Jim Dunne, father of the automotive spy photo, dies

X Scalper

Dunne was born in 1932 and served three years in the U.S. Army as a reconnaissance specialist, rising to the rank of E5. He graduated from the University of Detroit in 1958 with a degree in industrial engineering and promptly became a journalist.

He sold his spy photos to many media outlets, including Automotive News and Autoweek. I recall seeing Dunne stroll into the Autoweek offices every couple of weeks, a sleeve of slides in an envelope, a smile on his face. Then-editor Matt DeLorenzo would welcome him, they’d retreat into DeLo’s office and the shots were published in the next issue of Autoweek — this was back when print was the only medium and Autoweek came out every week.

“Jim was terrific at sharing the secrets of his trade,” said DeLorenzo. “He was brazen, with his motto that you have to look like you belong. That’s why he’d always wear a blue blazer, gray slacks and a tie. He’d walk into some places, maybe holding a clipboard and true to his amiable personality, begin chatting people up. The best spies are the ones who look like they’re part of the team rather than someone skulking about in the shadows. He’ll be missed.”

“Jim and I were serious competitors, yet we always remained good friends,” said fellow spy photographer Brenda Priddy. “I last saw Jim in January. We had lunch at Ford’s Garage, and then he took me to the airport. I wanted to visit Jim last week, but he didn’t want friends to see him so ill. He still talked about taking a road trip to Arizona to visit me, and then on to California to spend time with his family, but we both knew that wasn’t going to happen. We attempted to talk on the phone, although there were lots of tears on both ends.

“I shouldn’t feel sad. Jim had a long life filled with success, happiness, love, many good friends, and until recently, good health. But even as we celebrate his life, my heart is breaking. And so are so many others.”

Jim Dunne’s son Tim worked at Autoweek for several years in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Many was the night we spent playing basketball on Jim Dunne’s driveway court, occasionally smacking dents in the sculpted aluminum garage doors with our missed shots. Sorry about the dents, Jim. But he never complained. He was glad to have us around.

The advent of the Internet and the camera phone, and a half a million kids all thinking they were getting an exclusive, suddenly made everyone a spy photographer, and the great Jim Dunne retired from the business he had created, if not from readers’ memories.

Dunne brought us a lot of sneak peeks over the years — of new Corvettes, Mustangs and many more mundane models, always with a slight smirk at the corner of his smile, as if he’d gotten away with something every time. He had, of course, and car enthusiasts were always the beneficiaries, even if the car manufacturers winced a little — or a lot — every time he did it.

Goodbye, Jim Dunne. Thanks for all the looks ahead.

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