Book Review: HOT ROD Magazine: All the Covers auto book reviews
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By Russell Purcell

HOT ROD Magazine is one of the longest running specialty publications on the news rack at your local book seller, and as such, is no doubt responsible for introducing many people to the car hobby in one way or another. In many cases, all it took was a flashy cover image or catchy title to hook a reader and reel them into a lifelong relationship with automobiles. I was one of those smitten by the lure of a carefully conceived cover layout, that being the March 1978 issue which featured three different truck build-ups all sporting the same bold white and red flame-themed paint scheme, setting it apart from the other car magazines available that month. I was far too young to own a car at the time, or even apply for a driver’s licence for that matter, but magazines such as HOT ROD portrayed cars in such a way that I hoped to one day own a car that would give me a similar lifestyle and the freedom to live my own adventures behind the wheel.

Motorbooks has just released HOT ROD Magazine: All the Covers, a new book that has been carefully compiled by the editorial team at HOT ROD and edited by the very knowledgeable Drew Hardin. While aimed at the automotive enthusiast, I can see this book having a much broader audience as it will appeal to anyone who likes to study American culture – a culture that has largely been shaped by the mobility and sense of individual freedom that has been afforded the average man and woman due to the relative accessibility of the automobile. In effect, this book is a time capsule for the period 1948-2009.

There are a total of 850 covers presented in full colour, ordered chronologically and divided into chapters based on decades. Each chapter begins with an insightful synopsis to summarize the key events that took place in “the car world and pop culture during that time.” Each individual year is examined in detail, and concise write-ups and captions help flesh out the happenings at HOT ROD, on the track, and in the garage.

I found this book very enlightening as its format makes it easy to track the evolution of the automobile over the past six decades, allowing you to quickly spot the emergence of trends, advancements in technology and increased interest in customization and motor sport activities.

The early covers focus on the roots of the hot-rodding culture, that is, the Model T bucket roadsters and streamliner speed record cars. In the 1950s the magazine expanded its content by adding tests of new cars as well as product evaluations. We also see the first signs of consumer interest in modifying their vehicles to improve their performance parameters. Magazines like HOT ROD were educating gear-heads to such an extent that they sought speed equipment like free-flowing exhaust systems, bigger brakes, and anything else that could be bolted on in short order to add power to their rides.

The 1960s heralded the birth of the muscle car and the feeding frenzy that followed, and drag racing icons like Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen and Tommy Ivo pushed the limits in a straight line, while Mickey Thompson sought to revolutionize oval track racing at Indianapolis. This decade also saw the auto manufacturers embrace HOT ROD Magazine, as the medium gave Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford the means to showcase their engineering prowess to the increasingly car hungry consumer.

Rising insurance costs and a fuel crisis presented a double-barrelled dilemma throughout the 1970s and relegated the muscle cars to the shadows, but huge advances in V6 engine design and a move to race-inspired body flares, spoilers and paint schemes was heralded. “Big Daddy” Don Garlits tore up the drag strips with his innovative, rear-engined Swamp Rat dragster, and the custom van craze hit high gear as these living rooms on wheels became parking lot staples.

Bold graphics and “Pro-Street” designs kicked off the 1980s, and the late Boyd Coddington started to make a name for himself during this period when his cutting edge hot rods start to capture show titles nationwide. Tighter emission regulations strangled the life out of most of the cars produced during this decade, but advances in the use of both turbo- and super-chargers helped some builders generate massive firepower under the hood.

The 1990s saw hot-rodding re-invigorated by the inclusion of cars such as CadZZilla in elements of popular culture like music videos (Texan rockers ZZ Top embraced this in a big way), and the emergence of design stars like Chip Foose. Even the car manufacturers began to embrace styling like never before as developing cutting edge concept vehicles became a priority as they sought to outdo each other and draw traffic to the showroom floor.

As the 20th century came to a close, the covers of the magazine reveal the state of the economy at the time as the trend was to showcase “budget” solutions for the average builder, as well as examine what the future would hold for the automotive hobby.

As the book comes to a close we learn that print magazines have become an endangered species as we enter the “dawn of the new millennium.” The potent duo of the Internet and the 200 channel universe now offered enthusiasts flashy content virtually “on demand,” and a downturn in the global economy has made it difficult to track down and secure advertising revenue. But HOT ROD Magazine has weathered difficult times before, and with its outstanding photography, relevant story lines, and unwavering focus on the car hobby, I think it’s in a good position to soldier on into the future.

Title: HOT ROD Magazine: All the Covers
Author: Drew Hardin with the editors of HOT ROD
ISBN-13: 978-0-7603-3817-9
Suggested retail price: CAN$39.00
Motorbooks Publishing