As a rule, Gordon Baxter was late. Born in 1923, his first love was flying, but after washing out of pilot training in World War II he did not manage to complete his private pilot’s license until his mid-30s. In the meantime he was a turret gunner in a B-17, a merchant sailor on a torpedoed ship, a boatman on the Mississippi River, and a hell-raiser of a disc jockey in eastern Texas, bashing a series of hot-rodded cars through the hedges and fences of Port Author and Beaumont. His first meaningful byline as a professional writer didn’t happen until shortly before his 47th birthday. It appeared 50 years ago, in the August issue of Flying. Just a couple of years later, the always-perceptive Stephan Wilkinson brought him on at Car and Driver—and it is there, as the man enters his 50s, that our story truly begins ...
Read the full column on Hagerty.com:
I attended the 1985 Reno Air Races and thrilled to the heavy iron from WWII whizzing around at 400 mph or better about 100 feet off the ground. Unforgettable. As it turns out, so did Bax and his “Wheels Among the Wing People” is a Car and Driver classic. Unable to find a hotel room, Bax slept in an LTD wagon and contributed this about the experience… “I went home to my LTD wagon each night… I unrolled a sleeping bag, proud to be of that generation of Americans who can gracefully get pants off in a car.” Ha!
The high point was Flying, July 1984, and a flight in a Citation [ Cessna’s jet ] … “I hope that Satan never sets me up on the temple wall and offers me jet flying for my soul.”
One of a kind… great to see him remembered here.
Another great article, Jack. I used to love reading Gordon Baxter about cars or airplanes. Didn't matter. I had forgotten until just now.
Thanks for the reminder.
I recall when most every issue of C/D was a treat, dripping with personality and hysterics and force. Nowadays, not so much, but more like a pedantic lecture at times.
The "Venturi Effect" leaves an unpleasent mural all down the side of an E350 van and the H-Prod Sprite racecar on the trailer behind it regardless of door position and ground speed.
All my Car and Driver magazines are long gone. I will have to search for his book.
"No such mewling hangups" indeed.
I was introduced to Gordon Baxter by my former mother-in-law (she says I'm still her favorite) who decided I needed to read some of his essays to complement my flight training in 1981 in a pristine 1971 Cessna 150 that still had its wheel pants (rare). I quickly became addicted to his natural style of writing that would later inspire me to do some writing of my own. What I soon discovered, though, was that I wasn't the only one to ponder a daring scheme to fly naked. Apparently he did it regularly, or so he claimed. After getting my ticket, my Dad, brother and I decided to upgrade to a better cross-country aircraft in the form of a stunning 1967 Comanche 260B with Palm Beach option. One day I decided to attempt flying free of more than the ground - not without risk at a moderate-sized general aviation facility that required taxiing from our hangar, down between the rows, past the airport office/cafe, across the tarmac to the run-up area before turning on the runway for takeoff. What ensued was more exhilarating than one can adequately convey. I now know how Bax felt. I just wonder if Bax had eventually become a member of the "Mile-High Club"... at 5500'... at 197 mph true air speed? At least he would have understood.
People will be forgiven anything because they "love cars," and if they write about them -- and themselves loving them - besides forgiveness they will receive praise.
Jack, did you ever read his book Bax Seat? It was in part about his and my relationship at Flying Magazine, including pretentious memos. You can find it on Amazon for anywhere from 35 Cents to $185...
I still have the book pictured, and reread it on occasion.
My favorite vignette is his purchase of an early thirties Packard dual cowl phaeton.
Doesn't need it, can't afford it, buys it anyway from a used car dealer. Has to repair a bearing knock, then two tomcats get into a fight and destroy the top. Has to sell to preserve the peace, and regrets it the rest of his life.
His description of the car, the way it felt, the quality of the engineering, was pure poetry.
I recall his writing, and admired his humor and disrespect for convention. However, I did not know about him abandoning his wife and children; that will forever discolor and discredit him in my mind.