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Paul Dean

The Driven Crew Behind Road & Track

May 16, 1987|Paul Dean

Road & Track magazine is 40 years old next month and that's senior to Barbie dolls, bikinis, Disneyland, transcontinental television and Israel.

Its first newsstand price was 25 cents when a Bugatti was selling through the classifieds for $1,800. The magazine now costs $3.95. But then a Bugatti recently fetched $8.1 million at auction.

The Road & Track of 1947 was 32 pages and came with an autocratic, patriotic and dogmatic misjudgment still worth a wince. It snubbed--as part of a general ostracism of anything once connected to Nazi Germany--the Volkswagen Beetle. The anniversary R&T for June will be 264 pages--with a five-page review of the 16-valve Volkswagen GTI.

The magazine's first issue was published in New York and most of the 450 issues since have come from Newport Beach. The maiden road test was of a 1947 Ford sedan: top speed 81-m.p.h. The latest critique is of a Ford Merkur Scorpio: top speed 130.

Road & Track covers motoring with erudition and clean fingernails. Its stable of cultivated writers--such as the sophisticated, sardonic, and hand-crafted curmudgeon Henry N. Manney III--have replicated Esquire's continental flair. Whimsy and satire have made the publication . . . well, almost Road & Punch.

And from that signal dedication to never taking anything, especially itself, that seriously have come madcap road tests on a sedan chair, the Goodyear blimp and a San Francisco cable car, the ultimate town car good for 9.5-miles-per-hour in top gear.

Much of the visual gratification of these two-score years will be on display this weekend through next at Irvine Imports. The commemorative is formed by art and photography that have appeared in the magazine since inception--and who could forget 1960 and the picture of Gen. Curtis (Bombs Away) LeMay piloting a Go Kart at full squat?

And the Cyclops II will be there for any who dared think that such a car never existed beyond the imagination of the magazine.

In truth, Cyclops did start life as the chimera of two free spirits, writer and automotive engineer Robert Cumberford (whose last known disconnected telephone number was somewhere in Texas) and artist Stan Mott (permanent address on a motor sailer somewhere between the Caribbean and the Canary Islands) but quickly assumed a place in reality.

"It got bigger than anyone envisioned because it was such a wonderful fantasy," remembers Bill Motta, 26-year art director for Road & Track. "It was what we all wanted to be, the little guy beating the big guy, Cyclops squeaking out victory from the brink of disaster."

The 1957 Cyclops was shaped like an inverted perambulator, one of those big-bellied jobbies pushed around by British nannies. A lone headlight stared from its front. The single cylinder engine (with solid mahogany piston) used a fountain pen as a drip feed fuel system.

In 1967, Road & Track reported Cyclops' mythical appearance at Indy and its eventual victory over "that famous driver from Texas."

A Cyclops 12 featuring a dozen doughnut tires for desert travel was developed for a Middle East potentate. Soon--based on an outline submitted by nomadic Mott while touching land in the Virgin Isles--the magazine will publish a historical review establishing Cyclops' past with the Pony Express.

The Cyclops on display this weekend was built as a full-size, two-passenger model for Road & Track photo layouts. In between shoots, the yellow prototype has functioned as a receptionist's desk at the magazine's offices.

Several years ago, Road & Track risked the exclusivity of Cyclops by publishing construction details and three-view drawings of Cyclops.

Hundreds of homemade Cyclopses should have flooded the market.

But Road & Track & Mott & Cumberford had the last smirk.

Anyone working from scale measurements published by the magazine wound up with an unwieldy, sagging vehicle about the size of a small house trailer.

"The Art of Road & Track" at Irvine Imports, 11 Irvine Auto Center Drive. Daily through May 24. Call (714) 859-5900.

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