Story and photo by Bill Vance

John Bond
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Road & Track is the longest running North American automobile enthusiast’s magazine; it will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2007. Although not R&T’s founder, John R. Bond saved it when it was collapsing in the early 1950s, gave it direction and purpose, and can legitimately be called “The father of Road & Track.”

When John Bond, who was in turn R&T’s associate editor, technical editor, editor, owner, and with his wife Elaine, publisher, died in 1989, it marked the end of an era for this writer, and countless sports and small-car enthusiasts, particularly those who “came of age” in the 1950s.

John wrote his first article for R&T, “What Is a Sports Car?” (then a burning issue among sports car enthusiasts) in 1948. It began a long, mutually beneficial relationship.

Road & Track had been started in Hempstead, N.Y., by two young motor enthusiasts named Wilfred H. Brehaut, Jr. and Joseph S. Fennessy. The first issue dated June, 1947 predated Hot Rod magazine by six months and Motor Trend by 18.

The financially precarious publication’s next issue appeared in May, 1948, now out of Burbank, California. John’s first contribution appeared in the third issue, June, 1948.

John brought strong credentials to his writing. Born in Muncie, Indiana on July 25, 1912, his automotive interests were encouraged by a father who was also in the automotive business. Following graduation in mechanical engineering from the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan in 1934, John worked with Harley-Davidson, the Studebaker Corp. and White Truck.

In 1940 he and his wife Mercedes moved to California where he was employed with several auto-related companies. When he started contributing to R & T he was a design engineer with custom and race car builder Frank Kurtis.

The magazine struggled through 1948 with three issues and 1949 with two. Finally, by December, 1949 monthly publication began. John continued writing part-time, being listed as associate editor in February, 1949, and technical editor in January, 1950.

Although monthly, R&T still wasn’t very prosperous. By 1952 bankruptcy loomed, and John and his second wife, Elaine, gambled and brought the magazine in November, 1952.

As John related in R&T’s 25th anniversary issue: “In 1952 we were just six employees. Everyone doubled: The receptionist, for example, took all the calls, took care of the 3,000 subscribers and did most of the bookkeeping.” Elaine was John’s tireless helpmate. She ran the business, allowing him to concentrate on the engineering/writing side.

Under John’s aegis, R & T grew and prospered. He developed authoritative, strongly technical road tests much like the better European auto books, and conducted virtually all of the approximately 300 tests between 1952 and 1965.

John’s strong engineering bent established R&T in the 1950s as the North American automotive organ of record, and set a trend still followed by successful automotive “buff books.”

John also started a couple of long-lasting series. One of these, “Miscellaneous Ramblings,” was an eclectic monthly column that gave him carte blanche to write about anything he chose.

Fashioned after the English Motor’s “Disconnected Jottings,” John never ceased to amaze us with his automotive history, pithy observations, and obscure technical details about cars new and old, foreign and domestic. He wrote almost every “Ramblings” from October, 1950 to September, 1969.

His other long-running series, “Sports Car Design,” was a collection of more than 50 articles exploring everything from automotive engineering fundamentals, to an idea for the re-incarnation of a Model J Duesenberg type car powered by two Chevrolet V-8 engines.

In spite of his knowledge and analytical mind, John was not perfect, a point he would readily admit. In his March, 1960, “Miscellaneous Ramblings” he predicted that the new rotary combustion engine invented by Felix Wankel of Germany “would never be heard from again.” He hadn’t anticipated the tenacious genius of Mazda engineer Kenichi Yamamoto who turned in into a durable power plant.

John was conservative in other areas too. In August, 1961 in a brake article in Car Life, a sister publication of R&T, he stated that “No American manufacturer is seriously considering disc brakes at this time.” As it turned out, Studebaker would fit them as standard equipment on its 1963 Avanti.

John also made some personnel decisions that he regretted, the most significant of which was the firing of David E. Davis, Jr. as advertising director of R & T. Davis eventually became editor of Car and Driver magazine, which he built into R&T’s arch rival.

The Bonds sold R & T to CBS Publications in 1972 and gradually withdrew from the operation. They retired to their hilltop home in Escondido, California which had a magnificent view and a 20-car garage for John’s car collection.

Elaine Bond died in 1984 of a brain tumour. A few years later, John remarried his first wife, Mercedes. She was with him when he died on July 20, 1989, just five days short of his 78th birthday.

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