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The life and work of LJK Setright

2 years ago

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Gavin Green | Journalist


20 January 2023

To his devotees – and there were many – he was the finest motoring writer who ever lived. He was certainly the most distinctive, both in his dress and his prose, and surely the most intellectual.

Leonard John Kensell Setright – commonly known as LJK Setright or just ‘LJKS’ – wrote about cars with a poetic elegance not seen before, or since. His intellectual rigour was underpinned by an exhaustive knowledge of engineering, history and classical culture. If his names are unfamiliar to you, he was a columnist for Car magazine for over 30 years from the 1960s to the turn of the century, under the editorships of fellow Ti contributor Mel Nichols, Steve Cropley and others – including me.

As a writer on car history, he was, I believe, unrivalled: his masterpiece – Drive On! A Social History of the Motor Car – is the most elegantly written and learned car history book I’ve read. Its scope is breathtaking, including references to Sumerian traffic and Russian constructivism, as well as Einstein, Engels and more obvious motoring related themes, including how cars influenced fashion and initiated the move to lightweight clothing. The title, though, clearly wasn’t his. As with all decent writers, LJK Setright avoided exclamation marks.

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