Schoolboy’s pamphlet launched widely used Haynes automotive manuals
Editor’s note: News arrived Monday of the death of John H. Haynes, founder of the Haynes Manual, Haynes Publishing Group and the Haynes International Motor Museum. He was 80 years old and died after a brief illness. On the occasion of his death, we reprint a story we published in 2017 after an interview with Haynes’ son, J Haynes.
As a student in post-war England in the mid-1950s, John Haynes couldn’t afford the sports car he desired, so he procured an Austin Seven, removed the body, tuned the suspension, and turned it into a modified and racy Special.
With several of his schoolboy friends interested in his project, Haynes kept notes, added illustrations, and produced 10 copies of what became his first such automotive workbook. He gave three of the copies to his friends and took a small advertisement in a British car magazine offering his other copies for sale.
“He had 37 replies,” said J Haynes, who for the past 18 months has been chief executive of Haynes Publishing, which has become widely known within the collector car and “shade tree” mechanic communities for its detailed service manuals.
It was a few years before Haynes Publishing would be officially founded, J Haynes noted, explaining that while his father was in the Royal Air Force, he owned a “Frogeye” Austin Healey Sprite that needed an engine rebuild. His father and another airman hauled the engine into the officers’ barracks but, unable to find a suitable manual, had Haynes’ wife take detailed photographs as they took the engine apart.
“She stuck those photos on the walls, and they reversed the process, following the photos in reverse order, to reassemble the engine,” J Haynes said of the format that launched a publishing empire.
In ensuing years, Haynes has established a U.S. base in suburban Los Angeles, has acquired both Chilton, its long-time competitor, and Clymer, which specializes in motorcycle manuals, and has expanded from automotive repair and maintenance manuals into everything from raising chickens to operating the Millennium Falcon (yes, it’s an officially licensed Star Wars product), and from a manual for the Space Shuttle to those for musical instruments.
While flying from England to Las Vegas where Haynes had a booth at the recent AAPEX (Automotive Aftermarket Products EXpo, which is held annually in conjunction with the nearby SEMA Show), Andrew Golby, Haynes global digital director, was delighted to learn that the pilot of the 747 on which he flew owned a copy of the Haynes guide to that aircraft.
Haynes has published more than 2,000 titles, and annually adds more than 50 more. While committed to print, the company has kept up with the times by offering not only its manuals in digital form, but recently has launched a series of free tutorials and on-demand videos to help give under-the-hood novices confidence in doing such things as checking fluids, changing oil, etc.
“Inexperienced people can dip their toes in with digital,” J Haynes said. “Seeing video gives people confidence to try things themselves.”
J Haynes’ first name is John, like his father, who still visits the office in England on a daily basis, J said. It was an aunt who tagged him “J” rather than having to deal with two “Johns.”
After college, J Haynes worked for a year or so in Nashville, Tennessee, where Haynes guides were printed for the American audience, but then he went back to the UK to get his MBA and left the family firm to do corporate finance in London. He returned to Haynes Publishing in 2000, later served as board chairman and then as chief executive.
At Haynes, J has launched a Mechanix program to provide hands-on skills for youth designed to help them re-engage with their formal education while also gaining work experience. The family also has created an automotive museum charity donating its collection of more than 400 vehicles to Great Britain.
Speaking of cars, Haynes usually purchases the vehicles it tears down in the process of preparing its do-it-yourself guide books. Afterward, it sells those vehicles, very often to its own employees, who often comment that the cars are put back together in better condition than they rolled off the automaker’s assembly line.
We note that the vehicles usually are purchased because, as J Haynes noted, sometimes when the company is doing a guide book on an older model vehicle, used car dealers will offer a car to Haynes to tear down, knowing it will come back in better shape than when it left.