Organizers of the first High Performance and Custom Trade Show, which was held 50 years ago at Dodger Stadium, recognized early on that the Show needed to move out of the ballpark’s halls and into a proper convention facility for it to have any growth potential. The second show—already being referred to as the SEMA Show—did just that, relocating in 1968 to the Anaheim Convention Center.
There are two icons of hot rodding in this photo from Rod & Custom’s December 1960 article about organizing tools. One is the magazine’s associate editor, Neal East. The other is the distinctive ’32 Ford that is best known as the Doane Spencer roadster.
Auto racing is a dangerous sport. Always has been. The challenge of mitigating the potential for injury—or worse—has resulted in technological advances in every aspect of racing, from the driver’s personal gear to vehicle structure and even the construction of the race venue.
It’s November 1974 in Anaheim, California, and Robert E. Petersen (left) and Vic Edelbrock Jr. are cutting the ceremonial ribbon to mark the opening of the eighth SEMA Show. Both men had been deeply involved with the forming of the trade show since its beginnings in the drafty corridors of Dodger Stadium in January 1967. But smiles on their faces aside, both were staring down an uncertain future in the mid ’70s.
Bill Burke is credited with recognizing the competitive edge that could come from adapting a World War II fighter plane’s drop tank—the very essence of streamlining—into a land-speed racer. As he tells it, he first noticed the wing tanks in Guadalcanal while watching sailors unload them off a barge. A hot rodder before the war, Burke measured the tanks and figured that their dimensions could accommodate a Ford rearend and engine block.
In the mid-’50s, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) dispatched its Drag Safari to cross the country, preaching the gospel of safe, organized drag racing and helping local car clubs set up drag races of their own. Everything the Safari team needed to put on a race—from timing equipment to microphones and speakers—was loaded into a travel trailer and towed from coast to coast by a station wagon. (That same trailer, by the way, now enjoys retirement at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California.)
In its March 1962 issue, Rod & Custom magazine launched a series of Rod Tests, in which its editors put hot rods and custom cars through the same kind of driving evaluation that new cars got in Motor Trend and other buff books of the time.
Well, not really, if you look closely at the Malibu shore in the background. But Eric Rickman’s November 1962 photo shoot of John Wileman and Dave Smith’s ’34 Ford panel truck was riding a wave—sorry, couldn’t resist—of an exploding interest in surf culture. And hot rodding was along for the ride.
In June 1974, Petersen Publishing Company photographer Pat Brollier captured three iconic figures in one candid photograph. At left is actor Martin Sheen, next to him is Pete Chapouris, and behind them is Chapouris’ trend-setting ’34 Ford three-window coupe. They were there for the filming of The California Kid, an ABC television movie of the week. Brollier and Hot Rod magazine staffer Gray Baskerville traveled to the Soledad Canyon location north of Los Angeles to catch some of the action for a story to appear in Hot Rod’s October issue.
Given the lengthy schedule of events put on by the NHRA today, it’s hard to imagine a time when the drag-racing sanctioning body had just one national event on its calendar: The National Championships—or “The Big Go,” as Hot Rod magazine liked to call it. So when a second national meet was added in 1961, it was a very big deal.