It was a distinct honor to be the editor of Rod & Custom magazine. I consider it a highlight of my career. It was also a load of work.
I grew up on the "little" car magazines. When my mom went grocery shopping, I'd park at the magazine rack. There was something wonderful—magical—about the little mags that hid down in between the others. R&C was my favorite because it had rods, customs, dragsters, Bonneville...the whole gamut. Plus it had "Arin Cee", Pete Millar's wacky little rodder who did the same kind of stupid stuff we did a few years later when we got our first cars.
Many of you may not realize today that, while R&C's 60th anniversary is monumental (of all rod mags alive today, only Hot Rod is older), it's a record with an asterisk. Yes, Rod & Custom debuted in 1953, and became a Petersen Publication by 1955. But about halfway between then and now, it lost some 17 years. It's complicated. But as Petersen's big titles like Hot Rod and Motor Trend grew to huge proportions, little R&C just stayed too little. Yes, it went fullsize in 1961, but it was too skinny. Mr. Waingrow, Petersen's longtime president and chief bean counter, said it didn't have enough beans. So he killed it. Twice.
The truly ironic part is he did it just as a new segment of the hobby, dubbed "street rodding" by none other than R&C, was just being born. This was the return of traditional hot rods—coupes and roadsters—to the street. In fact, it was then-R&C publisher Tom Medley, with contributor Tex Smith and staffers Bud Bryan, Jim Jacobs, and later "new guy" Gray Baskerville, who named it, invented the Street Rod Nationals in 1970, and launched the NSRA. It was hugely successful, grew rapidly, and obviously thrives today. But it didn't fatten up R&C fast enough, so they terminated it in 1971 and again in 1974.
At that second point I was a young, inexperienced, but brash editor of a new magazine called STREET RODDER. I'll never forget hearing of Rod & Custom's demise, rubbing my hands gleefully, and saying, "Oh boy, here we go!" Both STREET RODDER and the street rod market grew fat over the next many years.
I'm leaving much out. A decade later, at Petersen, I made the "Bring Back Rod & Custom" plea more than once, but was told flat: "No." Then, to my surprise, I heard Lee Kelly, head of the "Specialty Publications" division, was re-launching it as a bimonthly. A freelancer was going to mail it in from Seattle. So I pleaded once again to let me do it. Kelly finally said OK, "There's a desk, a phone, and a computer." This was a blessing and a curse. The great part was that Kelly let me do whatever I thought this reborn relic needed. There was stiff competition. So I pushed the boundaries to include customs (it was part of the title!), affordable 1950s cars as rods, classic pickups, nostalgia drags, history. The down side was that I was a staff of one. My answering machine was my secretary. My wife, Anna, gets much credit for selling subs and T-shirts at events, doing PR, and other support.
Bringing Rod & Custom back after 15 years wasn't easy. But thankfully it was a classic formed by the likes of Spence Murray, Tom Medley, and Bud Bryan. I added what I could in the five years I did it. Mr. Waingrow still argued it was too skinny. But by then the street rod market was well developed and he couldn't argue with our sales numbers. Yes, R&C is still slim today. But it's good. It's still here. The street rod market continues to grow. And this is still my favorite little magazine.