The NRMA’s Open Road magazine has been around since the dawn of motoring, producing its first issue 100 years ago
When the first edition of Open Road came off the printing press in July 15, 1921, motor cars were still such a novelty there were hardly any roads on which to drive them.
In fact, in its first iteration Open Road was known as Good Roads and its primary purpose was to lobby governments to upgrade Greater Sydney’s roadways from muddy tracks designed for horse and cart to a standard befitting motor vehicles.
While those early journals focused on roadways, car makers and coachbuilders knew a ready-made audience when they saw one and soon advertisements for road-making machinery and gutter bridges were replaced with ads for motor cars and accessories.
A chronicle of motoring history
With the enormous expansion of car ownership during the 1920s, NRMA members began to ask the for information on how to buy, drive and maintain their vehicles – and Open Road was happy to oblige.
On September 25, 1928, Open Road published its inaugural road test, which focused on the humble Austin 7 Roadster. The review shows that the 7.8 horsepower Austin took 65 seconds to do a ‘flying mile’ and reached a top speed of just over 55mph (about 88km/h).
Open Road would continue to chronicle the most important moments in motoring history, including the production of the first all-Australian vehicle, the Holden 48/215.
On January 1, 1949, Open Road published its road test of the 48/215, declaring: “From impressions and data gained on the recent tryout over the pre-war course, the main conclusion is that the first Australian mass-produced car is a real success, and lovely to drive.”
“Battery power still has a long way to go”
While electric vehicles (EVs) have become big news in recent years, the first EV review Open Road published appeared, believe it or not, in 1941. With fuel rationed because of World War II, alternatives to the petrol engine were keenly explored.
The discussion then was about high initial purchase costs, range, battery life and how European countries were providing tax concessions to encourage their use. Sound familiar?
The subject of electric vehicles arose again in the 1970s, after the oil crisis pushed fuel prices sky high. In 1975, NRMA chief engineer Bill Gaffney reviewed the first road-registered electric car in Open Road.
Known as the Enfield 8000, the test vehicle was one of five imported from the UK. Smaller than a Mini, its conventional lead-acid batteries made it as heavy as a medium-sized car. It was slow and had a range of barely 24km, while recharging took six hours. As Gaffney observed, “battery power still has a long way to go”.
100 years and onwards
Today, Open Road continues to rigorously road test vehicles, whether they’re powered by traditional combustion engines, batteries, or hydrogen.
Of course, motoring has only ever been one facet of Open Road, and the magazine’s special 2021 centenary edition features a 24-page history celebrating this historic milestone.
Questionable attitudes towards women drivers, an obsession with celebrities, unforgettable road trip stories, and brushes with death are all part of the magazine’s long and colourful history.