By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy of the Petersen Archives
From Hot Rods to Choppers
A car’s electrical system can be a challenge for a do-it-yourself hobbyist. That’s why car magazines—for about as long as there have been car magazines—have covered the topic to help enlighten shade-tree mechanics.
For instance, Hot Rod magazine published an article in its June 1963 issue called “Wiring Made Easy” to illustrate the basic tools, hardware and steps needed to wire a hot-rod project. But the car in the opening photograph wasn’t just any hot rod. The subject car was the XR-6—a futuristic, built-from-scratch roadster that was the brainchild of Hot Rod’s LeRoi “Tex” Smith to “investigate the uses of modern ideas in hot-rod design,” as Smith described it. The XR-6 would go on to appear on the cover of Hot Rod’s August 1963 issue and also nab the coveted America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award at that year’s Oakland Roadster Show.
The article was written by the automotive electrician seen holding a roll of wire next to the XR-6’s chassis: Tom McMullen. Years before he built a publishing empire, McMullen operated Automotive Electric Engineering in La Habra, California, which specialized in wiring hot rods and race boats. His calling card was the now-iconic black-and-flamed ’32 Ford roadster he bought in 1958 and raced all over Southern California.
This article was one of several appearances McMullen made in Hot Rod in 1963. His car was featured on the magazine’s April cover, and its record-setting, 154-mph run at El Mirage dry lake was chronicled by Smith in the August issue.
By the mid ’60s, McMullen had given up the electrical business and was writing car-magazine articles as a freelancer, many based around work he did on his roadster. He also became interested in choppers and started a motorcycle parts business called AEE Choppers (AEE being a shortened version of his former business’s name).
In 1969, he and Smith started publishing Street Chopper magazine as a means to promote AEE Choppers. As it turned out, their timing was perfect: The film Easy Rider was also released in 1969, and with it came a huge interest in building and riding choppers just like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Soon Street Chopper was joined by a second magazine, Hot Bike, and TRM Publishing—named after McMullen and his second wife Rose—was on its way.