It was a cold January morning in 1953 when I started my new job at Hop Up magazine. But there was heated discussion between publisher Bill Quinn and editor Dean Bachelor debating the future of the pioneering "little pages" magazine. Should it be upgraded to a more formal fullsize publication to entice big-name advertisers, to gain better newsstand display space, and to lure a larger readership through coverage of Detroit doings? Or should it continue with grassroots rodding and customizing, dry lakes reports, car shows—stuff that car guys could relate to? The final decision was to enlarge the little monthly that had begun life with the July 1951 issue at 15 cents per copy.
When Hop Up went fullsize (March 1953), Rod & Custom was born as the new "little pages
But it was feared the switch over might alienate the magazine's regular readers so a contingency plan was hatched; create a new small publication that would satisfy that portion of Hop Up's audience who liked the convenience of carrying a copy in their glove compartment or hiding one inside a textbook where the teacher wouldn't see it.
Hop Up's office was unlike modern publishers, consisting of an older two-bedroom bungalow on a residential/commercial street in Glendale, California. One bedroom was Quinn's office; the other was art director Lou Kimsey's, where he handled the magazine's production; photographer Ralph Poole's darkroom had been the kitchen; and Bachelor, our secretary, and I shared what had been the living room. Stories were written on mechanical typewriters and work hours were from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a half-hour lunch. We had two telephones, one in Quinn's office and one for the rest of us, but at $35 a week I couldn't complain.
When the fullsize Mar. 1953 Hop Up appeared there were immediate complaints from readers about the larger format. So the backup plan was initiated and it fell to me to head up the new "little pages" publication. Art director Kimsey came up with the title Rods and Customs, in block letters for our inaugural edition, but changed to the non-plural script for the second issue,which has been used ever since.
The July 1955 issue was the first issue published by new owner Petersen Publishing.
R&C struggled at first using stories and photos intended for Hop Up but which were deemed surplus. But before long the magazine became more self-sufficient. Barney Navarro's shop was nearby and he contributed tech articles, George Barris brought in photos of cars customized by his shop, Valley Custom was on hand to help field customizing questions, and the local aftermarket folks were a resource often called upon.
Now that Quinn produced two monthly magazines and needed more staff people and more space, we moved first to larger quarters in Hollywood and later into Los Angeles itself. Then one Monday morning in May 1955 we came to work and were met by a stranger who explained that he'd bought both R&C and MotorLife (formerly Hop Up) over the weekend. He turned out to be Robert E. Petersen and we had unknowingly become part of his publishing empire. The first R&C with Petersen named as publisher was the July 1955 issue. I stayed on as R&C's editor through the Apr. 1959 edition.
During my 72-issue watch we introduced our readers to go-karting, model car customizing, how-tos, project cars, and many other asides to the motor mania we'd help create. I'd return later as editor again and produced another 30 issues, but that's quite a different story. In time there'd be other editors with their own guidelines for a more mature R&C, along its successful 60-year journalistic path. But nothing can erase the memories of those early days. Happy anniversary!