The Auto Industry Remembers John Lamm: Friend, Colleague, Icon

Longtime automotive writer and photographer John Lamm passed away this week at the age of 76. His considerable legacy and talent live on in the words he penned, the pictures he took, and the people he influenced over the course of his lengthy and deeply impactful career, during which he worked for all four major American car magazines. One of the truly nice guys in his—or any—industry, John was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, and his passing has left a huge void in the hearts of his friends and colleagues. Here, we’ve collected tributes and remembrances from just a few such personalities from all over the automotive world. Rest in peace, John.

Photo courtesy Jim Farley (left).

Jim Farley, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company

I met John at my first media drive for the 1992 Toyota Camry. I was the know-nothing product planner for this product. We hit it off as we were both Phil Hill fans—I was a custodian for Phil Hill at his restoration shop to help pay for my school. He told me he had a Lancia Aurelia, not just any, but a Series 4. We talked about the car over the next 20 years. In 2010, I bought the car from him, restored it over several years with his help and the original owner, another journalist, Larry Crane. John had driven the car on the California Mille, Larry had raced it at the first Monterey Historics in the 1970s. It took me eight very long and expensive years. I had just restored it as a driver, but on a lark, applied to Pebble and was accepted.

As a surprise, I asked John to take the car (along with Ken Gross and their respective wives) to drive the car on the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance and drive the car with me onto the lawn. I was an honorary judge as well, so my family stood by the car for the judging. We won a class award. Larry, John, and I (the only three owners) were there together. There were some tears and lots of toasts for this car that brought us all together.

I loved John Lamm. He was such a rock star and fueled my love of cars. I would not be the CEO of Ford without John Lamm and will work every day to honor him. 

Ken Gross, Award-Winning Automotive Journalist and Historian

Stated simply, John Lamm was the hardest working guy I ever knew in this business. He never made excuses for the weather, the lack of light, or the paucity of backgrounds. He always found a way to make things work. John was quick and efficient, and he was always upbeat and generous with his time and advice. He’d see the image in his mind, before gathering up his cameras—usually, one slung over each shoulder—and settling down to work.

Whether it was a salon portrait of a storied classic, an action shot of a fast-moving race car, the perfect image of a famed driver, or a minute detail on an engine, John could capture it perfectly. He might spend half an hour setting up a shot, but if after one quick look through the lens, he knew he wasn’t going to achieve the image he wanted, he’d move on.

John wrote clearly and simply about what he saw and experienced, as though he were standing alongside you, explaining patiently (and never pedantically) exactly what was going on. When digital cameras arrived, John quickly and seamlessly made the transition from film to computers. He taught himself videography and he was (naturally!) great at it. He had a keen eye for detail, and he didn’t miss a nuance. John never quit until he was satisfied with his work, and that meant for some late hours. But I never heard him complain. 

We could be traveling almost anywhere in Europe, and long before electronic navigation, John would remember the location of a special restaurant he hadn’t seen in years—or a historic building that was perfect as a background—and he could drive right to it. He had an unerring sense of direction and a keen eye for a location.

 Year after year, the Monterey weekend was John’s favorite assignment. He’d trudge all over Laguna Seca, uphill and down (he knew all the right spots), and even in his 70s, he’d be seemingly everywhere on the lawn at Pebble Beach, tirelessly capturing images, until the pyrotechnics went off for Best of Show. John never stopped, until Sunday night—when he’d finally have one of his classic gin and tonics and reminisce about all he’d seen.

Photo courtesy Richard Baron.

John was a decorated Vietnam veteran—we had that in common—and we made a point of visiting American military cemeteries whenever we traveled in Europe. John and I climbed Monte Cassino in Italy to pay our respects at the graves of soldiers who died there; we went to the site of the Malmedy Massacre (and explained to our younger colleagues the tragic events that occurred there during the Battle of the Bulge); we walked the thick forest at Belleau Wood. We often found ourselves in tears reading inscriptions on headstones. 

“We’re lucky,” he’d often say. And we were.

John’s untimely passing leaves his lovely wife Scheri, his family, and countless colleagues and friends who were fortunate enough to know him. He also leaves a meticulously organized archive of over a million images, along with videos, recordings, and memorabilia. We’ll not see his like again…

Godspeed John, we’ll miss you.

Stuart Schorr, Vice President, Communications, Jaguar Land Rover North America

The car business and hobby is like a big family. Everyone has their favorite relatives, those they barely know, those they can’t stand. And there is an uncle who is just a great guy. John Lamm was that uncle for so many of us in the media/PR/enthusiast end of the business. Everyone knew John. Everyone liked John. John was generous with his infectious spirit, sharing in his deep knowledge of cars and racing. At the Monterey Historics, he wanted to show me the 65 Lotus Indy Car with the exposed pipes so I could enjoy and appreciate the mechanical artistry too.

American racing legend Phil Hill behind the wheel of a Jaguar XK120, as shot by his friend, John Lamm.

When I joined Jaguar Land Rover, John sent me this poignant, sharp photograph he took of fellow legend Phil Hill in the black XK120 on the very same Pebble Beach roads that the racing icon had dominated in the 1950s. It made him happy to make others smile. And for those younger than him, to remind us of the history. This week I commiserated John’s passing with an old friend of his, my dad, Marty Schorr, fellow car guy extraordinaire of roughly the same generation. I expected to hear Lamm stories from race tracks in the 70s and press drives in the 80s. Dad said, the thing about John was that every time they were together, these two car-obsessed guys never talked cars. He said John always wanted to catch up and talk about their families. Tell Marty about his, ask about mine. Gosh, I didn’t know that and now I wish I saw John more often in these final years. What a great uncle we all had. Rest in Peace.

Steven Earle, Founder of the Monterey Historic Automobile Races

John was a very special guy. A truly genuine person. I think of him in the early 70s when he was doing a car piece for Clipper, Pan Am’s in-flight magazine. As I remember, it was one of his first articles. Chuck Queener was doing a story for MotorTrend later that year and John was the photographer. Three enthusiasts -four counting the car- a Ferrari GTO, what a great time. John went on to be the best in his field and never changed a bit. His writing and photography brought dreams as close to reality as many enthusiasts would likely get. He will be missed by more than he would ever imagine. Godspeed John.

Getting set up for a group shot at Ferrari HQ. Photo courtesy Richard Baron.

Rory Jurnecka, Senior Features Editor, Automobile

Meeting heroes is always fraught with risk, but not so with John Lamm. In my formative years, I devoured John’s prose and photographs in the magazines that came to my house every month. Lost in a John Lamm story, I was suddenly riding shotgun with Phil Hill at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track in the latest and greatest road car or testing a vintage Formula 1 car at some exotic-sounding race track with a name I could barely pronounce. John was one of the reasons that I do what I do for a career. When I first met John Lamm over a decade ago during Monterey car week, I was a budding editor at MotorTrend. John wasn’t just kind and gracious to a shy rookie journo, the stories he told put me right back in my favorite articles from all those years ago. And his unrepeatable behind-the-scenes stories were the stuff of legend!

To know John Lamm was to know several hundred other people. Not personally, mind you, but through John’s remarkable remembrances of long ago and far away press trips, road races, and other automotive adventures with seemingly all of the very best people in this industry. One of my favorite memories of my time with John was walking the entire Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance show field with him and not only picking up a hundred bits of automotive trivia along the way, but being introduced to about a dozen legends. From Dan Gurney to Bill Warner to Emerson Fittipaldi, John knew them all personally and even more impressive, they knew John and greeted him with a smile and an outstretched hand of friendship. More than that, you got the feeling that John would be welcome in any of their homes.

John’s genuine and infectious enthusiasm and tireless work ethic even in his advancing years reminded everyone who had the privilege to work alongside him that automotive journalism, good automotive journalism, is tough work that is its own reward. It was my privilege to consider John not just a colleague and an inspiration, but a friend. That I’ll never share another lunch or drive with John or that I’ll never bump into him with a laugh and a mile-wide grin on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach again is such a tremendous loss. Thankfully, at least, the amazing body of work and the memories that John left behind can never die.

Michael Lamm, Former Managing Editor of MotorTrend

All I can say is that John was excellent in every way: as a person, as a photographer, writer, editor, and in every other activity he became involved in. He had a great sense of humor, and everyone who knew John liked him. I certainly did, and I was very sad to hear he’d passed away.

Jonny Lieberman, Senior Features Editor

We’ve lost a legend. John Lamm was a true double threat in the car biz: a gifted writer and a world-class automotive photographer. I know he’d deny both. Moreover, he was a wonderful man. Kind, intelligent, soft-spoken, but with a sharp sense of humor. When I informed former automotive journalist and 24 Hours of LeMons founder Jay Lamm (no relation, though Jay’s given name is John Lamm, and he had to write under Jay because of John) of John’s passing, Jay commented, “What a thoroughly decent guy. He should never have been a car journalist.” Amen to that.

Like everyone else, I started off in this business as a complete nobody. Some of my new colleagues treated me as such, but some didn’t. Some even treated me with a bit of respect, John being chief among them. He talked to me, it seemed, as he would any other writer. I could never tell if the glint in his eye combined with his signature half-smile meant he thought I was a bit much, or if he liked my enthusiasm. I’ll pretend it’s the latter. Once I started at MotorTrend, I’d pick John’s brain about what the magazine was like back in the day. The stories I could tell! Actually, the real good stories I can’t tell, but I’ll never forget John’s laughter as he told them.

My favorite story (that I’m willing to tell here) involved John being a judge for our 1972 Car of the Year award, which went to the Citroën SM. To say that the publishers were unhappy with that choice is an understatement. As John told it, no other car that year was even close to as good, and the funky, Maserati-powered French coupe was an obvious choice. While being yelled at for making such a poor choice, John reminded the yeller that the judges were told they were free to pick any car. To which John was told, “Any car but that car!”

The last time I was able to spend some real-time with John was almost two years ago in San Diego for a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen drive. After dinner, the two of us wound up drinking a bit too much craft beer with another equally mythological car guy, Ken Gross. What’d we talk about? The state of the world, the state of the industry, the damn kids, but most of all, cars. John and I got to bombard Ken with all sorts of suggestions for classes of cars he could showcase at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. I remember thinking I ought to spend more time with guys like that, and I should probably talk a whole lot less.

For decades and decades, nights like that were what John did. I’m eternally lucky to have spent a few with him, yet somber that there won’t be anymore. RIP, Mr. Lamm. I already miss you.

Ed Loh, Head of Editorial

One of my fondest memories of John was on my first Ferrari press trip, back in May of 2013. This wasn’t a driving event, but more of business and future product update with then Ferrari president (and arguably the most significant chief executive in the modern history of the brand), Luca di Montezemolo. He was holding court, in Italian, in front of a large audience of international fans and media. John and I were at the back of the hall, holding up the walls near the exit. He was giving me running commentary on Ferrari, others in the room, and rumored future products. After the speech, Luca came striding down the aisle, press and fans in tow, toward the exit. As he got closer his gaze shifted to us, or rather, John, at which point he stopped and said, in perfect Italian-inflected English, “John! Good to see you! How ARE you!? Thank you for coming!” As Luca waved and went out the door, a few members of the bewildered entourage looked at John, then each other, before dashing out the door. 

Photo courtesy Patrick Hong.

I remember John tilting his head and cracking out of the side of his mouth, “Well, I have known Luca since he started at the company.” I later learned that Luca started at the company in 1973 and was Enzo Ferrari’s personal assistant. And yeah, John knew the Old Man, too. 

Kim Reynolds, Testing Director

There were many John Lamms. The photographer John who could repeatedly talk Ferrari’s byzantine public relations department into letting him shoot at the Fiorano test track for just “ten more minutes”—and somehow, ten more after that, because he saw the light changing and they understood his infectious passion for perfection. Or the writer who once, in place of the word that doesn’t exist, had a drawing of a bent car inserted into his copy to describe how a rally car handled. Or the John who could regale a dinner table of jaded car journalists until the wine was gone, and they’d say afterward, “Gosh, John knows EVERYBODY”. Yet, the people in those stories would be much more eager to say they knew him. The most important John, though, was the one I only heard about via bits and pieces of conversation with others, the one who’s quiet helping of friends going through very tough times would make you—honestly amazed—think, I wish I was half as good a person as that. 

Mike Floyd, Director, Editorial Operations

My first glimpses of John were of him buzzing by me at an auto show, cameras flapping around his body, elbowing into the scrum to get the first shot of the hottest car on the floor. I remember thinking “who is this far out old man humping around the show like his life depended on it.” He made me feel like I had to pick up my game.

But that was John. He cared, he wanted to get the best shot, he wanted to do the job and do it to the best of his ability, no matter what the assignment. As I got to know him, he was always open, engaging, and relentlessly upbeat. And the man could spin a yarn. The people he got to know, the drives he did, the places he’d been. It was surreal. This is a man who knew Enzo Ferrari for crissakes, who had driven and hung out with the greatest racing drivers ever, who had seen and done things I could only imagine. The library of photos he’s taken rivals any in the automotive world. And he was so damn humble about it.

When I became the editor-in-chief of Automobile magazine, John was one of the first people I looked up about joining the team as a contributor, and he was more than eager to help, to offer words of wisdom. I will never forget him for that. He was a giant in our business and he didn’t even know it. I’m sad I didn’t get to properly thank him and say goodbye. But now he’s up there with the legends, having a beer and shooting the breeze. Right where he should be.