“What happened to my graphics staff?” muses Jean Jennings, president and editor-in-chief of Automobile magazine, repeating a question asked of her. “Well, that’s pretty easy. They went to Car and Driver.

Creative director Darin Johnson and design director Nathan Schroeder traded Automobile‘s downtown digs for Car and Driver‘s south-side office in August. Their sleek redesign of the nation’s largest car magazine debuted with the January issue.

“It’s more Esquire-ish, more like a men’s magazine, says Car and Driver editor Eddie Alterman. “It’s crafted–not [the look of] a hobbyist magazine.”

Some local car enthusiasts also see echoes of Automobile. Mark Sienko, a project manager at Carl Zeiss, notices more pictures of cars in motion and photos that extend to the edge of the page. Louis Leonard, president of Drake’s Batter Mix–who drives a Cadillac CTS 4 to his office in Marshall–sees a kinship in the “big, bold” typography.

Alterman seems surprised by that reaction. He says the look he inherited when he took over at C&D last year had too much “noise and clutter….The redesign is a modern version of what people originally liked about Car and Driver before the redesign of 2006.”

Jennings of Automobile says any resemblance is “their problem, not mine. It’s just an old saying that is absolutely true–with change comes opportunity. So it is my opportunity to bring in a new creative director and team that will completely change the look of the magazine.”

David E. Davis, Jr., moved Car and Driver to Ann Arbor from Manhattan in 1976–and went on to launch Automobile here in 1986. Davis brought Jennings with him from C&D, and talent has moved back and forth ever since. “Automobile alumni are everywhere,” says Jennings. “Eddie [Alterman] started as a gofer at Automobile when he was a U-M college student.” Even Davis is back at C&D–he now writes a column for Alterman.

“It’s always bad when somebody moves, but why would I have hard feelings?” Jennings says. “I am a fan of car magazines. And we all must do well. It’s always exciting to see something change and grow, and that magazine has been stagnant for a long, long time.

“It’s a different magazine, though,” Jennings stresses. “This is a feature-based magazine, and they are a road test magazine.” She points out proudly that Automobile “is the first car magazine that has ever won the National Magazine Award”–last year, for columns by Jamie Kitman.

In announcing the award, the American Society of Magazine Editors wrote that Kitman “unflinchingly puts the screws to Detroit’s Big Three for their sputtering finances, bad decisions and stalled creativity.” But some of his best columns describe his own bad automotive decisions–he’s a sucker for old, trouble-prone European sports cars.