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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project