Thirty-five years ago this month, 92 Mustang owners found the first issue of the Mustang Exchange Letter in their mailboxes. It was simply three 8½x14-inch quick-print pages folded in half and stapled together by Larry Dobbs at his dining room table. Two months later, Larry heard about John Paradise's similar venture, the Super Ford Parts Exchange, in New York. Fearing that Ford enthusiasts would confuse the new publications, Larry changed the name of his little magazine to Mustang Monthly.
My subscription started with that first issue with the new name, having sent in my $7 after spotting Larry's ad in Hemmings Motor News. Back then, Mustang Monthly was a buy-sell-and-trade publication because, as owners of "old" Mustangs, we repaired, improved, and hopped up our '65-'73 models with used parts. There were no reproductions in those days; we were a few years away from Scott Drake's first reproduction parts.
Of course, I never imagined that I would start working for Larry less than two years later. Heck, I never imagined working for a magazine, not to mention having "editor” next to my name. When I moved into my first office (more like a closet, see photo) in 1980, Mustang Monthly was a legitimate magazine with how-to articles and color features. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Larry was also sweating the $5,000 he had just spent for a 2⁄3-page black-and-white ad in the December 1980 Hot Rod magazine. His gamble delivered over 5,000 subscribers, doubling the circulation and providing some stability to his small organization with enough left over to publish our first book, How to Restore Your Mustang.
From there, things took off. How to Restore Your Mustang, published in 1981, rose to the top of Classic Motorbooks' best-seller list. Larry started hiring a real staff so there was no more driving across town to lay out the magazine at a local shopper newspaper. After my first visit to Ford's Photo Media resulted in hundreds of beautiful Mustang color photos, we published the Mustang Recognition Guide, which also sold well. We started another magazine, Classic Sixties, then rolled it into the purchase of Car Collector to form Car Review magazine, which lives on today as Musclecar Review. In less than 10 years, Dobbs Publications grew from the Mustang Exchange Letter to nearly 10 special interest magazines, most of them automotive.
But things weren't always rosy. Publishing the all-color Mustang Recognition Guide was an expensive proposition, and the lag time between paying the printer and having books to sell resulted in layoffs for some and a two-week shutdown without pay for the rest of us—during Christmas. Most staffers came to work anyway; we loved our jobs and knew we had to get the next issue of Mustang Monthly in the mail to subscribers. Fortunately, the Mustang Recognition Guide sold well. Larry was able to rehire the laid-off staff and keep the company—and Mustang Monthly—rolling.
Longtime subscribers often ask about Larry Dobbs so I'll provide an update. Since selling Dobbs Publishing Group to Petersen Publishing in 1999, Larry has been semi-retired, consulting for small businesses and spending more time with his church work. He lost his first wife, Judy, to cancer but has since remarried, and now splits his home life between Nashville, Tennessee, and Lakeland, Florida, where he laid it all on the line to start Mustang Monthly in 1980.