- Image: Haynes Motor Museum.

John Haynes OBE 1938-2019

The creator of the famous Haynes car manual has died, aged 80.

2y ago

Occasionally, somebody, acting as an individual or as part of a group, comes up with something so innovative and revolutionary, that their name soon becomes a synonym for whatever it is they've created.

In the 1960's, the engineering team at Ford of Britain decided to apply their considerable talent to coming up with a foil to the rather hopeless vans that were on sale at the time. The fruit of their labours, the Transit, became such a colossal sales phenomenon that it wasn't long before "Transit van" worked its way into the British vernacular for any panel van. You might own a Mercedes Sprinter, or a VW, or a Citroen, but to the man or woman in the street it's a "Transit van."

And so it goes for any instructional book on how to mend things. There are many publishers and purveyors of such books, especially on the subject of car maintenance and repair, however when the time comes for you to get around to attacking that little job on the family car you've been meaning to do for ages, I bet there's only one advisory tome that you reach for: the Haynes Manual.

Just like the aforementioned Ford Transit, the Haynes Manual (or Haynes Book of Lies, as it is affectionally known in the trade) is a British motoring institution. To date over 200 million of them have been sold since the first one, for the Austin Healey Sprite, was published in 1966. Curiously though, the man who came up with the idea of it never really became as famous as the books that he created.

John H. Haynes was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in March 1938. His father was the manager of a tea plantation and John's interest in cars was sparked from an early age when he would ride around the plantation with his Dad in Haynes Snr's Morris Eight.

When he was just twelve years old, John was sent, along with his brother, over 5000 miles back to England to attend the Sutton Valence boarding school in Maidstone, just a couple of miles from the spot where four decades later, I would spend many a happy hour as a child helping my own father to work on whichever decrepit old British Leyland crock he was trying to coax some life out of at the time. Whatever car it was, the requisite Haynes manual was never far away.

It was whilst he was at school that John developed a flair for art and combined it with his passion for cars and mechanics. Somehow, he managed to persuade his house master to allow him to miss rugby in order to spend time converting an old Austin 7 into a sporty, lightweight Austin 7 Special. You know when kids these days slam their VW Polos on coilovers and fit big exhausts? Well this was the 1950's equivalent of that.

Anyway, John soon completed the build and then sold the car for a healthy profit. When he put the car up for sale, he received over 150 responses to the advert (imagine how many stupid eBay questions he'd have got if he'd built it today) and it was this that gave him the idea to produce and sell an instructional booklet to show others how to give their own clapped out Austin Seven a new lease of life. The booklet 'Building a 750 Special' sold out its first print run of 250 copies in just ten days.

Like many others, John was eligible for National Service (compulsory time in the British Military) when he graduated from school. He joined the Royal Air Force and in his spare time, he pursued motorsports and ran a race-winning Elva Courier. It was during his time in the RAF that he met his future wife, Annette. They soon got engaged, and on their wedding day John stopped en route to the church to buy Annette a wedding present, a second hand typewriter. Perhaps not the most romantic of gifts, but Annette was said to be delighted with it. (Note to self: Do not buy own fiancee a typewriter. She will throw it at your head.)

In 1965 John was asked by a friend to lend a hand at rebuilding an elderly Frogeye Sprite that he had bought and found to be in slightly worse condition than his pal had expected. It was when they were working on the car that John realised that the official manufacturers workshop manual for the car was far too complex and not much help to the average car owner. Don't forget, these were the days when you'd be opening the bonnet on your car a lot, and a decent amount of mechanical understanding really was necessary if you wanted to partake in this new-fangled trend of 'motoring'.

Ever the enterprising chap, John bought a camera and started documenting the strip-down and restoration process of the little Sprite. It was here that he hit upon the idea of using step-by-step photographic guides along with exploded diagrams to allow the average joe to understand what was required for any given task without needing an honours degree in mechanical engineering. All you had to do was exactly what you were being shown in the photographs, and if that wasn't enough there were clear, concise instructions alongside each snap to guide you through.

The Sprite manual was a roaring success, over 3000 copies were sold in less than three months, and from there the ball just kept rolling, and rolling. John founded the Haynes Publishing Company, and started buying in different makes and models of vehicle for his team of mechanics and photographers to strip down and rebuild, documenting every step of the way for posterity.

These days, it's possible to buy a Haynes manual for pretty much every type of car imaginable, from the Fiesta to the Ferrari 312T that Niki Lauda won two Formula One world titles in. They write them for trains, for aircraft (I'm not sure that many people spend their Sunday servicing a 747 at home, but whatever...), and even for imaginary vehicles like the Starship Enterprise.

For me though, the Haynes manual is as much an integral part of what got me into cars in the first place as the cars themselves. Those memories of watching my old Dad trying to piece together the carburettor of his MGB whilst thumbing through the grubby, oil-stained pages of his well worn Haynes guide have never left me. Even today, when I'm at work and need to piece together a sill on a rusty old classic, or a friend texts me "Can you just help me with..." I often find myself reaching for the Haynes shelf.

That's why I was sad to hear that John Haynes had passed away last Friday. And I'm sure that the many millions of motorists over the years who have managed to squeeze some life into their old car in order to make it to work on Monday morning, or to pick up a hot date on Friday night thanks to one of his books will join me in raising a glass to his memory.

Oh, and before I go, another passion of John's was the Haynes International Motor Museum down in Somerset. It's a wonderful collection of some truly fantastic vehicles and if you're ever in the area, well worth a visit.

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Comments (12)

  • to be sure...this man has a place in my garage...and heart for his efforts over the years.

    fore every car i have ever owned there was an accompanying manual with haynes on the cover.

    that's presently 27 of them since high school days. as i don't drink though...no glass but rolling one up will have to suffice.

      2 years ago
  • Rest in peace.

      2 years ago
  • I never understand technical manuscripts, but really, hat's off to this man.

      2 years ago
    • That was the beauty of Haynes, you didn't need to be an engineering genius to understand the books.

        2 years ago
    • To be honest, I still...ah, never mind. Very true.

        2 years ago
  • I interviewed Haynes years ago, and he told me of some great typos in early Haynes manuals, such as ‘Strike the cylinder head with a soft mallard’ and ‘Wipe the dipstick with a clean rat’. Maybe he hated animals.

      2 years ago
    • He probably did. Although that’s not as bad as the typo that seems to appear in all Haynes manuals, one that has never been corrected and has on no occasion ever been truthful: “Refitting is the reverse of the removal.” Lying bastards.

        2 years ago
  • A great innovator

      2 years ago