September 22, 2023


Only Auto

Bruce McCall, Humorist and Former C/D Columnist, Has Died

6 min read
  • Bruce McCall, the legendary humorist and longtime contributor to Automobile and Driver, has died.
  • McCall was equally prolific as an illustrator and as a author.
  • His work was notably adept at skewering the over-the-top model of mid-century American promoting.

Bruce McCall, one of many funniest males to ever write about automobiles—and likewise sketch, draw, and paint them with inimitable model—died yesterday at 87, owing to problems arising from Parkinson’s illness.

Although identified to the non-enthusiast studying inhabitants for the greater than 80 covers he created for The New Yorker and the various illustrations and humorous essays he contributed to that tony East Coast periodical, in addition to to the madcap Nineteen Seventies comedic juggernaut The Nationwide Lampoon, McCall distinguished himself to the car-loving world along with his acerbic and all the time hilarious work for Automobile and Driver and Vehicle Journal. His illustrations, which showcased the automotive and aeronautical themes that first captured his curiosity throughout what he would describe as a resolutely grim Canadian boyhood, outlined a style he’d come to name “retro-futurism,” a self-created model that without delay mocked and celebrated the over-the-top enthusiasm and huckster’s bluster that characterised mid-Twentieth-century American advertising, nowhere extra shamelessly than within the sale of latest vehicles. Overlaid with an Anglo-Canadian’s love and loathing of all issues British, the style he helped carve out would grow to be a permanent pillar of American satire, main even to a short-lived stint within the Nineteen Seventies as a author for Saturday Evening Reside.

A 2020 piece in The New Yorker, “My Life in Vehicles” detailed McCall’s lifelong fascination with vehicular transport, a subject he’d chronicle nonetheless extra completely in his addictively readable 2011 first autobiographical quantity, “Skinny Ice: Coming of Age in Canada.” (A second quantity, “How Did I Get Right here? A Memoir,” was launched in 2020.) Superb showcases for McCall’s distinctive mix of melancholy and coruscating wit, the volumes collectively instructed the story of how a slight, shy teen born to dour Scots-Canadian dad and mom (his civil servant father as soon as a PR director for Chrysler of Canada, his mom an alcoholic) spent hours within the bed room he shared along with his brother (one in every of 5 siblings), refining an innate inventive capability to the purpose the place he would go on to seek out gainful employment in Windsor, Ontario, illustrating automotive brochures. Within the late Nineteen Fifties and early Nineteen Sixties, automobiles weren’t typically photographed for adverts and brochures however had been drawn and painted, and the artists who illustrated them had been inspired to make new mannequin automobiles look even bigger, decrease, longer, and wider than they had been in actual life. This ability would redound to McCall’s profit in later years, with a lot of his journal work lampooning the exaggerated model and House Age promise of the adverts that after paid his lease.

As McCall typically associated, a gathering of minds with the yet-to-become Automobile and Driver editor (and later Vehicle Journal) founder, David E. Davis, Jr., led to his employment on the venerable Detroit advert company, Campbell-Ewald, the place Davis labored on the Chevrolet account. Davis inspired the reticent McCall to suppose larger. A relocation catapulted the younger illustrator from what McCall associated as a dreary and largely introverted life into one in every of colour and accomplishment, a hit story that might not be full till Davis inspired him within the later Nineteen Sixties to comply with him to New York, the place Automobile and Driver was based mostly on the time, and the place McCall’s journal profession flowered. First, stints writing copy for Ford and Mercedes-Benz at J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather raised his lifestyle—the Mercedes job would take him for a time to Stuttgart the place he was put answerable for the stuffy firm’s promoting. An opportunity collaboration for Playboy with C/D‘s Brock Yates noticed him benefit from his boyhood ability for drawing World Warfare II preventing plane, alongside along with his fertile creativeness and lifelong penchant for absurdist histories, in an illustrated piece referred to as “Main Howdy Bixby’s Album of Forgotten Warbirds,” which gained the journal’s annual humor award and featured such imaginary planes because the Kakaka “Shirley” Amphibious Pedal-Bomber.

“The originality of Japanese plane design was by no means in query after the Shirley wobbled onto the scene, albeit briefly, within the closing months of the Pacific conflict. This gentle (75 lbs.), low cost ($1.49), last-ditch gesture of a determined Japanese Excessive Command was actually little greater than a bicycle of the air, its propeller turned by pedal energy from the pilot. Towed behind a torpedo boat, the Shirley would eventually rise and fumble skyward, staying aloft precisely so long as its pilot’s stamina held out and his sprocket chain stayed intact.”

By turns, self-deprecating, humble, and keenly conscious of his personal expertise, McCall would take his younger Canadian obsession with in style advertising and American-style extra to an entire new viewers with an early ’70s unfold in The Nationwide Lampoon that presupposed to be a gross sales pitch for the Bulgemobile. It hawked a legendary American land yacht circa 1958, a chrome-festooned behemoth that appeared to own each extra and styling dead-end that tailfin-obsessed Detroit ever hatched, with fashions named Fireblast! Flashbolt! Blastfire! Firewood! As Hemming Motor Information author Daniel Strohl noticed in a bit celebrating Bruce’s contribution to automotive satire, an antecedent for McCall’s work lay in some whimsical drawings from the pen of Milwaukee-based designer Brooks Stevens, whose 1955 illustration, “The Detroit Dilemma or the Battle of the Bulge” “managed to skewer nearly each one of many Detroit Huge Three by tacking collectively all the surplus of the mid-Fifties into one design. There’s chrome gravel shields, chrome trim, chrome spears, chrome hood ornaments, chrome wheel covers, large chrome bumpers, chrome fins, septuple-tone (or perhaps octa-tone) paint, wraparound glass, and extra.”

However it was McCall who took the theme and ran with it. Reprising the “Main Bixby” components, McCall’s 2001 assortment The Final Dream-O-Rama—The Vehicles Detroit Forgot to Construct, 1950-1960, summed up his all too correct tackle the postwar American automotive scene in its characteristically deft, biting, and eloquent introduction. “When the postwar financial increase fostered such prosperity that simple credit score allowed even hourly staff to plunge themselves hopelessly into debt, a brand-new automotive grew to become an attainable dream for tens of millions within the Nineteen Fifties. And shortly got here dream automobiles to additional stimulate their automotive saliva glands. By mid-decade, each American carmaker was parading its glittering glimpses of four-wheeled futurism earlier than a dazzled public—flights of styling fancy and useful wonderment blaring ‘Headed on your driveway quickly!’ whereas mumbling, sotto voce, ‘Do not maintain us to it.’ “

McCall, who lived in New York Metropolis throughout from Central Park, is survived by his spouse, Polly, daughter, Amanda, and, we think about, a thousand rating or extra heartbroken Automobile and Driver readers. Ourselves, we won’t think about the favored episode of The Simpsons, with its satirical advert for a huge legendary SUV, the Canyonero (“Smells like a steak and seats 35”), with out pondering of Bruce. He made us chuckle at what we had been and what we have grow to be.

Headshot of Jamie Kitman

Contributing Editor

Jamie Kitman is a lawyer, rock band supervisor (They May Be Giants, Violent Femmes, Meat Puppets, OK Go, Pere Ubu, amongst his purchasers previous and current), and veteran automotive journalist whose work has appeared in publications together with _Automobile Journal, Highway & Observe, Autoweek, Jalopnik, New York Occasions, Washington Publish, Politico, The Nation, Harpers, and Vainness Honest in addition to England’s Automobile, High Gear, Guardian, Personal Eye, and The Highway Rat. Winner of a Nationwide Journal Award and the IRE Medal for Investigative Journal Journalism for his reporting on the historical past of leaded gasoline, in his copious spare time he runs a picture-car firm, Octane Movie Vehicles, which has provided automobiles to TV exhibits together with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Individuals, Halston, and The Deuce and flicks together with Respect and The Publish. A decide on the concours circuit, he has his personal assortment with a “pal of the friendless” theme that features less-than-concours examples of the Mk 1 Lotus-Ford Cortina, Hillman Imp, and Lancia Fulvia, in addition to extra Peugeots than he’s prepared to publicly disclose.

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