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.
Few cars have won the coveted America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) trophy twice, but Bob Reisner’s wild custom, called the Invader, did just that 50—and 49—years ago.
John Thawley, writing in the September 1967 issue of Hot Rod magazine, perfectly described that ever-elusive Holy Grail of car mods: bolt-on horsepower. Ford lent the magazine a brand-new (1,300-mile) ’67 Mustang with a two-barrel-carbed 289, a C4 automatic transmission and 3.50 gears. Thawley used the chassis dyno at Ak Miller’s Garage to measure the V8’s output and a number of Southern California dragstrips to put his mods to the test.
It’s 1978, and then-SEMA President Leo Kagan is driving an antique car onto the floor of the SEMA Show in just its second year at the Las Vegas Convention Center. In the back seat of the car are Robert and Margie Petersen, who were instrumental in producing the very first SEMA Show back in 1967.
In late September of 1955, the NHRA staged its first-ever National Championship Drag Races in Great Bend, Kansas. The first car to make a pass at this historic event was Art Chrisman’s Hemi-powered no. 25 dragster. That’s Art in the cockpit as dignitaries (including NHRA founder Wally Parks, at right) perform the event’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.