The First 50 Years Of R&C
A Fast History Of The Magazine
From the February, 2009 issue of Rod & Custom
By Tim Bernsau
Photography by The Rod & Custom Archives
Issue 1: Much has already...
Issue 1: Much has already been said about the first issue of R&C--how the title was plural and how the cover car inspired Gray Baskerville's famous roadster. The small spin-off of Hop Up was rushed to newsstands to beat Honk!, Petersen's digest-sized mag which also debuted in May 1953 and later became Car Craft.
Did we mention that it was our birthday? R&C's first-ever issue was May 1953, which makes us 50 years old.
In 1948, Robert E. Petersen began publishing Hot Rod Magazine, the first national publication for a small, but growing, group of rodders. A few miles away in Burbank, California, John Bond, publisher of Road & Track , saw the success Petersen was having with Hot Rod Magazine and started his own digest-sized rod magazine, called Hop Up , in 1951. After only a few issues, Bond lost interest in the new publication and sold Hop Up to one of his employees, William S.Quinn. As Hop Up grew from its small format into a full-sized magazine, and expanded into broader automotive topics, Quinn and his staff began to think about starting another pocket-sized mag that would return to Hop Up 's original focus: hot rods and custom cars. In May of 1953, Quinn Publications introduced RODS AND CUSTOMS . A month later, the title was shortened to Rod & Custom, with the logo that has remained essentially unchanged to this day.
R&C's staff consisted of Quinn, Editor Spencer Murray, Managing Editor Lou Kimsey, Photographers Gene Trindl and Ralph Poole, and Ad Manager Jack Caldwell. Hop Up Editor Dean Batchelor contributed to the launch, and Barney Navarro was on board as tech editor by the second issue. In April '54, R&C absorbed Hop Up ; the cover logo read "Combined with Hop Up " for a year. Later that year, Petersen purchased the magazine he had indirectly help create. The July '55 issue was the first to list Petersen's name as publisher.
The Rod & Custom history includes a few stops and starts. In 1971, we published our farewell issue. A year later, Tom Medley, Bud Bryan, and Gray Baskerville revived R&C for two years, before it was absorbed into Hot Rod Magazine (from 1974 to 1981, HR's logo read, "Combined with Rod & Custom "). Rod & Custom came back as a bimonthly magazine at the end of 1988 and went monthly in 1993. We're not planning on closing up shop again.
It would be a kick to say that R&C was there at the birth of hot rodding, but that would be fudging history a little bit. By the time we appeared on the scene, this hobby had been in existence for about 20 years. Even so, we can honestly boast that we were one of the first magazines to promote this pastime, have covered every aspect the hot rod and custom car scene, and have even played a part in starting a few trends.
Here, we present a selection of those trends, along with some of the cars, people, styles, and events that have defined rodding during the past 50 years. We're sure we left out some of your favorite R&C milestones. Don't feel bad; we left out a lot of our own, too. Since we don't have the room to present every moment in the history of R&C, we offer a scrapbook of high points and cool memories from our first 50 years. Hope you enjoy it.
Next time: Talking to some of the editors who influenced R&C.
Hirohata's Road Trip: Bob...
Hirohata's Road Trip: Bob Hirohata's Barris-built '51 Merc has become one of the most famous customs in history. Bob's three-day road trip from L.A. to Indianapolis was called "Kross Kountry in a Kustom" when we ran the story in October 1953. It introduced R&C's commitment to actually driving rods and customs.
Chevmobile: There have been...
Chevmobile: There have been a bunch of project vehicles over the years. Our first was a sectioned '41 Chevy coupe packed with an Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 engine. The Chevmobile ran in the September '53 issue. The body had been in a fire and was too damaged to continue the project, but the chassis became the original platform for the R&C Dream Truck.
Cheesecake: Not all R&C readers...
Cheesecake: Not all R&C readers appreciate or approve of the pin-up gals that have appeared in these pages since the very first issue. That's okay, though. September '53 cover girl Luana Patton posed with Bob Borst's mildly customized '49 Chevy coupe.
Rods in Miniature: For years,...
Rods in Miniature: For years, model cars and slot cars were a big part of R&C, sometimes edging out real cars. It all started in May 1956, when we teamed up with Revell to stage a nationwide model-building contest. In 1962 and 1963, Bob Wingate presented a multi-part history of models. Don Emmons wrote on the subject from the '60s until 2000.
The Roadster: OCee Ritch...
The Roadster: OCee Ritch and Joe Henning wrote and drew many restyling features during the '50s, none more popular than Building The Roadster, a five-part series in 1955. The ever-evolving idea was to build a Cad-powered, aluminum-bodied, T-style roadster on an A frame, for a dollar a pound ($2,300). The Roadster never went beyond the concept stage, but rodders all over the USA were inspired to build cars based on the series. Jack Leynnwood painted his rendition for the October '55 cover.
The Dream Truck: Perhaps...
The Dream Truck: Perhaps the best-known R&C project vehicle was Spence's Chevy 1/2-ton, known as the Rod & Custom Dream Truck. It first appeared in September 1953. In June 1957, we presented a complete report on our "rolling laboratory," but the Dream Truck saga was only beginning. We have the story elsewhere in this issue.
Bigger and Better: To the...
Bigger and Better: To the delight of some and the dismay of others, Rod & Custom abandoned its original digest format starting with the August '61 issue--all the better to get an eyeful of the cover cars, a pair of Deuce roadsters, owned by Murphy Tiffany and R&C Staff Editor Neal East.
Barris Korner: We've had...
Barris Korner: We've had a long friendship with customizer George Barris. He was a regular contributor to the magazine, writing and photographing tech stories on bodywork, paint, and restyling, starting with the third issue, when Barris Korner first appeared. That's him on the cover in May '58.
Mr. Barris Meets Mr. Roth:...
Mr. Barris Meets Mr. Roth: The two best-known customizers of the '60s couldn't have been more different--in style, technique, personality, and appearance. Editor Bill Neumann got George Barris and Ed Roth together, and the resulting interview, which ran in the May and June '62 issues, was one of our greatest stories.
L.A. Roadster Show: The L.A....
L.A. Roadster Show: The L.A. Roadster Club, one of Southern California's largest clubs, held its first annual show in 1960, and approximately 50 cars participated. R&C didn't cover the event but did a year later, when the 2nd L.A. Roadster Show took place at the Hollywood Bowl. The T roadster with the blown Merc is the Seiden Brothers' Highland Plating Special.
Go Karts: Not really a rod...
Go Karts: Not really a rod and certainly not a custom, go-karts were all over R&C in the late '50s and early '60s. The fuse was lit when the July '58 issue introduced the hobby to R&C readers. Graphics Editor Lynn Wineland, who later became editor, is credited with coining the term "go-kart."
Gray's T Roadster: We were...
Gray's T Roadster: We were still covering the drags in 1964, including the '63 NHRA Nationals in Indy, where the M&V Automotive injected T roadster pickup was entered by Paul Horning, Ernie Murashige, and future R&C staffer Gray Baskerville. The Rolling Ricebowl set the B/A record at that race, which was the first national race to use "Christmas Tree" starting lights.