Imagine what you could get away with if no one told you what wouldn’t work, there were no lawyers involved, the Internet wasn’t there to call you an idiot, stuff was dirt cheap, and you were fearless about pounding things out with your own hands and limited resources. No idea too crazy, no goal unreachable, no contraption too outlandish. That was hot rodding, ’50s style. We feel obligated to instill you car-loving newcomers with a sense of awe for the ingenuity and action of the original hot rodders who created our hobby. We’ll do that here, with plenty of images that may seem like they came from your great-granddaddy’s scrapbook but that make Roadkill Show exploits look mainstream.
The photos here came from the archives of Petersen Publishing (aka Trend Publishing for a few years), the company that founded Motor Trend and Hot Rod magazines, which are the roots of Roadkill Show. These photos are also from Petersen titles such as Car Craft, Rod & Custom, Motor Life, and Sports Car Graphic. The shooters themselves are legendary—Eric Rickman and Bob D’Olivo in particular—and the moments they captured show us how the car life really was. And it was pretty incredible, especially if you think of these accomplishments in the context of the never-before-seen newness of the time. We’ll parcel out this magic in easy bite-sized pieces. Look at the photo, learn the names, go use the Google for more and BAM, your afternoon will be gone. Sorry, not sorry.
By the mid-’50s hot rodding had already grown bigger than just Model A and ’32 Ford roadsters. Interests were expanding, and the market for homemade cars grew. It’s shocking how many backyard operations sprung up offering frame kits and fiberglass bodies and how many people eschewed even those readymade conveniences when building one-off cars. Perhaps the most skilled of them was Bob Sorrell, capable of amazing hand-pounded aluminum coachwork. From his yard he showed Car Craft magazine how he built a wooden buck for shaping his SR100 sports car body and then how he turned that aluminum body into fiberglass. Car Craft advised readers to do similar projects themselves. Sorrell sold just a few cars, one of which was the Car Craft sample built for Dick Laine with a chassis from a Kurtis Kraft sports car and a GMC inline-six engine like the one in ROADKILL’s Pigpen junkyard truck. Well, not exactly like it, but you know what we mean.