5054: the car magazine changes gear

5054 is a new car magazine, or more accurately, a new magazine about automotive culture. Its uncoated stock, liberal use of illustration instead of the standard high-gloss car photography that dominates most titles in the sector signal that this is an attempt to apply the aesthetics of the independent magazine culture to a sector that in the past has been dominated by gloss and testosterone

The cover of new ‘automotive culture’ magazine 5054

5054 is the brainchild of motoring journalist Hilton Holloway who tells CR that his ambition was to “to treat the car industry with the eagle eye, respect and celebration it deserved”. Holloway has self-funded the first issue and worked with art director Patrick Myles on the project.

Holloway says – hopes – that there is a gap in the market for an intelligent, high quality automotive magazine. “For most hacks, Car magazine of the 60s, 70s and 80s was the peak for motoring magazines,” he says. “It was independent (until 1990) and was driven by hard-headed Aussie hacks. It was sophisticated, adventurous, daring and very well written. It flattered your intelligence, a bit like how a Ferrari flatters your driving abilities. There’s been nothing like that for 30 years.”

“I felt more and more that as the car industry moved upmarket and became more premium, UK magazines were becoming more tabloid,” he says. “I spent a lot of time flying around the world talking to some of the world’s biggest industrialists and engineers and their achievement and presence was not reflected in print. The collapse of advertising post 2008 has now reduced the magazines to a rump operation. Newsstand sales are amazingly low. As a result, what was not very high-end presentation and treatment has further collapsed.”

Patrick Myles’ design for 5054 features strong use of the Gridnik typeface

The rise of the boutique, independent magazine sector, with its associated high quality production values, persuaded Holloway that he could launch an alternative title.

“I stumbled across MagCulture and – last summer – attended a lecture by the people who created ‘Rapha magazine. A representative from Park was on hand, so I could get an idea of print costs,” he says. “By massive coincidence a book on publishing your own boutique magazine was launched. ‘So you want to publish a magazine’ by Angharad Lewis was a gem and contained just enough info from existing publishers to fill in the gaps. With that, I was off.”

A friend – architectural writer Hugh Pearman – recommended art director Patrick Myles and the two set about creating 5054 (pronounced fifty fifty four).

We talked to Myles about his work in bringing Holloway’s vision to the page.

Illustration is a key feature of 5054, as in this image of the Mini constant velocity joint by Stefan Marjoram

CR: What can you tell us about the magazine’s intended audience and how it seeks to be different to most car titles. When you first discussed the title with Hilton, what were you trying to convey?

Patrick Myles: Simply that this was an automotive title like no other in the UK market. Every element from the paper through to the design and style of imagery .

CR: How does the design language used differ from something like TopGear or Car?

PM: When Hilton first met with me to discuss the brief he described the idea as an automotive boutique style magazine – something that surprisingly didn’t exist in the UK already. Like me he has been a collector of indie mags for some time and it turns out we had similar collections on our bookshelves.

He said that he thought it would be good to work with a designer like myself who had previously art directed architecture and design titles like Blueprint, Alto, and the RIBA Journal as well as others. Rather than coming from at it from a traditional car magazine background, Hilton knew that I would be approaching the subject from a fresh perspective. Things that he pointed out was use of white space, a visual approach to the features that leaned away from consumer magazines and more towards book design. In fact the brief was very clear.

We also discussed the current state of automotive publishing in comparison to what agencies are currently producing for car manufactures. For example he showed me some nicely produced brochures that had a simple and understated approach to typography, and often a style of photography that was very different than what you see in conventional car magazines. It was more about creating a mood than just showing the product. This has been translated into 5054. For example if you look at Jed Leicester’s photography of the Aston Martin DB11 (pages 42-49) or the Volvo V90 D5 (pages 112-117) shot by Dave Smith, the images are as much about the environment than just the car. Particularly in the Aston feature that almost has landscape photography with a car in it.

Review of the Volvo V90 Cross Country

CR: The use of illustration seems to be a conscious move away from the way in which cars are typically shown in magazines.

PM: Hilton had the vision to use a lot of illustration throughout the magazine and he introduced me to Stefan Marjoram. He is a photographer as well as an illustrator, and it was great to be supplied with both from him. I really enjoyed using both styles of work from Stefan and his photography and style of illustration equally suited the spirit of the project.

From a feature on the Mini Countryman using archive illustration sourced by Editor Hilton Holloway

CR: Re the cover, it’s a very dominant masthead combined with quite a subtle, illustrated image – what were the discussions that you had about the cover treatment and what led you to this route?

PM: Funnily enough, my original cover designs with an alternative working title were too delicate in Hilton’s opinion. One of the first was the masthead quite small with the logo set in a circle that had a fine key line around it. Then Hilton suggested the name ‘5054’, the serial number of the first Spitfire prototype that first flew in 1936. Hilton originally pointed out that automotive means most things with an engine, and as a result there would be some features on aeroplanes as well.

Being given just four numerals to play with is a gift for a graphic designer. Leading up to that moment I had already been looking again at the lettering on industrial and military vehicles. Alongside the typical subject matter that Hilton began supplying me with, I began looking at ‘mechanical’ fonts like Machine and ultimately Foundry Gridnik, which was developed by The Foundry from a single weight monospaced typeface, originated by Wim Crouwel for typewriter use in the 1960s. I like the character of the lettering, especially used on a large scale like on the masthead. The font has a good range of weights and I also love the slight radius corners in the detailing. It’s a contemporary font but is reminiscent of the type of lettering used on WW2 aircraft.

As far as the cover image is concerned that illustration was found by Hilton. We both agreed that form the outset by using the Mini Countryman rendering that would make an immediate statement that this was different form everything else currently out there. That was quite early on in the process and once I designed that cover it was only slightly tweaked before going to print months later.

5054 covers more than just cars, as in this piece on the De Havilland DH-9 aircraft

CR: What are the details or elements of the design that you are most proud of?

PM: I spent a lot of time on the typography. Particularly on finding a font to work alongside Foundry Gridnik for the headlines and body text. I eventually settled on Miller which is a serif font that comes with a wide range of weights with a wide variety for editorial design. I originally tried Gridnik throughout for headlines, standfirsts and captions, but it looked to heavy and switching to a more classical serif font seemed to work better in setting the tone of voice for the content.

I’m pleased with the size and format. Everyone that I have seen pick it up responds to that immediately. Again being printed on a high white uncoated paper throughout sets it apart from all other automotive titles. I also persuaded Hilton to print the 5054 on the cover in a black metallic foil. That’s something I’m definitely proud of!

5054 was printed by Park Communications with origination by PH Media. An extended version of this feature will run in the June/July print issue of CR

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