SEMA News—July 2015
Motorama Milk Truck
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archive
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 1954, the show’s name changed to the International Motor Review and Motorama so that the Petersen shows wouldn’t be confused with the Motorama traveling car shows GM was holding at the time. The final Petersen show of the ’50s was held in 1955.
The Petersen Motorama made a one-year comeback in 1966, staged in conjunction with the NHRA’s Winternationals drag race. Like the previous shows, it took place at the Pan Pacific, and it featured a mix of hot rods, race cars, antiques and classics. But new on the scene were some of the wild custom cars being produced by the likes of George Barris, Dean Jeffries and a relative newcomer to the custom car world, Dan Woods.
A year before, the teenaged Woods had debuted his wild Milk Truck at the Tridents Car Show in Los Angeles and won the Grand Sweepstakes award, upstaging other entries from more established builders. Woods crafted the Milk Truck using junkyard, surplus and other cast-off or dirt-cheap pieces that were formed into this award-winning custom, thanks to his fabrication skills and keen design sense. The frame was scrounged from a Model A Ford, the single front coil spring was off a Corvair, the engine came out of a ’57 Pontiac and the truck’s original pearl-white paint was shot by Woods himself.
After the Tridents show win, Rod & Custom magazine put the Milk Truck on its August 1965 cover, and Woods’ talents earned him a job with Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.
By the time the Milk Truck was displayed at the 1966 Motorama, Woods had traded it to hot-rodder Bob Reisner in exchange for a T-bucket roadster. Now called the Milk Wagon, it looked different, too, wearing Cragar wheels and a custom paint job by Larry Watson.
This photo of the Milk Truck, “with Sandy Layne at the throttle,” ran in the May 1966 issue of Hot Rod magazine in a story about the Motorama written by Dick Wells. At the time, Wells was a feature editor at the magazine, but he would soon be instrumental in staging the first High Performance & Custom Trade Show at Dodger Stadium—considered the very first SEMA Show.