Magneto is the classic car magazine that celebrates the world’s greatest cars – and the people, places and events around them. And it does so in style. We catch up with co-founder and editor David Lillywhite about tinkering with old cars, great drives and why print magazines are not dead yet.
David, what’s Magneto?
It’s a quarterly print magazine (though because of lockdown we’ve just started releasing digital issues). Its big appeal is its high-quality paper and print. That was very much the thought behind it. It covers the top end of the classic car scene. The great cars. Not necessarily the most expensive, but the ones with the best stories and most interesting designs and the people and events that goes around that as well. We launched in February 2019 and deliberately kept the team to a minimum. In this way we can use the very best freelancers.
Do print magazines still have a future?
Everyone says print is dead, but what’s happening is everyone has downgraded the quality of the paper and really the quality of the stories. You’ve got to play to the strengths of print. You have to have high quality paper. You don’t want to be paying over £5 for something that feels like a pamphlet. Our model is slightly different to most. It’s controlled circulation. And we have the most amazing database of around 10,000 known collectors, car dealers and historic motorsport participants. Anyone likely to be buying cars or investing in events, and they receive the magazine for free. It’s an unusual model. But it means we provide a really good audience to the advertisers. We also sell subscriptions and single copies online.
How did you get into writing about classic cars?
It all started in 1992. I was actually an engineering apprentice and things were going a little bit wrong in the company I was at and I thought “I’ll look around for something else” [laughs]. Everybody at the time was into cars at the place I was working at. In the labs we had so many copies of different car magazines. I’d written bits and pieces for club magazines and decided I’d really like to do this. I wrote to four or five magazines. I got a call from Practical Classics the next day. Went to the interview in my Triumph Herald and they were kind of impressed about that. And it went from there.
You’ve got a bit of history launching classic car mags. Tell us about that
I bumped into Magneto co-founder Geoff Love in the pub. We were chatting about things to do and we both landed on the fact that we both wanted to launch a magazine and felt there was a gap in the market at the time. That was October 2002. The magazine that came out of that was Octane. And then, after a few years, we decided to go for Magneto and do it all again. But we felt that the market had moved on again and needed something more upmarket and authoritative.
How is car culture changing?
At Magneto level, the cars are being appreciated as rolling works of art. They’re not being used as regular transport. Some are being driven very hard on rallies and races. Some are just being exhibited at concours. But they’re providing an entertainment and almost an historical learning. There’s a lot more emphasis in the market making sure cars are exactly how they would have been if they were new. Originality is everything. They’re seen as a way of educating people in how these cars were originally. I think there is still that love of cars. I think it will just separate more. Everyday cars for most people are likely to be like white goods. They won’t require any servicing or work to them. No input at all. You’ll cast it away after four or five years. For quite a while yet, we’ll still have that love of cars, the culture and the history that goes with it.
You’ve been around the world driving some very nice cars. What are some of your stand-out experiences?
I have been very lucky. I’ve raced for a couple of seasons in the HRDC in the little Austin A35 Academy cars: 30 or 40 of them on the grid. The racing was really close and good fun. Last September I went on a Lamborghini concours tour that started in Venice. We drove over to Trieste and I was basically swapping between cars. It was so nicely done. Driving a Countach through the mountains was pretty special.
I’d imagine you spend a lot of time under the bonnet of classic cars, too. How important is it to have good materials to work with?
Absolutely crucial. And I think that’s where things have really moved on in the last 15 years. Tools are better. Replacement parts and spares are much better. And the also the quality of oil and the advice you get on which oils to use is pretty crucial. And that’s changed a lot. Instead of getting whatever you can from the local accessory shop, you get the best stuff. And it’s all part of really looking after cars.