An Illinois parts dealer who created an institution in the world of automotive history, Ernest Robert Hemmings, the father of Hemmings Motor News, died early today at the age of 89. Ernie, as he liked to be called, was living in a nursing home in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois. He had been in fading health of late and died peacefully in his sleep, his son, Trent Hemmings, told us.
Ernie had taken over a parts business that his late father had founded, Standard Auto Parts, and began stocking components for antique Fords, especially the Model T and Model A. That was in 1945, when Ts and As were not quite yet out of the realm of used cars. Ernie was a fan of them, however, and Standard developed a regional and then national reputation as a parts source for early Fords. The growing interest led Ernie to a brainstorm: Create a newsletter that catered specifically to the owners of these obsolete cars that weren’t yet considered relics. Customer friendly from the start, he offered free ads to readers.
The first edition of the newsletter was four pages, printed on mimeographed paper, issued in 1954, and all typed by Ernie’s hand. He also came up with a freehand logo, Hemmings Motor News. The first edition of “the magazine,” as he called it from the outset, had a half-dozen classified ads in it. About 500 readers signed up for a yearly subscription to Hemmings, priced at 50 cents.
It only took a few years for Hemmings Motor News to become an established forum for people who wanted to buy cars or parts to restore them. Soon, circulation was up to about 3,000 copies each month. Ernie had transitioned from parts retailer to editor and author, typing out short features that ran amidst the growing number of classified advertisements. Another decade saw both the magazine’s page count and subscriber rate boom, in the latter case to 40,000.
By that time, the whole enterprise had become too unwieldy for one man to handle. In 1969, Ernie agreed to sell Hemmings to Terry Ehrich, a classic-car enthusiast from Bennington, Vermont, who moved the magazine there and continued to grow and operate it until he died in 2002.
Hemmings Motor News and its three associated titles—Hemmings Classic Car, Hemmings Muscle Machines and Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car—now boast a combined readership in excess of half a million, and the Hemmings blog sees an equal number of unique viewers every month. While the home office is still in Bennington, Hemmings is an operating unit of American City Business Journals, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
photo credit: © 2015 Hemmings
text credit: © 2015 Jim Donnelly / Hemmings