Motoring: Pages from the oracle: William Boddy, veteran editor of Motor Sport, talks to Phil Llewellin

Petrol cost the equivalent of 10p a gallon when William Boddy became the editor of Motor Sport. Cars that had gathered dust, rust and cobwebs since 1940 were emerging from garages to become status symbols for the few.

'Old WB', as he signs his letters, is now in his 50th year as editor of the magazine, which celebrated its 70th birthday last month. Motor Sport was essential reading for my generation of enthusiasts. Born during the war, we grew up dreaming of the fast cars that were driven and written about by WB (he always used just his initials) and his colleagues.

The editor came across as a figure of immense power and authority. He hit hard at a time when others pulled their punches. On any question that involved the reduction of the motorist's freedom, he has always delighted in lambasting the authorities.

In 1964, for instance, he fulminated about the fuss created by news that AC Cars had tested a Le Mans Cobra at 180mph on the M1 - this being several years before the 70mph speed limit was introduced. He wrote: 'We thought all those millions of our money spent on these elaborate roads was to foster speed . . . The British lion is being held down by his tail and beaten to his knees, and will soon be crawling on his belly . . . All without any proof that speed in good weather on roads built for modern travel has any bearing on road accidents.'

I felt apprehensive driving to meet WB at his 300-year-old home in Wales. His writings in Motor Sport, and his countless letters to other magazines pointing out factual errors, led me to expect a cross between a Victorian schoolmaster and an Old Testament prophet. The reality was an 81-year-old with a mass of white hair, a very warm welcome and a nice line in self-deprecating humour. Appearance, enthusiasm and energy belie his age, as does the fact that until recently he regularly made the 360-mile round trip to the magazine's office in London. He still drives about 18,000 miles a year and fills 10 pages of each issue. He works hard. His wife nods and sighs when he recalls the last time he took a holiday. It was in 1938.

Their house is stacked high with motoring books, including copies of the 20 he has written himself. His output has always been prolific, but there is no sign of a word processor: WB hammers away with two fingers on an old Olympia International. The outbuildings are filled with pre-war cars with such unfamiliar names as Calthorpe and Leon Bollee standing wheel to wheel, awaiting restoration.

Born in London in 1913, he has only the faintest memory of his father, who was killed in the Great War. Life became a struggle for his mother, but young WB's interest in motoring was fostered on visits to Wales, where a wealthy relation had two cars and a chauffeur. The boy waited to be taken for a drive while other children played on the beach.

He left school at 14 ('I told my mother it was a waste of time') and was briefly an assistant in a motorcycle shop. One day he phoned his employer to say he was ill, then went to his beloved Brooklands racetrack in Weybridge, Surrey. There, a tap on his shoulder and the question 'Feeling better, lad?' led to his dismissal - his boss had come to see his sons racing.

His career in motoring journalism began in 1930, when Motor Sport accepted the first of countless articles about Brooklands. He laughs when asked about the fee: 'I don't think I was paid anything at all. That's the story of my life. It may have been five shillings.' Later, a short-lived change of direction cast him as The Sports Car magazine's advertising manager. Painfully shy, he could not use the phone while a young female colleague was in the room, effectively reducing his working day to the time she spent in the loo.

The link with Motor Sport was strengthened when its present owner acquired the magazine. 'My appointment as editor became official in 1945,' WB explains, 'but I started filling most of the pages in 1937 or '38, and actually edited the magazine all through the war, while working as a technical writer for the RAF.'

A Ford Sierra XR4x4 is now his day-to-day transport. Given a blank cheque, the three cars he would choose for his garage would be nothing more modern than a Vauxhall 30/98, a Bugatti Type 51 and one of the sporting variations on the Austin Seven theme. (He thinks Mercedes makes the best of today's cars.)

WB admits to living in the past. 'We didn't have much money when I was a boy, so I soon realised that old cars were much cheaper than new ones. My first was a 1921 ABC, for which the man wanted pounds 5. I was so excited I gave him pounds 6. Studying the history of old cars is really how it all started for me.'

His boyhood hero, Parry Thomas, died attempting to break the land speed record in 1927. He was one of the men who raced cars powered by huge aircraft engines, easily acquired after the Great War. The spirit of those 'specials' was evoked when I asked if he had any regrets. 'I would have liked to have been a racing motorist at Brooklands, preferably driving something rather odd which I had built myself.'

As expected, my discreet inquiry about retirement's place in the great scheme of things was brushed aside by more anecdotes and talk of starting on another book. Fair enough. Trying to imagine Motor Sport without 'Old WB' is like picturing the Houses of Parliament without Big Ben.

(Photograph omitted)

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Deputy Education Manager

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager (permanent ...

    Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

    £6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

    ICT Teacher

    £120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

    Art & Design Teacher

    £120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering