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.
This pic is from 1957, but if you squint away the ‘50s cars in the background it could be from the ‘40s. That’s why we’re starting this series here. This is a scene from El Mirage Dry Lake in SoCal, where hot rods have been racing for top speed since the ‘30s. Imagine the outlaw scene: Guys were knocking the fenders off their cars to save weight then hopping up engines with homegrown tactics and getting thrown in jail for street racing in Los Angeles. It sounds like last week’s headlines, but it goes way back. The smart ones, to avoid Johnny Law, drove backroads for three-plus hours to remote desert dry lakes where they’d bivvy for three days and run side-by-side for top speed until the wee hours of the night. The racing had become organized and legit by the ‘50s, and the Southern California Timing Association still has six El Mirage races every year. You can go watch, or enter. (see SCTA-BNI.org). Parallel this with modern drifting getting started in the mountains of Japan and ending up mainstream.