By Pedro F.
It’s kind of astonishing to me that AV is turning 10 years old this month. It seems like only a short time ago I was sitting in a classroom (bored, obviously) thinking “maybe a car blog would be a neat thing to do”. A whole decade and a couple of changes in format and platform later, AV is still around and doing pretty much what it set out to do in the first place: compile scattered information on mildly obscure rides, shine a light on interesting stuff that pops up for sale, go on deep dives about entertainment industry cars, cover interesting events when possible and just generally being an outlet for my (and others’) car obsession.
The audience for AV is a speck of dust when compared to the kind of traffic popular sites get, but I’m not convinced that our content generally leaves much to be desired when compared. You may be thinking “well, of course you’d have to say that”, but the truth is even if I had absolutely nothing to do with AV, I’d still enjoy its content more than I do a lot of the stuff that gets posted on really popular sites.
Obviously 2020 turned out to be quite a curve ball for everyone, downright tragic and life changing for some and 2021 isn’t exactly looking like it’s gonna be all sunshine and rainbows anytime soon. However, there are still changes coming to AV which were planned pre-pandemic, so I’m excited about those, even if they take another 6 months or a year to get here. Plus, with everything that’s been going on, new content on AV has become scarcer than it already was and that’s a shame, but it’s a situation forced by circumstances. I could contradict this tendency by doing what a lot of other sites choose to do and just “recycle” article after article, add a couple of sentences to stuff that’s been written elsewhere and post it. It’s a 5 minute process. But that’s not what I want AV to be about. It may be the tinniest of websites, but I’m trying to keep some dignity around here.
So looking back at a decade of posts, what kind of content do folks like and dislike? Surprisingly (to me anyway), the biggest numbers come attached to TV car articles. But I guess I shouldn’t really be caught off guard by that; after all, I’m a massive series aficionado and a lot of the cars I see on screen over 2, 3, 4 seasons (or more) stay in my heart forever. This past year, AV’s article on the rides of Westworld Season 3, which you can check out here, became on of the most popular pieces of content on AV. However, on the cars & TV department, by far the most clicked on article is something which was put up very soon after AV went online and which desperately, des-pe-ra-te-ly, needs an update. After that’s done, I’ll name and link it here as well. But long story short, the point is that AV will keep honoring its tradition of devotion towards popular TV rides.
Personally though, one of the things I’m most proud of lately on AV is our two part editorial on the Gone in Sixty Seconds’ hero car, Eleanor, which you can find here and here. To me, not only was this a very cathartic thing to write after holding off on it since AV started, but it also became, although certainly imperfect and incomplete, in my biased opinion at least, the most comprehensive, no nonsense approach to the car’s history and features that you can find out there.
So as far as the website itself, the purpose hasn’t changed, my (our) interests haven’t shifted much. I like something, I write about it. Somebody else likes something, they write about it. But what about car culture itself? Has that changed significantly over the last ten years?
Well, that’s a difficult issue to ponder because car culture is extremely fragmented, endlessly layered and an ever mutating phenomenon. As such there’s nothing within it but change, as it’s shaped by generational shifts, by the economy, by history itself simply happening as it does. However, over the past decade, I’d say that the most significant change to car culture has been the way it reaches people. That of course, in turn, is tied to how the culture is born. And it’s at this point we have to bring the (semi)democratization of self broadcasting – or YouTube channels, for short. YouTube has become one of the most interesting homes for car culture. There are thousands upon thousands of channels dedicated to project cars, obscure models, restorations, customization and everything in between. This is both a blessing and a curse.
When television car culture descended into the hopeless pit of despair that is reality TV in the early two thousands, it got so lost down there that it will probably never find its way out. Meanwhile, the staple of mainstream car entertainment, Top Gear, ended up straying hopelessly into the ditch, with the subsequent The Grand Tour enhancing all that was bad about Top Gear instead of fixing it, turning the whole thing into a sadly wasted opportunity. Then, the little show that ended up turning into every car enthusiast’s must watch TV, Wheeler Dealers, had its drama, losing Edd China who’s skills and cool teacher-like manner were the only reason you’d watch the show in the first place.
So with television out of the way by firmly shooting itself in both feet, we come back to Youtube which is in process of doing the same, just in a different way. I’m sure there are great channels pumping out some really interesting stuff, but they’re buried under both algorithm nonsense and the sheer volume of content which shows up every single day. This isn’t me saying that just because one guy fixes up barn finds for instance, another dude can’t do the same. But repetition is a dangerous factor in this already fragile system. There are, of course, folks getting lots and lots of views but paradoxically, a bunch of really popular channels are basically just doing carbon copies of what somebody else was already doing. Then hundreds of smaller channels become copies of the popular ones and pretty soon, it all becomes a problematic cycle.
That being said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a big name in the YouTube car culture scene, I watch (and will recommend ahead) some pretty substantial channels myself. The issue is what’s the public getting out of the repetition of very similar content? And how long until the whole thing collapses under the weight of its own unoriginality, crashing down on the folks who actually do interesting stuff, but aren’t getting the exposure for it. By promoting more of the same, YouTube will eventually wear people out, both the public and the creators, some of which already clearly hate what they’re doing but it’s a career, it pays the bills well and it provides exposure; it’s too much of a good thing to simply let go.
And there’s another issue with YouTube’s big car channels and personalities, namely the divide between people who are true car enthusiasts and folks who are knowledgeable about a few car models/issues and found a gimmicky way to make that knowledge profitable. Some of the biggest presences in the YouTube driven car culture are people who fall solely in the second category, and that’s a real shame. These personalities are the ones who usually slip right down to mean girl car review territory, something which obviously there’s a public for, but as far as being relevant to car culture…
All this being said and despite not being particularly optimistic about it, I’m still looking forward to finding out where the YouTube car channels phenomenon will end up. There’s still a lot of top notch written auto journalism being produced and thank goodness for it; there’s a more erudite branch of the car enthusiasts’ community which will always support it. However, for the majority, audiovisual content is – and certainly will continue to be – king in the culture’s domain, regardless of how and where it is hosted.
So, if like me you enjoy watching content made by people who actually know what the hell they’re talking about and put some honest passion and joy behind their work, where can you turn to? And yes, I am promoting other people’s content on a post celebrating a decade of my own, something which may come across as odd, but the fact is that in automotive culture nothing happens in a vacuum and good work should celebrated, even if the majority of these suggestions are already very popular.
The main reference continues to be Jay Leno’s Garage. With a mix of new and old stuff, featuring both Leno’s collection pieces and random featured rides, Jay Leno’s Garage has the ability to go on for as long as Leno does and that’s a good thing. Speaking of Jay, there’s been some very interesting stuff coming from The Audrain Museum’s channel as well, hosted by the extremely charming and knowledgeable Donald Osborne who’s also a feature on most episodes of the CNBC version of Leno’s Garage.
Also in the private collection and random new model testing mixed category, Harry Metclafe has turned his channel, Harry’s Garage into a reference in the space. Metcalfe was of course the founder of Evo magazine and has been widely regarded over the last two decades as one of the most influential voices in the automotive journalism world.
If you don’t want to miss on the latest road tests and reviews of new models, the Canadian duo from Throttle House is definitely worthy of your attention. Striking just the right balance between serious motoring journalism and charming goofiness, James and Thomas put out great content, including very interesting comparisons between new and old versions of the same models. Also in the new models department but with a much more serious tone, Carfection is also a noteworthy channel.
For some unrestrained silly fun still clearly motivated by honest automotive love, the Car Throttle boys always have something interesting (and rusty) ready to go just around the corner.
As far as “my car is old and broken, but I still like it” content, there’s of course Hoovie’s Garage and also Elliott Alvis, a growing channel worth keeping your eye on, not forgetting the Ferrari specialized Ratarossa as well.
On bringing stuff back from the dead, Derek Bieri from Vice Grip Garage will do it while internally cracking himself up and I couldn’t pass up on recommending giving Budget Buildz a look as well. In this subset, however, one of the most satisfying channels you can get on is Soup Classic Motoring, with its signature stop motion videos which are just stunning.
Finally, I couldn’t possibly talk about YouTube must watch channels without mentioning Bad Obsession Motorsport. If you’ve ever wondered what two fantastic mechanics and fabricators would be like if they had the personalities and comedic timing of members of the Monty Python troupe, then the BOM channel is just the thing for you. Think of it as the best parts of Wheeler Dealers, but hosted by people who list a stuffed animal in the credits of each episode as a personal assistant. Nik and Richard have other content, but BOM’s main act is Project “Binky”, the 4WD, Toyota Celica powered classic Mini being built with utterly insane attention to detail over the course of the last 7 years. Yes, you read that correctly, there’s seven years’ worth of episode to enjoy in the Binky saga and it’s worth watching every single one.
Of course there are many other channels that I could recommend, some pretty small and niche, but this is just a very superficial roundup of the ones that are not only good, but also very easy to get into and who feature people who are genuine in their enthusiasm.
Recommendations given and thoughts expressed, all that’s left to say is that if you’ve been with AV for a long time, thank you very much for sticking with it and if you just found it, give it a chance, stroll the archives, I’m sure there’s something in there which will catch your eye.