Capitalizing on car talk

Old Autos makes a virtue of vintage.

How do you win over lovers of old cars? For Old Autos newspaper, the bible of the antique car hobby in Canada, success has come from making a virtue of vintage.

“We're based on the theme of a small Canadian town's community newspaper,” says co-owner Murray McEwan, proudly. And so the tabloid-sized Old Autos is packed with folksy recaps of local car shows, personal tales of restoration projects and plenty of letters from loyal subscribers. The layout and copy are, to put it politely, earnest. “We might fix up the spelling, but other than that we let our readers speak,” says McEwan.

Old Autos was born out of necessity, in 1987, when McEwan's print shop in the little town of Bothwell, Ont., (population 900) was starving for business. To pick up the slack, he turned his hobby of restoring old cars into a small newsletter the shop could print. Nineteen years later, that first 16-page pamphlet now weighs in around 80 pages during the busy summer months. McEwan and his partner Murray Cutler attend as many as 50 car shows annually to keep in touch with old-car hobbyists and sell subscriptions.

Despite plenty of competition from websites catering to said hobbyists, the twice-monthly newspaper boasts about 20,000 subscribers across the country and a winning business plan. The home-spun, low-cost style of Old Autos has proven to be the perfect fit for the nostalgia-driven boom in old cars. “This hobby has grown phenomenally over the past decade,” McEwan recounts. “Car shows used to be every once in a while. Now it's every weekend.”

“Our readers tend to be older folks with a passion and a connection to old cars,” says McEwan. “They're mostly baby boomers looking to feel young again.” He himself is proof of this. The three antiques in his driveway each symbolize a different time and place in his own life. “I have a Model T coupe that is very similar to one my grandfather owned. I have a '31 Chevrolet Special Sedan like my father did. And my '57 Meteor convertible is similar to what some people had in my town. That's the car I wanted when I was growing up but couldn't afford.” Thanks to the success of Old Autos, now he can.