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Iain ‘Robbo’ Robertson – 18th May 1954 – 22nd December 2023

By autotech-nath on March 12, 2024

As our regular ‘Tailpipe’ section celebrates notable figures in our community, it is fitting that Autotechnician pays tribute to our friend, colleague and inventor of this column, who died just before Christmas.

For many years, Iain composed not just Tailpipe but also AT’s new car reviews and technical overviews. Yet, you may well have come across ‘Robbo’s’ work elsewhere. Since the late 1970s, he wrote for more than 200 motoring outlets. Over a career spanning 40 years, his output was so proliferous that the head of communications of a major German manufacturer dubbed Iain, “The UK’s busiest motoring writing freelancer.”

Like many of us who earn our livings from vehicles, be it selling, repairing, or writing about them, Iain’s fascination with motorcars and writing originated in childhood. Jim Clark was his hero. He was also influenced greatly by Mr Leonard J K Setright, the words of whom he would turn to first, after saving sufficient pocket money to bag his monthly copy of Small Car (and later CAR) magazine. Iain described LJKS as ‘Quiet but potentially lethal’. The two would cross paths, quite literally, in the mid-1990s at the BMW E39 press launch, when Iain dared to overtake LJKS’s matching 530i, a move that was seen as career suicide by his shocked colleagues. Thankfully, the move led to an enduring friendship. Like LJKS, Iain had a swift driving style, yet, he was never reckless. Iain, for instance, would not drive at illegal speeds in towns, while insisting to his passengers that ‘God would look after them.’

Stirling Moss ignited the young Iain’s fascination with motorsport, leading him to become a budding amateur racer. This led to him rubbing shoulders with various professional champions over the decades. He spoke fondly of Erik ‘On The Roof’ Carlsson, who married Patricia, Stirling’s sister, a respected rally driver in her own right. They got on so well that, on the Saab 9-3 Viggen’s press launch in the late 1990s, ‘Uncle Erik’ admitted privately to Iain that there was nothing he could have done to change the car’s poor handling and that it was “dog”. Even so, Iain’s niche was ice-driving. After winning an award at the mountain circuit in Italy’s western Alps, piloting a Lancia Delta, he said that the resulting respect gifted him the vital confidence that he needed to make his mark professionally. To enable him to review and test new motor cars properly, he embarked on a series of gruelling

driver training exercises, including off-road at Land Rover’s Eastnor Castle and learning the art of control at Oulton Park’s skid pan with Porsche 911s. Yet, he viewed on-road experience as similarly vital and undertook advanced training exercises with both the IAM and RoSPA. At the dawn of the new millennium, Iain competed in and won economy-driving competitions both at home and abroad.

Iain’s career coincided with motoring manufacturers having access to and the ability to spend eye-watering budgets on their media exercises. Car companies would treat journalists to the best hotels, employ the finest chefs and entertain them with top celebrities. While 2008’s financial crash, COVID, and the rush to electrification put paid to these ‘good times’, Iain remained grounded. He had a deep fondness for inexpensive but well-engineered cars. He was a particular fan of Skodas but, when he felt that the brand had lost its value-for-money remit, he switched to Suzuki. While not a practical man, he held a great respect for the aftermarket. Whether tuners, or all-makes repairers, he took a great interest in the ingenuity employed within the garage trade. While he was never afraid to voice his opinion, he enjoyed interviewing and meeting the great men and women on this side of the industry, some of whom even became friends, as the tribute from Hayley Pells shows: We also count ourselves lucky to have worked with him and to have benefitted from his wisdom over the years.

Iain Robertson was a regular Autotechnician contributor and a prolific automotive writer of over 40 years.


About Autotechnician
Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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