Haynes Manual Founder Dies, Aged 80

Even if you’re not mechanically minded enough to repair your own vehicle, your status as an automotive enthusiast has likely led to your encountering a Haynes Owner’s Workshop Manual at one point or another. Due to the wealth of information available within, this author purchased one for nearly every out-of-warranty model to ever pass through his ownership.

While the internet stole some of Haynes’ thunder, its paperback manuals (and their digital equivalents) are still an important resource for at-home mechanics and D.I.Y. types. Unfortunately, while browsing around for materials on the first-generation Eagle Talon, the Haynes website informed us that its founder recently passed away.

According to his obituary, John Harold Haynes passed away surrounded by family members on Friday, February 8th, after contending with a short and unspecified illness.

Born on March 25th, 1938 in Sri Lanka, Haynes lived on tea plantation before moving to the United Kingdom to attend the Sutton Valence School in Kent. But it wasn’t long before his true calling surfaced. By 1959, he had finished converting an Austin 7 into a lightweight racer, documenting the process in his first book — Building A 750 Special.

From there, he joined the Royal Air Force and started an amateur racing career before meeting his wife. In 1965, John was posted to Aden, Yemen, and it was there he developed the first Haynes Manual. An RAF colleague who had just purchased a secondhand Austin-Healey Sprite asked John to help him rebuild it. Haynes agreed, but found the official factory manual lacking — the booklet was clearly not designed to help a typical car owner.

He then purchased a camera and documented the process of dismantling and rebuilding the engine, utilizing a step-by-step sequence that would eventually frame the cutaway diagrams found in later Haynes Manuals. The book, published in 1966, sold out in less than three months. By 1979, Haynes Publishing Group PLC had entered the London Stock Exchange and was already printing books for industry professionals and adding new models, including motorcycles, to its print catalog.

The year 1985 saw the establishment of the Haynes International Motor Museum. Initially, it served as a place to showcase its founder’s private collection. However, the obituary states that the museum grew to house over 400 separate vehicles and sees over 125,000 visitors each year.

By 1995, John was honored as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his service in the field of publishing. A decade later, the Open University presented him with the honorary master’s degree.

For the most part, Haynes Manuals are written by two authors and take the better part of a year to complete. Vehicles are purchased, disassembled, and documented using Haynes’ previously established methodology. While all models are eventually sold, the publisher typically retains the vehicle throughout the duration of the writing process to ensure it still functions correctly after being put back together. While not always the case, manufacturers frequently provide technical information to aid in the process.

Haynes Manuals are now published in 15 different languages and deal with nearly 500 distinct models, with over 200 million copies sold around the world (not counting digital editions). It’s an incredible legacy for a man who forever changed the automotive realm by arming regular people with knowledge.

a version of this article first appeared on TTAC