John Haynes, Father of the Haynes Manual and RAF Veteran, Dies at 80

Many of us owe our passion for wrenching to the Haynes Manual, a paperback book that walks us through, step by step, how to fix our beloved machines. Last week, its founder, John Harold Haynes, died at the age of 80.

John Harold Haynes was born on 25 March, 1938, according to the obituary on the Haynes website, in Sri Lanka, which was then occupied by the British and known as Ceylon. His dad managed a tea plantation there, and drove John around in a Morris 8 sedan—a pastime that John loved.

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He and his brother left to boarding school in the county of Kent in England when he was 12, and that’s where John wrote his first wrenching manual, with the obituary describing how it happened:

He persuaded his House Master to allow him to miss rugby and instead spend his time converting an Austin 7 into a lightweight sporty Austin 7 ‘Special’. He eventually sold the car, making a reasonable profit, and owing to the immense interest it received (over 150 replies to the advert) he decided to produce a booklet showing other enthusiasts how he’d made it. He published a booklet entitled “Building A ‘750’ Special’; the first print run of 250 copies sold out in 10 days.

John Haynes joined the Royal Air Force after he was done with school, where he learned business skills by working in logistics. He published in his spare time, and apparently raced a number of cars competitively, including an Elva Courier. He also got married, and in 1965, he developed his first official Haynes manual after a friend needed help fixing his Austin Healey Sprite. Here’s how that story goes, according to the Haynes obituary:

An RAF colleague had bought a ‘Frogeye’ Sprite, which was in poor condition and he asked John to help him rebuild it. John agreed, and quickly realised that the official factory manual was not designed to help the average car owner. He bought a camera and captured the process of dismantling and rebuilding the engine. The use of step-by-step photo sequences linked to exploded diagrams became the trusted hallmark of Haynes Manuals. The first Haynes Manual, for the Austin Healey Sprite, was published in 1966, and the first print run of 3,000 sold out in less than 3 months.

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In fairness, considering the amount of people who apparently need to be working on their old British sports cars literally all the time, maybe Haynes was onto something.

His company, Haynes Publishing Group PLC, found its way to the London Stock Exchange in 1979. To this day, the company has sold over 200 million Haynes Manuals around the world.

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Photo credit: Haynes

Like most car people who find financial success, Haynes used his resources to buy automobiles, founding the Sparkford, Somerset-based “Educational Charitable Trust” called the Haynes International Motor Museum in 1985, and donating his 30-car collection to it—including the aforementioned Elva Courier. His support, the Haynes website’s obituary reads, has allowed the museum to grow to over 400 vehicles, with about 125,000 visitors each year.

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John Haynes died on Feb. 8, 2019 after a short illness “peacefully, surrounded by family,” according to the Haynes website. He is survived by his brother, sister, two sons, four grandchildren, and his wife Annette, whom the Haynes website says “contributed hugely to the success of the Haynes Publishing Group and she shares John’s lifelong passion for cars.”

What a car-rich life this man had, and what a huge impact he had on the automotive world.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio