John Lamm, acclaimed automotive journalist and photographer, has died in California. He was 76.
In a career that spanned almost half a century Lamm wrote countless magazine and web stories and authored dozens of books, most of which featured his own photographs. His writing won him the Ken Purdy and Dean Batchelor awards, two of automotive journalism’s highest honors, and his photographic skills were employed by Porsche and Ferrari, among others.
What made Lamm the consummate storyteller and visual artist was his genuine passion for all things automotive. He loved cars, and he loved the people who designed them, engineered them, built them, raced them. Even when he was in his 70s, bustling around a crowded European auto show, a camera slung over each shoulder, racing to get the shots he needed to send back to the States later that night, he’d cock his head slightly and grin: “One day I’ll get a real job.”
John Lamm was a car guy. An enthusiast. One of us.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Lamm decided to become an automotive journalist at the age of 15 after watching auto races at Elkhart Lake and reading a story by Bernard Cahier about going to Monza to test an Abarth sports car. He studied at the University of Wisconsin and served in Vietnam before moving to California and landing a job at MotorTrend, becoming – in his own words – “the worst managing editor in the history of the magazine.”
Lamm preferred writing stories and taking photos to driving a desk, and after six years with MotorTrend, he went to Road & Track, where he stayed 37 years and built a formidable network of contacts, especially among Europe’s supercar manufacturers and design houses.
He subsequently also wrote for Car and Driver, and for Automobile magazine, becoming one of the few senior automotive journalists of his era to have been published by all four of America’s mainstream automotive media brands. Over the years his stories and photos also appeared in numerous international publications, including Australia’s Wheels and Which Car? magazines, as well as Japan’s respected Car Graphic magazine.
In addition to his passion for new cars, Lamm had a great love for automotive history, and for motorsport. He was a fixture at the Pebble Beach Concours and the Monterey Motorsport Reunion every year. His long friendship with America’s first Formula 1 world champion, Phil Hill, was close: He became godfather to Hill’s son Derek. He had a soft spot for Italian classics, owning a Lancia Aurelia B20 coupe for 30 years before eventually selling it to Ford CEO Jim Farley, and rated the Ferrari 250 GTO as his favorite car of all time.
Though Lamm began his career in an era of typewriters and film, he readily embraced computers and digital cameras, seeing them as useful tools rather than threats. “Digital cameras make it so much easier, mechanically and technically, to take a photo,” he said, “but it’s still difficult to take a good picture.” However, he regretted the impact of digital media platforms on traditional auto magazines: “It’s nice to make something you can hold in your hands.”
John Lamm combined his love of all things automotive with an insatiable curiosity. He wanted to know, he wanted to learn, and he wanted to share what he had come to know and what he had come to learn with other enthusiasts. It’s what kept him working, as much as he was able, right until the very end.
-Photos by Richard Baron and Patrick Hong