Don Stanford: MG’s Best Selling Author

Don Stanford MG’s Best Selling Author
By Dick Knudson



At last summer’s induction ceremony at the British Sports Car Hall of Fame, the first recognition did not go to a person, instead, Robert Goldman, Chairman of Moss Motors, cited a book, a very important book. He paid tribute to The Red Car by Don Stanford. This book certainly introduced thousands of readers to British sports cars…in this case, the MGTC. From the audience reaction, there was great agreement with Robert. The all-time, best selling MG book ever written is The Red Car by the late Donald Kent Stanford.

Stanford was born in 1918 in Chattanooga, TN; he died in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, in the 1990s. His education included Drexel Institute of Technology, Foreign Service Institute, and the University of Paris. Stanford was a literary nomad who moved about on various continents supporting himself by writing novels, short stories, film and TV scripts.

His first novel was The Slaughtered Lovelies, a mystery with a sports car theme. Stanford called it “garbage” in a February 5, 1989, letter to me. He went on to say, “I whipped it up in a great hurry (in 1950) for Ralph Daigh of Fawcett’s Gold Medal Books…but it paid for my TC and several years of pure motoring pleasure.”

I had written to the author to ask him about a photo that accompanied an article in an early copy of Road & Track about a road race in Aspen, Colorado. Stanford answered, “The photo in Road & Track on Labor Day 1951 of a very amateurish SCCA road race we ran: Le Mans start, driver and riding mechanic in each car, all eager and sincere. I hit a hay bale on a turn and ripped my left rear wing so that it was rubbing on the tire. My ‘mechanic’ a girl named Alice-something, wore off her fingernails holding the wing together while we finished the race in third place. I loved that TC and drove it cross-country many times, beating girls off with a stick as I drove. Irresistible little car.”

At the time of my contacting him, I had read his third novel, The Red Car. In that book there is a road race in a Colorado town, and the protagonist is in a TC when they hit a hay bale causing some damage so that the riding mechanic had to lean out to hold things together. That was just too much of a coincidence, and so began my search for Don Stanford.

Stanford proved to be a delightful man who was still enthusiastic about his TC even though it had long gone. He described being persuaded to write The Red Car this way: “In the first place, I didn’t want to write it. I was in one of my insolvent periods, and I bugged my agent, Lurton Blassingame, to find me a book contract, any kind of contract, and Lurton got back to me and said he could contract me to Funk & Wagnall’s for a juvenile novel.

“Juvenile! I said. Not my line of country. You mean The wooty-tooty twain goes wooty-tooty-tooty down the wooty-tooty track? Not me, Buster. Give it to one of your other clients. Aren’t there any adults reading out there somewhere?

“Go, Lurton said. Go, have lunch with Bill Sloane at Funk & Wagnall’s. He will pay. Do not have more than six martinis, and listen to what he has to say. So I went, and Bill Sloane explained that what his company had in mind was a series of informative sports/adventure novels for teenagers, and that their readers would be the most knowledgeable, and the most critical audience imaginable.

the red car
“If you write a book about a car, he said, it will be read by boys who don’t read much but who like cars, and they will know about cars, and if you get the wrong number of cylinders into a Bugatti, your publisher will get 5,000 illiterate letters the next morning all beginning, ‘Dear Sir, Who is this schnook?’

“Sloan continued, also, you will not write down to them, because these are kids who are acquiring vocabulary, not losing it as we all tend to do after we leave school and begin indulging our selves in careless speech habits, reducing ourselves to a lower common denominator. If you use a word they don’t know, they’ll look it up…but the chances are you won’t. Do not condescend to expanding minds.

“He ordered a fifth martini, but I declined. Put that way, the project sounded kind of intriguing, and I knew I was going to write his book. And not in three weeks, either. It took me an entire summer, and I wrote more carefully and critically than I had ever written before. It had been my habit to whack a piece out and turn it in without even re-reading it. With Bill Sloane’s comments in mind, I found myself re-thinking and even re-writing paragraphs…and pages…and entire chapters. It wasn’t that the story didn’t re-write itself. I had lived the climatic road race in the book. I had lived for more than a year in Aspen, and I knew most of the characters in real life, it was just that for the first time in my life I was considering the people who would be reading this story and respectful of their opinions.”

Don Stanford had real feelings for his TC and took special pride in The Red Car. This book has been translated into several languages and sold very well abroad. It was also bought by Scholastic Books and went through many printings (with several different covers!). All told, I am sure that the sales of The Red Car easily topped two million. I am sure that most of you own a copy of the book. After reading what the author thought about the book and his effort to make it outstanding, I hope that you are motivated to take it off the shelf and re-read it. I know, too, that many of you may have purchased it for your MG library and may have never have read it. Well, now is the time. You won’t be sorry. MM


35. Stanford 2

A Selected Don Stanford Bibliography

The Slaughtered Lovelies Gold Medal Books, New York, 1950

Bargain In Blood Gold Medal Books, New York, 1951

The Red Car Funk & Wagnall’s, New York, 1954

Treasure of the Coral Reef Funk & Wagnall’s, New York, 1956

The Horsemasters Funk & Wagnall’s, New York, 1957

Ski Town Funk & Wagnall’s, New York, 1958

Crash Landing Funk & Wagnall’s, New York, 1959

Ile de France Appleton, New York, 1960

Must Be Good Riders: Orphans Preferred Funk & Wagnall’s, New York, 1962

Mulligan’s Pirates Simon & Schuster, New York, 1966

The Rice of Affection R. Hale, New York, 1969

Stanford also contributed over eighty short stories and articles to various magazines including: Redbook, Argosy, Woman’s Day, Cosmopolitan, This Week, Hitchcock, Coronet, Writer, True, Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, and Holiday.




'Don Stanford: MG’s Best Selling Author' have 7 comments

  1. January 15, 2018 @ 8:48 am Bruce Strazdon

    I bought The Red Car when the Amazon was a river. I’ve reread it many times over the years and have given it to my sons to read also. While I’ve never had a TC (does a TF count?) it was still a seminal part of my affection for British sports cars. It’s still a great little book, greatly enjoyed the piece.


    • January 31, 2018 @ 2:19 pm Andrew Chamberlain

      Thanks for the article on The Red Car. I read it when I was probably 12 or so. I don’t remember what brought me to the book; like most boys my age I was interested in American cars, and we fed that interest vicariously through plastic models. My cousin, however, had a metal model of a T-type that was probably 18″ long, not painted (it was the color of zinc or pot metal), and I was totally fascinated by that thing. That must have been what threw me over the edge. Years later, coming back to New Jersey with my father from the Hershey car show, where I looked longingly at all the British cars, we saw a TD for sale in the used car lot of an MG dealer (this was 1975, so they still existed). Long story short, he cobbled together a tow bar in the garage and we went back for it. Despite the unlubricated differential seizing up a couple of times on the way home, making for an interesting trip, I licensed the car as soon as we fixed it, and still have it. It contains many Moss parts at this point. It was never my daily driver (that was an MGB back then), but I still drive one of those as well.


  2. March 13, 2018 @ 2:37 pm Kathy Stanford Clarke

    How delighted I was to read this wonderful article!!! Don Stanford was my father! “The Red Car” was dedicated to my brother Kent, and “The Horsemasters” was dedicated to me. We had these books in our Junior High library (as well as at home), so our school librarian loved the fact that the author’s children were in her classes. That series of books written for young teens was Daddy’s best writing of his whole career; he spend months researching each one, and they read as well today as when they were first written.
    Both Kent and I were influenced by Daddy’s love of sporty little cars; Kent drove nothing but small convertibles his whole life, and we both owned MG’s. Beautiful, wonderful little cars. Thanks for a terrific article!


    • July 6, 2018 @ 5:05 am Mickey Richaud

      My all-time favorite childhood book. Bought it in fifth grade in Corpus Christi and read it several times, but it was lost long ago. Found another copy decades later and have read it again, and again. Still a delight. No doubt the book has influenced me: I have restored several British cars, and now own three – two MGBs and an MG TF replica which I’m currently building. If anyone can fill me in on more details about Mr. Stanford, I’d be grateful! mjrichaud @ gmail


    • September 12, 2020 @ 5:45 am Bob mundo

      My grandfather got a bunch of books that were being thrown out at a public library “the red car” was among them funny thing I was learning to read but was to young to read this book but I loved cars and still do so I would look at the pictures in the book and even colored a few in with a red marker. I was determined to read all the pages in this book and I succeeded at age 12 . I never read so much in my life and it was worth it. It it made a difference in my life and would like to thank your father for a red hard cover book that has become my most cherished belonging for the last 48 years . Also my favorite picture in the book is at the end where hap is driving with his hat

      Bob mundo


  3. October 30, 2020 @ 9:37 pm Bob Elliott

    First read The Red Car in Junior High. Absolutely loved it! Shortly after reading it, wrote a letter to Donald Healey. Had my first Healey at 16, have owned several MGs and Healey over the years. Still have a BugEye.
    The Red Car led to a job in a body shop, which turned into a career with a major auto insurer, and for the past several years I’ve owned my own collector car appraisal company.
    The book actually shaped my personal and professional life!


  4. August 6, 2021 @ 8:22 pm Rob Reilly

    I bought my copy of The Red Car at a high school book drive sale in 1967-68 for 45 cents. I’m holding it now. It is the 7th printing Oct 1967 by Scholastic Book Services. It has the red TC on the cover, drawn as Left Hand Drive, with Hap reaching over Frenchy’s shoulder, and a Porsche 356 coupe behind. There is also a drawing of the race course through Bullet.
    This book turned me on to British cars, along with helping my dad fix his Morris Minor, and though I couldn’t afford a TC then, my first car at age 16 was a Jaguar Mark V saloon, my daily driver for three years. An MGA, an E-Type, an XK120, an XJ12, an S-Type, and a pre-war SS Jaguar saloon followed, but I never lost interest in the T-Series, and just this year I bought a TA.


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