name indicated, it was published four times a year. At first it was based in Pennsylvania, and later in far southern Indiana, just across the Ohio River from Louisville.

Not only was Automobile Quarterly’s publication schedule unusual, so was its format. It’s slightly larger than 8-by-10-inch pages were turned horizontally, to better display photography and artwork, which tends to be done in a landscape perspective. It also was bound between hard covers, more like a book than a magazine.

“Hardbound and durable enough to last a lifetime,” said founding editor and publisher L. Scott Bailey, who guided the publication for 24 years until retiring in 1986.

As it turned out, AQ, as it was commonly known, didn’t outlive Bailey. He died in the summer of 2012, not long after the last issue of the magazine was printed.

And now, three years later, the remains of the magazine — the rights to its name and its heritage of stories, photography and original artwork; its archives; its library of several thousand books and some 80,000 magazines, including seemingly complete sets of car magazines from around the world and from the beginning of the automotive era — are for sale.

I recently was allowed to take a look at the trove of automotive treasures.

The sale also includes unopened boxes of coffee table-style books Automobile Quarterly published on a variety of automotive topics and even the original page proofs from which the printing plates were made for every page of every issue of the quarterly magazine.

Launched by Bailey, former editor of Antique Automobiles, the publication of the Antique Automobile Club of America, and Jacob Esser of Kutztown (Pa.) Publishing Company, AQ was “to truly reflect the grandeur, the majesty, the adventure that is the automobile.”

Again, as Bailey put it, AQ was to be “the final authority on the history of the automobile.” Articles were long, often scholarly, and footnoted, “automotive literature” written by the likes of Beverly Rae Kime, Ralph Stein, Karl Ludvigsen and other automotive historians and experts.

When Bailey retired, the magazine was sold, but after two brief periods under different owners was reacquired by Kutztown before being sold in 2000 to Gerry Durnell, an auto enthusiast with magazine publishing experience.

Durnell had a very unusual double major of fine art and pre-med in college, flew 196 missions for the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and served three terms in the Missouri House of Representatives. He ran the magazine until his death in 2011.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.