My old man swore by Haynes manuals. New (old) car; new Haynes manual to go with it. That was the unspoken but immediate rule. To me, as a child, the oil-stained book provided almost as much pleasure as the car itself. Here, after all, was everything you could possibly want to know about the unfathomable machine on the driveway, presented in the most instructive way possible. By then, of course, the format of step-by-step descriptions and photographs was long-established - but in the mid sixties, when John Haynes pioneered it while rebuilding a 'Frogeye' Sprite with a friend, the process must've seemed almost avant-garde in its clarity and newness.
It probably didn't seem that way to Haynes, a serving RAF officer at the time. For a practical man - one accustomed to dealing with complicated logistics - the idea of breaking down the engine renovation into stages so that it might be more easily explained to a layman would likely have struck him as good sense. Certainly the idea needed no time to take root with the wider public: the first Haynes manual, for the Austin Healey Sprite, sold out its print run in less than 3 months. The rest is history.
Haynes served as the Chairman of the Haynes Publishing Group until 2010, before becoming 'Founder Director'. His name has become synonymous not just with car maintenance, but the idea of instructional guides in general: there's an Owners' Workshop Manual for the Astute Class Submarine, the Millenium Falcon, the Boeing 707 and NASA's Skylab. In fact, the concept is sufficiently flexible to encompass almost any subject (Woman: A Practical Guide to Women's Health for Men was published in 2004).
The sheer breadth of the coverage testifies to a central and inherent truth about Haynes publications: that to carefully explain something complicated in detail is to consciously celebrate it. Owner's Workshop Manuals are useful because they explain how to take something apart and put it back together again - but they have become hugely famous beyond that basic remit because their scrupulous precision and earnestness speaks to the writer's affection for the subject matter. That was true of John Haynes and his friend's Sprite half a century ago, it was true for a kid reading about a Mk3 VW Passat, and it is true today. What a legacy.