Many decades ago, Sunday mornings were a cherished time when the Sunday paper would arrive plump with news, ads, coupons, and of course, the comics. While Jalopnik’s younger readers might not be familiar with Ted Burness and his work, his weekly “Auto Album” panels and his Spotter’s Guides were a delight for gearheads for years. I just happened across a 1969 print copy of his “Auto Album” book at a vintage sale, and it might be the cutest thing I’ve found.
The book opens with a foreword from Burness, explaining how he got his one-panel comics published. “In 1962, I was trying to sell a variety of comic features to newspaper syndicates, and as a bonus item I developed a once-a-week panel about old cars which I called Auto Album. Most editors weren’t interested in my comic strips, but some of them did like the old cars.”
Burness would make a deal with newspaper syndicate owner Lew Little, who said if Burness could draw 18 car pictures in two weeks, he would try to sell them to newspapers. Burness finished the art in 11 days, and in July of 1966, the first panel of Auto Album appeared in print.
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These panels are simply great, intricate comic illustrations of cars that typically included the make, model and year, along with some quippy facts. For instance, on page 70 is a 1931 Buick. “Introduced Saturday, July 26, 1930,” The bottom of the panel reads, “A winner! This new Buick was so successful, it continued unchanged until very late in 1931. Twenty years later: Still a common sight, as many thousands of powerful and dependable 1931 Buicks remained in daily use everywhere!”
These single-panel comics gave Burness the break he needed, eventually becoming a foundational name in car enthusiast circles. He was the mind and drawing hand behind the Spotter’s Guides, too. His illustrations helped many young car enthusiasts learn to distinguish a pre-war Chevy from a Buick.
The last of Burness’ 22 Spotter’s Guide books appears to have been published in the mid-aughts. According to Hemmings, the artist passed away in 2012 at age 79.
I had never heard of Burness until I stumbled across this book, which cost me a whole $5.00, and I’m so happy I found it. In a way, it feels like one of many Rosetta Stones for the car enthusiast — a lost art to rediscover and enjoy for years to come.