As we get to the end of our 50th birthday celebration, we think about where rodding has been and how it got to where it is. We think about the hot rods and custom cars that have made a significant impact on this hobby. And being a magazine, we think about how that can be turned into a story. We decided to identify 50 cars that have been especially important to R&C and to rodding in the past 50 years. Of course, everybody on the staff had his own favorite 50 he wanted to see included. As we whittled down the list, we stuck to cars that had appeared in R&C at one time or another, were groundbreaking or trendsetting, or were just so cool that we'll never forget them. Your results may differ. In fact, if they do, tell us. Send us your top picks from 50 years of R&C, and we'll compile a People's Choice list for a future issue. Until then, here are our 50 favorites.
Doane Spencer '32 Roadster
The famous Doane Spencer roadster established the classic look for a highboy that is still copied today and would be on anybody's list of best rods. It was built and driven daily by Doane before the war. It competed at the lakes, in the grueling Panamerica road race in the old days, and in the first Hot Rod Class at the toney Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 1998. In between, it went through several modifications before being restored by Pete Chapouris for collector Bruce Meyer.
Bob Hirohata '51 Merc
Unquestionably the most famous custom of the classic era is Bob Hirohata's '51 Mercury, customized by Sam Barris in 1952. The '53 Buick Riviera trim, custom grille, Caddy hubs, and Lincoln taillights are well known. Bob's trip to Indianapolis in 1953, where the Merc won a major award, was chronicled in R&C. It also appeared in the movie Running Wild. Jim McNiel bought the car off a dealer's lot for $500 in 1959 and restored it. It is still one of the best customs ever.
Bob & Dick Pierson '34 Coupe
Fifty years from now, the Pierson Brother's three-window coupe will still be on every list of great hot rods. The 9-inch chop was done to improve aerodynamics for land speed racing, same with the Sprint Car nose. The chopped and channeled car was raced by the Piersons and subsequent owners into the '90s. After Bruce Meyer bought it, the coupe was restored to its '50 condition by So-Cal Speed Shop, with help from Bob and Dick Pierson and Bobby Meeks, who built the car's original flathead.
'24 T Roadster
One of the earliest extant hot rods, Ed's famous roadster was created in 1938. Powered by a bored flathead, the T went 120 mph at El Mirage in the late '40s. The Maxi heads on the modified flattie feature overhead-style exhaust valves under signature valve covers. A Thickstun manifold is fed by triple 97s. Visitors to the NHRA Motorsport Museum in Pomona, California, can view the roadster, which set an appearance and performance standard for all hot rods that followed.
'23 T Roadster
Norm Grabowski's channeled '23 T was not only one of the earliest examples of the Fad T look, it helped bring hot rodding to wider audiences by appearing in Life Magazine and on the TV show 77 Sunset Strip. The T was black when it appeared in Hot Rod Magazine in 1955, but the blue paintjob with Dean Jeffries flames is famous. Many Grabowski-inspired T roadsters have been built over the years, including 'glass-bodied '23 bodies from the aftermarket and Norm's own Kookie 2 in recent years.
Nick Matranga '40 Merc
The Barris-built Matranga Merc created its own style, which has been mimicked numerous times since is appeared around 1950. The 5-inch chop and sloping hardtop roofline is perfect and was unusual on a fat-fendered car at the time. The side-window treatment showed up later on the Hirohata Merc. When Uncle Sam sent Matranga to Korea, the Barrises sold the car, and it ended up smashed into a telephone pole in 1952. Many copies have been built since then. It's easy to see why.