Digest Magazines

I've got to admit it, I'm a magazine junkie. Always have been. Naturally, the hot rod & custom car stuff is at the top of the list. In fact, reading car magazines instead of text books was a big factor in making me a proper gearhead later in life. But I missed these little ones the first time around because, well... let's say I couldn't read yet. However, I find that the digest sized magazines from the 1950's and the early part of the 1960's are an unusual trip into the past that reveal a lot about the present.

There were west coast publications, and there were east coast publications. The west coast mags had cool names like
Hop Up, Honk, Car Craft, and Rod & Custom. In the east Rodding & Restyling, Custom Cars, and Custom Rodder kept tabs on the latest trends. Honk later morphed into Car Craft (after 7 issues) but it was still a digest magazine for almost ten years before it grew into a full size magazine. It then took another few years to focus on drag racing almost exclusively.

Most of these mini magazines vanished over time, but Car Craft adapted to changing automotive tastes and is still being published albeit with considerably different content. Rod & Custom was merged with Hot Rod magazine in 1971. Most considered the merger as the end of the long time favorite, but it returned to news stands a little over a year later, only to be promptly killed again. After almost everyone had forgotten about it, it returned again in the late 1980's and is still going strong. Timing is apparently everything. The original Hop Up has been gone for well over 50 years, but it has returned in the cyber era as a web site and as a very well done annual publication. Change is a constant we can always count on.

You could learn a lot of tricks in the pages of these smallish journals. Everything from a how-to on making nerf bars, to a detailed article on making bucket seats from a shopping cart. No wonder they disappeared from the groceries! "Restyling" was a hot topic, and this is from an era when customizing was practiced on new or nearly new vehicles. When you used a lead paddle and pieces of other cars to create something different. Seen anyone customize a new car lately? No, spinner wheel covers, and glue-on fender portholes don't count. I'm talking real customizing, with a torch, and a Sawzall.

Of course, the Memphis Rodders got some ink as well. I noticed coverage of an NHRA meet held at Halls TN, in the June 1959 issue of Rod & Custom. It was the Tennessee state championships, and apparently a lot of heavy hitters showed up from out of state. Ernie Schorb and none other than Ray Godman provided photo coverage, and revealed a lot of very innovative and competitive machines to the typically young readers of the day. Marshall Robillio is one of the Rodders who was on hand for the race at the Halls airstrip, and is shown prepping his Chevy powered 32 Ford roadster in the now yellowing pages. Follow along for a few months, and you'll see coverage of the NHRA Nationals in Detroit wherein Ray Godman, and Red Dyer won the A/MR roadster class and went on to the runner-up spot in top eliminator.

Of course, the ads in these old magazines are nothing short of amazing. Lots of low-buck, neat stuff for the hot rodder and custom car enthusiast. Not a single high dollar CNC machined wheel in sight. Speed parts were peddled by companies like Honest Charley Speed Shop, J.C. Whitney, and Almquist. Club jackets, intakes, superchargers, tube grills and "weirdo shirts" were advertised with regularity along with an unbelievable variety of go-kart manufacturers.

So if you want to revisit a simpler way of doing things, find some of these little magazines at a swap meet or on Ebay. You can probably still hide them in your history book, just in case you don't want your teacher to know what you're really reading, but it's OK to look upon them with newfound pride and find out how something old can be new again. After all, inspiration can come from some unexpected sources.