The Society of Automotive Historians

Beverly Rae Kimes (1939-2008)

Kit Foster wrote the following tribute to Beverly Rae Kimes in issue 235 of the SAH Journal, July-August 2008.

Beverley Rae Kimes, former Society President, Friend of Automotive History and world class historian and writer, passed away May 12, 2008 after a lingering illness.  For decades the First Lady of Automotive History, she was the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on motoring topics, and the recipient of countless awards and honors.

Born in West Chicago, Illinois on August 17, 1939, she was the daughter of Raymond and Grace Perrin Kimes.  Her father was a railroad man, her mother a comptometer operator for Sears, Roebuck in Chicago until leaving to become a fulltime homemaker after her marriage.  Bev grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, not far from the Chicago & North Western tracks where all the trains whistled as they passed to salute “Rae Kimes’s daughter.”  She was graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana, with degrees in History and Journalism.

In 1963, she received a Masters of Arts degree in Journalism from Pennsylvania State University, then went to New York City hoping to write for theater publications.  Instead, she found a job with a fledging automobile magazine, Scott Bailey’s Automobile Quarterly.  Hired as a secretary, she soon found her name on the masthead as Editorial Assistant, shortly Assistant Editor.  Within two years she had risen to Associate Editor and was subsequently Managing Editor.  She was promoted to Editor in 1975, a post she held until leaving to go free lance in 1981.

After leaving AQ she became Executive Editor at the Classic Car Club of America, producing their magazine The Classic Car and newsletter Classic car Bulletin until her final illness.  The Classic Car received SAH’s Richard and Grace Brigham Award in 1995.  She authored two books for CCCA, The Classic Car, published in 1990 and The Classic Era, which received the Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot Award as the best book of 2001 in the field of automotive history.

Over the years she received six Cugnot awards, more than any other author.  The first was for Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company (1978), an anthology of the Packard history published by Automobile Quarterly Books in 1978, and her last was Pioneers, Engineers and Scoundrels: The Dawn of the Automobile in America (2005), published by SAE International.  In between were My Two Lives: Racing Driver to Restaurateur (1983), jointly written with René Dreyfus and published by Aztec Corporation; The Star and the Laurel (1986), a centennial history of Mercedes-Benz; and her magnum opus, the Standard Catalog of American Cars 1905-1942, published by Krause in three editions from 1985 to 1996.  While recognized as the standard reference for prewar cars built in the United States, the Standard Catalog is much more, including narrative entries for all marques, no matter how obscure, even those ventures that never produced a car.  If anyone thought about building an automobile, Beverly described it in the Catalog.

A full Kimes biography is difficult to compile because she had a profound influence on far more volumes than ever carried her name on their spines.  Similarly, the complete list of her articles, which must number in the hundreds, is inestimable, partly because, for publisher’s policy or personal effacement, she sometimes wrote under noms de plume.  Automobile Quarterly would not permit its staffers more than one byline per issue, and thus was born “Cullen Thomas,” a composite family of names.  To lessen her footprint in The Classic Car she published articles by “Ralph Cox,” the name of the 1930 Auburn in which she and her husband Jim Cox, toured extensively.  Her articles on Ken Purdy, Henry Austin Clark, Jr., and Walter Dorwin Teague, Jr.’s design of the Marmon HCM V-12, all earned her Carl Benz Awards from SAH.

Beyond that were the articles she ghost-wrote or re-wrote for others.  Skilled at repairing fractured prose without corrupting the author’s voice, she occasionally met her match.  One particularly difficult contributor, she told me, led her through re-write after re-write before pulling the article back.  “It just doesn’t sound like me,” he complained, and as Bev related, “it didn’t.  That was the point of re-writing it, after all.  But that did not stop him from having the revision published in another magazine.”

Bev was late in coming to SAH, partly because AQ policy that kept staffers at arms-length from all automotive organizations.  Enrolled as member 808 in November 1980, she was soon appointed to chair the Publications Committee, of which she’s been a member, except for brief sabbaticals, ever since.  She organized events such as our first automotive silent auction, and for many years produced the biennial membership directories, including the mammoth task of indexing members’ interests.  She was elected a Friend of Automotive History, our highest award, in 1986.  Her selection might have come sooner, but from the outset she had insisted on being part of the Committee.  Losing an election for President by one vote because she had modestly cast hers for her opponent, she was persuaded to stand again and was successful, heading the Society from 1987 to 1989.

Her accolades stretch far beyond SAH.  Her work also earned several Moto Awards from the International Automotive Media Awards and the Thomas McKean Memorial Cup from the Antique Automobile Club of America.  Beverly received a Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1993, and was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award by IAMA on 2005.  For 17 years she served as the voice of the Concours d’Elegance of the Eastern United States in Pennsylvania, and was also an Honorary Judge at Pebble Beach.

In addition to SAH and CCCA, Beverly was a member of AACA and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club.  She and Jim had upwards of 50,000 miles of touring in “Ralph” the Auburn.  Ralph was recently donated to the ACD Museum in Auburn, Indiana.

Bev’s interests included much more than journalism and automobiles.  She loved New York City, and served as president of the block association in her Upper East Side neighbourhood.  She was also an officer in the University of Illinois Alumni Club of Greater New York.

Mentor to many and an inspiration to all, she never let her advancing illness get in the way of deadlines.  With Jim assisting as archivist, research assistant and co-author, she completed one last book, Walter L. Marr: Buick’s Amazing Engineer.  Published by Racemaker Press, it appeared just before her death.  Few would quarrel with her calling her the First Lady of Automotive History.  Some of us might presumptuously nominate ourselves for the equivalent masculine title, but in comparison we are but drones.

Beverly is survived by her husband of 24 years, Jim Cox and a sister, Sharon Sauer of Star Lake, Wisconsin.