By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Publishing Co. Archive
Open for Business!
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.
The high-performance frenzy that began building steam in the late ’50s and hit its peak a decade later was threatened at its very core by impending government legislation in the name of clean air on one hand and gas crises and the resulting rise in fuel costs on another. Where once Petersen could count on Detroit muscle to fill the pages of his magazines—from both advertising and editorial standpoints—now Hot Rod and Motor Trend were promoting fuel-economy tips and tiny subcompact cars (and, crazily enough, vans).
Edelbrock, too, had to take on the new emissions regulations on two fronts: adapting his speed-parts company to develop emissions-compliant products and, as SEMA’s chairman of the board from 1971–1975, working on behalf of the entire performance industry to ensure that Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency didn’t essentially padlock engine compartments.
Yet on this November morning in 1974, both men look happy, relaxed and ready to do business. They would weather those stormy times and lead their companies to even bigger successes in the
Both of these aftermarket pioneers are gone now. Petersen passed away 10 years ago at the age of 80. Coincidentally, Edelbrock was 80 when he died June 9. However, their contributions to this industry are indelible and ongoing.
The publishing empire that Petersen built still thrives, albeit under different ownership and in digital media as well as on paper. In name, Petersen’s legacy is most obvious on the landmark Los Angeles automotive museum that his gifts founded and continue to maintain.
Edelbrock’s legacy lives on, too, in the too-many-to-count intake manifolds, cylinder heads, camshafts, superchargers and other speed parts bearing the graceful “Edelbrock” script logo. It lives in the R&D work that continues to push the performance envelope beyond those traditional components, and it lives in his investment in young automotive enthusiasts, from funding scholarships at vocational/technical colleges to hosting an engine-building challenge for high school students as part of the annual Edelbrock Car Show at company headquarters in Torrance, California.
Ultimately, that’s how both of these men will live on: by fostering enthusiasm and involvement in our industry among those who will be its future.