Opinion: why John Haynes was a motoring hero

Haynes Manual

Haynes Manual

The inventor of the Haynes Manual helped generations of motorists to keep their cars in working order – even if they lacked engineering skills

John Haynes OBE, who has died at the age of 80, will be remembered as a motoring hero, who helped enable and inspire numerous amateur tinkerers to venture under their car’s bonnets.

Venture into just about any garage and dig around a bit, and the chances are you’ll find a Haynes Manual – quite possibly dog-eared and covered in greasy fingerprints.

It used to be one of the first things you’d buy after taking ownership of a new car – and likely still is, for regular browsers of the classifieds. Put simply, if you wanted to know how to do any work on your car, there was no better guide than the Haynes Manual – including the car’s official manual.

The genius of the Haynes Manual lay in its relative simplicity. Each area of the car was illustrated in a series of photographs, with step-by-step captions and exploded diagrams explaining how to undertake key jobs. 

All you needed was the ability to follow instructions, and a modicum of engineering talent. I can just about cope with the former, but am sorely lacking in the latter. Even so, with the help of a Peugeot 205 Owners’ Manual my 18-year-old self was (just about) able to pull off minor repairs and maintenance work on my first car.

Haynes offered the first vision of his manuals while at school, when he converted an Austin 7 into a lightweight ‘Special’. He then sold it, and interest in the machine’s advert prompted him to produce a booklet explaining how he’d done it. He printed 250 copies of ‘Building a 750 Special’, and sold them all within 10 days.

After leaving school Haynes joined the Royal Air Force. In 1965 one of his colleagues bought an Austin Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite in a poor condition, and asked Haynes to help him restore it. Haynes photographed and documented the process of rebuilding the car’s engine, which formed the basis for the first Haynes Manual. Published in 1966, the initial print run of 3000 sold out in less than three months.

Since then, Haynes Publishing has sold more than 200 million manuals, which now cover more than 300 types of car, 130 motorcycles and an increasingly obtuse range of subjects such as the Death Star, pets, marriage and, erm, the potato.

In 1985, Haynes also founded the Haynes International Motor Museum in Somerset, a collection that now houses more than 400 cars.

It’s been years since I had cause to delve into a Haynes Manual – a ‘proper’ one, at least, not one of the fast-growing ‘lifestyle’ versions. That’s partly my still-terrible technical skills, but also a reflection on modern cars, which have sealed units to discourage amateurs from tinkering under bonnets and require a laptop to diagnose faults.

Despite that Haynes Publishing, which Haynes stood down from in 2010, recently announced profits were on the up, with sales of manuals increasing in both print and digital form. It highlights that people still want to tinker with their own cars, and shows John Haynes’s invention will continue to aid motorists and amateur engineers alike.

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Source: Autocar Online

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