Petersen Publishing Company photographer Pat Brollier captured two hot-rodding legends hard at work on this day in May 1961. On the left is Mickey Thompson, who a year earlier became the first American to go faster than 400 mph in his four-engine Challenger streamliner on the Bonneville Salt Flats. On the right is Bill Burke, who set a personal milestone of his own at Bonneville in 1960.
While in the Petersen Archive researching last month’s tribute to George Barris, we ran across this photo of the ’55 Lincoln Futura show car. The man under the canopy is Benson Ford, son of Edsel and grandson of Henry Ford, who was taking the sharp-edged show car for a publicity spin around Manhattan.
When George Barris, the “King of the Kustomizers,” passed away in November at the age of 89, the stories and obituaries in the mainstream media focused on his television and movie cars—especially the original Batmobile, which he built for the campy ’60s TV show in just 15 days by modifying Ford’s ’55 Lincoln Futura concept car. Lost in much of the reportage was the reason Barris wore that crown in the first place.
Concept cars and styling exercises—especially those from the ’50s and ’60s—were often just that: exercises to showcase a designer’s wild ideas about the future of automotive design. Sometimes they previewed a production model to come, but more often they were the result of a fertile imagination coupled with whatever styling trend was current at the time.
What a difference a year makes. While the first High Performance and Custom Trade Show drew about 100 exhibitors to the drafty halls of Dodger Stadium in 1967, the second edition a year later moved to the modern, well-lit Anaheim Convention Center, where 140 exhibitors used 201 10x10-ft. booths to display their products and make their 1968 sales pitches to 3,800 distributors and dealers from all over this country, Mexico and Canada.
There are names synonymous with automotive performance: Iskenderian, Edelbrock, Hilborn, Weiand. Those who know Louis Senter and understand his achievements in performance and the automotive aftermarket rank him right up there with those other pioneers. Yet his isn’t the same kind of household name in this industry. That’s because when Louis and his brother Sol took on Jack Andrews as a partner in their new Los Angeles speed shop in the mid ’40s, they named it Ansen Engineering, a combination of the principles’ last names.
Some 10 years after its founding, Hot Rod was branching out, looking for new trends to appeal to its speed-hungry readers. Late ’50s and early ’60s issues continued to cover the traditional hot-rodding venues—Bonneville, Indianapolis, Pikes Peak and NHRA-sanctioned dragstrips across the country—but other forms of motorsport were appearing regularly, too.
In the days of hot rodding’s infancy, there were a lot of ways—and places—to go fast if you lived in Southern California. Top-speed runs at the desert dry lakes had been going on since before World War II; drag racing was beginning to boom for those whose speed needs could be contained in a quarter-mile; and oval tracks flourished throughout the area, drawing everything from rough-and-tumble jalopies to nitro-fed midgets.
Not content with launching just a publishing empire, Robert E. Petersen put on a series of car shows in the early ’50s that he called Motorama. The first one was held in 1950 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, but later shows were staged at the art deco palace that was the Pan Pacific Auditorium. Hot rods, Bonneville race cars, drag racers and custom cars straight from the pages of Petersen’s magazines made up a big portion of these Motorama shows, but they also included new cars, antiques, motorcycles and classics from the ’30s and ’40s.
In late 1963, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was a busy guy. By that point in his career, he had built the Outlaw, Beatnik Bandit and Tweedy Pie—cars that established him as one of the premier (and wackiest) car customizers on the West Coast. Model maker Revell took notice of Roth’s creations and began offering scale versions of them as well as model kits of Roth’s freaky monsters, including Mr. Gasser, Drag Nut and Rat Fink.