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A home for automotive journalism

A home for automotive journalism

Thursday, 15 de March de 2018

The Museum of the Automotive Press in São Paulo, Brazil is a dive into Brazil of the 20th century and how the mystique of cars was portrayed and maintained in the media

The unforgettable aphorism of the late rocker Frank Zappa, that “writing about music is like dancing on paint” may reveal much of the fate of segmented journalism – it never conveys the true emotion of the subject matter – but this does not seem to be the case with the automotive press. “It is, undoubtedly, the most segmented journalistic press”, believes Marcos Rozen, 43, who has made a career as a reporter for Autodata magazine. “For example, no matter how strong the technology segment may be, in today’s world, you don’t remember the name of a gadget magazine as you do with a number of significant car magazines that have been around till today. The automotive press knew how to reinvent itself and remain relevant, staying away from pure service, renewing its reporting, talking about big cars, testing, covering automotive shows, promoting elections, unveiling secrets and maintaining a very strong visual appeal, which makes the printed publication survive very well”.

Despite Rozen’s 23-year career, his great passport into automotive press history was not made on paper but in a cozy building in Vila Romana, west of São Paulo, Brazil at the Automotive Press Museum, the Miau. The project started essentially for journalistic reasons (“I’ve always believed that a good reporter must have a historical basis in order not to make mistakes like the ones we see around sometimes”, he says, “you have to know that electric cars have been around since the 1920s, that the DKW already had a three-cylinder engine, for example”), but today it is a delightful cultural program for anyone visiting São Paulo and dive into the time and mystique surrounding the car –” an appeal that the press recorded and, more than that, helped maintain. ”

Rozen says that, as a reporter, he cultivated, from the beginning, the habit of perusing through the archives of old magazines and newspapers to subsidize the research for his texts. And he took home all the material he thought relevant with the risk of having the magazines thrown out in the newsroom or during field research. “It became my private database”, he says. “Over time, my colleagues found out about my collection and started to look for me with interesting things like donations, badges, gifts handed out at launch parties, historical magazines, VHS tapes with publicity campaigns, out-of-print books and even advertising jingles made for the radio.”It took me ten years to gather precious things among a collection of a thousand items. “At that time, other journalists would look for me for a research when they were working on some kind of historical facts.”

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This is why the Miau was created – initially as a virtual environment to allow research in a physical collection. “When the page www.facebook.com/miaumuseu went up, it left the hands of the automotive journalists and became public knowledge.”It was 2013, at the height of social networks. The official profile for the museum reached 100 thousand followers and the collection, which began with a thousand items, reached an unbelievable 10,000. “It began to take on an absurd proportion. A lot of people started writting to me saying ‘I have a collection of magazines that belonged to my grandfather’, ‘my father worked for Jeep and I wanted to donate what he kept’ etc. The museum began to have a life of its own. I practically don’t interfere with anything”, he says, smiling.

Living “its own life”, the Miau museum began to make demands: a physical space of its own. “It was difficult to manage at home. I had already moved into the smaller bedroom in my apartment but the museum was taking up the entire space. Reaching for items behind other items on a shelf up on top was becoming more and more difficult. “That’s when the small building on Marcelina Street appeared in the picture, originally built to house the studio of the artist Tatiana Blass.”It was perfect. It seemed as though the architect had entered into my head without even knowing me.” The Miau opened its physical doors in October 2017.

The museum is divided into two thematically demarcated floors. The ground floor houses the history of the evolution of the automotive press in Brazil, from the first newspaper supplements of the 19th century to the 1990s. It is a journey through Brazil’s own industrialization – from the time when the entire car industry was completely imported, through the incentives for nationalization during the 1950s and 1960s, the market reserve of the dictatorship, until the recent years of economic liberalism, with incentives for import and competitiveness. The story is told through photos, magazine covers, excerpts from stories, memorabilia, and a lot of behind-the-scene stories. “I tried to organize it as if it were a grid magazine report, telling a story through photographic legends,” says Rozen. “I’m usually there to help with whatever it takes, but the visitor can read ‘by him or herself’ with ease.”

It’s important to note that we’re not in a museum about cars, but about the automotive press. In a panoramic and historical view such as the one proposed by the Miau, with different magazines and newspapers side by side, the trends of narratives is clear, with advertisements for imported cars from the 1940s, black and white photos delicately retouched by colorists, the design tendencies that sometimes favor artistic photos, informative clicks, the boldness of stories that have entered the story, the headline fights to capture the attention of the reader, verbs in the imperative, etc. “One of my intentions was really to show all the work and the effort put into the preparation of a magazine or a newspaper”, says Rozen. “It’s a hard job that has little to do with the glamor that is usually associated with the automotive press.” The first floor walkway ends with a delightful space for temporary exhibitions – the first one was about 50 years of Opal, with the right to watch a mini documentary about the car, inside a 1988 Commodore.

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One of the highlights of the ground floor wing is the showcase totally dedicated to the launch of the Fiat 147 in Brazil, which gathers the original 1976 press kit, the impeccably preserved spread of photos and even the typewriter some journalists won as a gift during the event. Fiat’s first Brazilian car campaign was a milestone not only for the advertising market (with its legendary campaign putting the “small big car” in unusual situations as well as in Brazilian historical context) but for a particularly promising moment in the Brazilian industry. “It’s important to look back at the past, trying to preserve the whole context in which the cars were launched,” says Rozen. “Today we look at them simply as old cars, but what was Brazil like in the days when they were modern? How were they inserted in the society? All of this is recovered here”.

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The top floor is dedicated to books and magazines ‘for free consultation’, with two walls full of volumes regarding the world of cars and the culture surrounding it. There are also press-kits and work materials for journalists. “A very mysterious, somewhat impatient visitor came to the museum once and barely looked at the pieces from the ground floor”, recalls Rozen. “He insisted that he wanted to consult the Quatro Rodas magazine collection of the 1970s and 1980s. He spent the entire day looking at it, without speaking to anyone. At night, when the museum was closing, I couldn´t hold back and I asked him why the interest. He explained, visibly moved, that he wanted to see the copies that his late father subscribed to take him back to his childhood, when his father would read the magazines with him as a boy. “Stories like this one have been added to Rozen’s everyday life since October, when the Miau opened its doors for people with affective memories linked to the press, car fans, collectors, students, researchers, restaurateurs and, as always, journalists working on a new agenda or searching for a subject for a new text, because the automotive press still has a long road to go.

The Automotive Press Museum is open on weekends (Saturday, from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Sunday from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a special price of R$ 15.00 for all ). The Miau is open on weekdays for scheduled visits through its official Facebook page. The museum is located at Rua Marcelina, 108, Vila Romana, São Paulo.

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