The classic-car bible motors on in Bennington, Vermont.
By Joe Bills
Aug 21 2019
A 2000 copy of Hemmings shows the old-school format that defined the publication for decades.Photo Credit : Courtesy of Hemmings Motor News
Do you know what a camshaft does?
When you read “n.o.m.,” does your mind automatically translate it as “non-original motor”?
If the answer to either question is yes, then you are probably familiar with the monthly Hemmings Motor News, the car enthusiasts’ bible that turns 55 this year.
Today, the complex in Bennington, Vermont, where Hemmings has been based since the 1960s, includes not just the office building where most of the 100 or so employees work, but also an old-fashioned gas station with an attached gift shop, and a classic car workshop and museum. The latter features more than 30 vintage vehicles, including a Bennington fire truck from 1924 and an open-top Buick believed to have been the first motorized postal vehicle in Vermont.
On Thursday nights throughout the summer, the company hosts a series of “cruise-ins” that draw car buffs from near and far, eager to show off their wheels or ogle other people’s treasures. Farther from home, the signature gold-lettered Hemmings delivery vans are a common sight at car shows across the country.
Surely all this is a far cry from anything founder Ernest Hemmings imagined back in January 1954, when he launched Hemmings Motor News from his home in Quincy, Illinois. The first issue was hand-typed, and its four pages opened with a note: “This is the first issue of a little monthly magazine that I hope will be of real interest to the person interested in older models.”
Apparently it was indeed of interest, since by 1985 the magazine had more than 210,000 subscribers, and annual revenues approached $10 million. Its covers were brown and utilitarian, and the newsprint pages numbered more than 400, each one packed with a pirate’s treasure map of ads.
Since 2002, Hemmings has been owned by North Carolina–based American City Business Journals. Now printed in full color, the magazine is the flagship of a bevy of niche auto publications and a website featuring thousands of searchable ads.
The ability of Hemmings to reinvent itself should hardly be a surprise. After all, making the old like new again is kind of its thing. —Joe Bills