Joe Oldham, consummate car guy and Hemmings columnist, RIP
Joe Oldham in 2013. Photo by Jeff Koch.
Editor’s note: Author, Hemmings Muscle Machines columnist, and muscle-car authority Joe Oldham died at his Palm Springs home last Thursday. This tribute comes to us from Martyn Schorr, a friend of Joe’s for more than five decades.
More than 50 years ago, a very young, very humble Joe Oldham came into my office at Hi-Performance CARS magazine. He had his resume and writing samples in hand and was looking for a job. There were no open positions, but he impressed both my Managing Editor, Fred Mackerodt, and me. He really knew his stuff: key codes/part numbers for engine options, hot camshafts buried in parts listings, and inexpensive racing parts you could buy over the counter at Chevy and Pontiac dealership parts departments. He was also an experienced street racer, earning his cred on the mean streets of Brooklyn and Queens. I would have hired him in a minute had there been any seat not already filled.
My longtime pal Joe passed away in the home he shares with his wife, Nina, in Palm Springs, California, on Thursday, October 26, 2017, at the age of 74. He, Fred, and I have been friends for more than a half century and for years he’s been flying into NYC to have our annual lunch in Manhattan. This year, he planned the trip in May to coincide with the arrival of son Steve and wife Lauren’s daughter; Joe and Nina’s third grandchild. We had our usual laugh fest at our favorite Sushi restaurant.
Joe in 1969, with his Baldwin Motion Camaro.
Joe had recently written the Foreword for my new book, DAY ONE, to be released at the end of November. In the Foreword, he commented on how his relationship with Fred, High-Performance CARS, and myself started:
“From 1965 to 1976, I worked as a writer for Magnum-Royal Publications in New York City, publishers of Hi-Performance CARS, Speed and Supercar, and Supercar Annuals. As such, I lived through the Golden Age of Musclecars as an insider. With just a phone call, I had access to almost every Musclecar from every manufacturer. I drove them, I photographed them, I street raced them, and I lived with them. And got paid to do it. If you were a carguy, as I was from the time I was a little kid, it was a dream job.”
“How did a dumb kid from Brooklyn wind up with such a cool gig? For one thing, I had the guts to simply walk in to Magnum-Royal offices one day and ask for it. That day I was lucky enough to meet Editorial Director Martyn L. Schorr, the author of this book, and his Managing Editor Fred Mackerodt. They saw a kid with a degree in journalism from New York University in one hand, writing samples in the other, and a background that included street racing a tri-power Pontiac.”
While Joe never worked for Magnum-Royal, he was an integral part of our team. His monthly TORQUE EAST column ran for a decade and his tell-it-like-it-is road tests and street-racing experiences helped our magazines grow and be competitive with the best the West Coast had to offer. He talked the talk and walked the walk. Over the years he owned and street-raced some really neat 1960s performance cars: ’59 Pontiac tri-power Bonneville convertible, ’62 327/340 Corvette, ’68 400/360 HO Pontiac GTO, and, his take-no-prisoners ’69 triple-black Baldwin-Motion SS427 Camaro.
There are probably few Baldwin-motion aficionados who don’t know about his Camaro that was stolen (and never recovered) not that long after he took delivery. I used his Camaro for three advertisements and posters – WANTED, OUTRAGEOUS & THE MOMENT OF TRUTH – as well as the cover of the 1969 Baldwin-Motion catalog.
Joe and Scott, with the tribute Camaro in 2013. Jeff Koch photo.
In 2013, Joe and son Scott – a respected automotive magazine editor, photojournalist, and hands-on carguy – built a tribute SS427 Camaro to replace the one that was never recovered. They revealed it at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN). They also shared a vintage Pontiac Trans-Am.
As a columnist and contributor to our group of enthusiast magazines, Joe was involved in road testing, technical writing, helping chose our annual Top Performance Car Of The Year, and, together with Fred, created the first SUPERECAR ANNUAL in 1968. They also worked on our motorcycle titles.
In the tradition of our relationship, our sons, also in the automotive community, have been friends for years. Scott Oldham has a close relationship with my son Stuart, who’s also in the automotive field. He’s VP Communications & Public Affairs at Jaguar Land Rover. Steven Oldham is Northeast Region Manager at Nissan Communications in NYC.
Joe (L) with Martyn at MCACN in 2013. David Hakim photo.
In 2007, Joe wrote MUSCLE CAR CONFIDENTIAL, Confessions of a Muscle Car Test Driver, published by Motorbooks, and has written the forewords for two of my books: MOTION Performance, Tales Of A Muscle Car Builder and DAY ONE, An Automotive Journalist’s Muscle Car Memoir, also published by Motorbooks.
Joe Oldham never met a tire he couldn’t smoke and treated most traffic lights like they were Christmas trees at his home track, Englishtown’s Raceway Park. He’s been thrown out of GM’s Milford Proving Ground for doing smokey burnouts and banned for life from AMC new-car previews by Gerald Meyers, AMC Executive VP at the time. Seems it had to do with a test of a ’71 Javelin that showed photos of the test car losing it’s right rear wheel and brake drum assembly!
But there’s another side of Joe Oldham, In 2004, Joe Oldham retired from his day job, Editor in Chief of Popular Mechanics at Hearst Corporation.
Cathleen P. Black, president of Hearst Magazines, noted: “Joe Oldham is one of the most recognized magazine editors in the industry, and, under his stewardship since 1985, has kept the Popular Mechanics brand fresh, vibrant, and profitable. Not many 102-year-old brands can say that.”
He is one of only two people to have been elected president of the International Motor Press Association (IMPA) three separate times. IMPA is the country’s largest organization of automotive journalists. During two of his tenures at IMPA, I was proud to work with him as a Member of the Board.
Oldham also served in 2004 as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Automotive Hall of Fame and the nominating committee for the Motorsports Hall of Fame. He is a member of the American Society of Magazine Editors and was a founding member of the Environmental Task Force of the Magazine Publishers of America. Since May 2009, he’d been a regular columnist for Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine; his final column appeared in the December 2017 issue.
Joe was also a walking encyclopedia of 1950s-’60s rock-and-roll music, an astronomy buff, and, in the 1960s, played drums in rock bands. Most importantly he was a loving husband, father, and grandfather, and a dear friend. He will be missed.
–Martyn L. Schorr