Hale Storm: What the Hales vs Piper case means for motoring journalism

There are certain things in the world that cannot operate or function without the assistance of another outfit. Universities need students and hospitals need nurses. But there’s one area where man –or women – and machine benefit equally from each other’s actions, a truly symbiotic relationship. The motoring journalist and the automobile. 


Ever since ‘The Autocar’ was published by Illiffe & Son on 2 November 1895, motoring journalists have always needed cars to test and manufacturers have always required the services of journalists. However, a recent case involving Mark Hales, an experienced racing driver and David Piper an ex-Formula 1 driver, has raised a few eyebrows as to what the future holds for automotive journalism.

Back in 2009, Hales (white race suit) , for a fee, had been given permission by Piper (green race suit) to take his classic Porsche 917 for a test drive for a magazine article. While driving the vintage Porsche, valued at £1.25 million, around Cadwell Park, the mechanics failed catastrophically. Mr. Piper held Hales responsible for the damage caused which cost in excess of £40,000.

I spoke to Mark to get his view on things and to see how the case had affected him: “Some people outside the Historic Car World assumed that I borrowed Piper’s car, broke it, handed it back and then walked away. It was hired for a fee and the implications of engine damage were carefully discussed, and agreed. The car was insured for crash damage by Octane magazine. Piper assumed responsibility for the mechanicals. He lied about that in court. His mechanic lied about the problems I reported on the day. The rest is history”

Even though this case almost led Mark to file for bankruptcy, it still won’t deter him from his job as a motoring journalist and testing incredibly valuable and prestigious cars: “I am due to test Nick Mason’s Ferrari GTO (value c£20m) and his Lola 296 (£200,000) at Silverstone and I am to test Alex Boswell’s Ferrari 375 Grand Prix car (c£1.5m). The only thing I will do is to make sure the agreement between owner and driver is witnessed, or in writing.”   


But what does this case mean for new breed of motoring writers just starting out in the industry? Andrew Frankel, contributing senior writer at MotorSport magazine, believes it will impact on their ability to acquire cars to test: “Those of us lucky enough to be able to test high value road or racing cars do so because we have reputations and work for publications wealthy owners know, respect and in which they’d like to see their cars appear. If you are starting out and not in this position it will be even harder to gain access to such cars on a basis where your exposure to risk is reduced to the point where if the work is worth doing.”

However, Ben Oliver, contributing editor at Car magazine, has an opposed view and can see no implications for young motoring journalists. “Other than perhaps making them focus even more clearly on insurance and liability before they drive anything, it won’t affect them, not at all.”

Making sure insurance and liability policies are thoroughly discussed and agreed is something Ollie Kew, Staff writer at Car magazine and newbie to industry echoes: “For me, it’s a ‘phew, glad that wasn’t my gig’ relief, but also brings with it a handy lesson – always be thorough and vigilant in agreeing insurance for driving. As with driving your own car on the road, if the worst should happen, someone needs to have your back. Having said that, I’m one of the many who reckon Hales has been very harshly treated, and I just hope it doesn’t put opportunities to drive great classic cars out of reach for the next generation.”     

The Hales vs Piper case is the first of its kind and involves an incredibly rare and valuable piece of  machinery, something which would be completely out of reach for  journalists cutting their teeth in the industry. For journalists who have the experience and reputation like Mark, cars like the Porsche 917 are very much part of their job but will owners be willing to part with their prized possessions after the revelations of this case?

Expert opinion

andrew frankelAndrew Frankel, MotorSport contributing senior writer: “The Hales vs Piper case will make owners more choosy and journalists more careful. The great unanswered question is what happens not when a journalist damages a car, but when a car damages a journalist and he sues the owner for its inadequate preparation. What duty of care exists in that case? Nobody knows, but if there is one thing that will stop wealthy owners lending us their cars it not the thought that we might damage them, but that they might damage us.”

ben oliverBen Oliver, Car magazine contributing editor:  “Some are worried that owners may be less inclined to loan cars for features in future, but such features constitute a tiny proportion of motoring journalism, and owners will still have the same motivations to see their cars in print: either to help the car sell, add to its provenance, or simply because they’re being paid. Absolute clarity up front about who’s liable for what shouldn’t put owners (or journalists) off: it can only be beneficial. The main impact will be to encourage all journalists to be absolutely clear on insurance and liability issues. Some still rely on the cosy assumption that the journalist never pays; this case will disabuse them of that notion. And some arrogantly assume that someone, somewhere is insuring them when that might not always be the case.”

about-ollie-kew-picture-150x150Ollie Kew, Car magazine staff writer: “The case live in infamy, and it may well put off owners of exotic, irreplaceable cars from lending them to journalists. However, I suspect those sort of people are the ones (fools) who buy the cars to speculate, hide them away, and then auction them for profit. I have faith that the real petrolheads – the sorts of people who take 250 GTOs on the Mille Miglia and D-types to Goodwood – will continue to suck up the risk and let hacks drive them, so these machines can be shared with the world. So, overall, short term bruising to the business of driving classic cars, but no long-term scars and hopefully a few valuable lessons learned, whether you’re just starting out or have been in this game for decades.”

What do you make of those views? Have your say on this case by commenting below


Why not have a look at another popular article on Ignition: Can motoring magazines survive the digital age?



Categories: News, Views

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2 replies

  1. Some good points raised there. Maybe have some impact initially but probably no lasting consequences. Good article.


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