Matt Stone on the writer as shooter. Above: Len loved Alfa Romeos. He sold them, wrote about them, raced them, worked on them, and of course photographed them (Alfa Abarth photo by Len Frank)
The late Len Frank was not an automotive photographer, at least not in the classical sense. His camera equipment was old and outdated, and I never once saw him use something so exotic as a tripod. Len used to ask me highly technical questions about the art of shooting cars, such as “what type of film should I use?” or “I shot this roll of ASA 100 film with my camera meter set at ASA 400. Do think it will be OK?”.
But goodness knows, he had an eye: an eye for style and color, an eye for interesting automobiles, even an eye for cars with a sense of humor. As with many automotive journalists, Len enjoyed the opportunity to travel extensively, and he always made time to seek out interesting places, subjects—and cars. Fortunately, he usually had a camera with him, and snapped away. This was apparently for his own enjoyment, and/or for documentary purposes, as very few of his photos ever appeared in print as elements of the articles he wrote.
Not long after Len passed away, his son Stefan entrusted me with Len’s research files, manuscripts, negatives, and slides. I’ve found the stewardship of these materials to be rewarding, yet somehow daunting: I’m honored to have them in my care, yet aware that nearly 20 years of a man’s life’s work is in my trust. Talk about an awesome responsibility.
The filing system Len devised for his ’scripts and stories was reasonably well organized; the same could not be said for his slides and negatives. “The Archive” amounted to several somewhat dusty file boxes, each containing hundreds of little packages of slides – some as if fresh from the lab. Amazingly, several dozen packages had never even been opened, and there were even a few rolls of unprocessed film. I felt like an archeologist, unearthing treasure that had not been touched or seen by man in centuries. Sometimes, just for the pure unmitigated heck of it, I’ll close my eyes, dig my hand into one of the containers, fish around a bit, and pull out a box of slides. Like a grab bag at a kid’s birthday party, you never knew what might be inside, but the anticipation is half the fun.
I’ve found that most of Len’s images fall into one of three categories: largely routine, barely discernible—or utterly amazing. I’ll admit to becoming a bit misty-eyed more than once. Many knew Len only through his words, in this section, you’ll get a glimpse of him from another angle: through his eyes, with the aid of a camera. No matter the medium, it all still boils down to Len Frank and cars—a natural pairing if there ever was one.
The late Len Frank was the legendary co-host of “The Car Show”—the first and longest-running automotive broadcast program on the airwaves. Len was also a highly regarded journalist, having served in editorial roles with Motor Trend, Sports Car Graphic, Popular Mechanics, and a number of other publications. LA Car is proud to once again host “Look Down the Road – The Writings of Len Frank” within its pages. Special thanks to another long-time automotive journalist, Matt Stone, who has been serving as the curator of Len Frank’s archives since his passing in 1996. Now, you’ll be able to view them all in one location under the simple search term “Len Frank”, or just click this link: Look Down The Road. – Roy Nakano