Engine Block Party

By Waleed Rashidi

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Posted March 21, 2013 in Feature Story

The Hot Rod Homecoming comes turbocharged with 65 years of hopped-up history

Automotive customization comes in myriad forms these days, from sleek ‘n’ low hot-hatch Hondas, Acuras and Toyotas replete with turbochargers and roll cages, to sky-high, off-road-ready diesel-powered bruiser pickups from the Big Three . . . and well, just about everything and anything in between.

But one of the longest and most original iterations of automotive customization hails in the form of the classic hot rod. Born out of Southern California just post-World War II, these rolling legends largely originated with hopping up the engines of early American cars, like the Ford Model T and Model A. Considering that the Model T originally shipped with a 20-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, a few tweaks were certainly necessary to keep up with the speeds on newly-minted freeways. But that’s just the thing—most of the hobbyists upgrading such cars didn’t leave it at a mere few tweaks. Four cylinders quickly became eight with a host of other upgrades, transforming these one-time pedestrian putters to scintillating, suburban screamers.

And with that hobby came the publication that helped launch the craze: Hot Rod Magazine. Billed as the oldest and largest performance car magazine, Hot Rod was founded in January 1948 by Robert E. Petersen (the same guy whose name is on the esteemed automotive museum in Los Angeles). And 65 years later, the magazine is still an automotive enthusiast’s bible.

In celebration of the mag’s newfound senior citizen status, the staff of Hot Rod is assembling a one-of-a-kind Hot Rod Homecoming show at the Fairplex in Pomona, putting nearly 300 vehicles on display that have appeared on the covers and in the pages of the publication over its six-plus decades of existence. And while the magazine may now qualify for AARP discounts, don’t expect any of these cars to wallow in the fast lane at 50 MPH with their blinker on.

Major Motors

“The point of this show is a one-time only gathering of historic, featured cars from the magazine,” says David Freiburger, editor-in-chief of Hot Rod. “One of the big deals about Hot Rod is that it really shaped the industry over the years because it was the first and it is a really big deal to be in the pages of Hot Rod. So the cars that are in there are really, really appealing to enthusiasts because they represent the history of the sport. And we’re going to be displaying cars from 1948 to current, in chronological order.”

Visitors will be able to walk through the show—presented by Chevrolet Performance and co-sponsored by Edelbrock (a SoCal-based speed parts manufacturer that’s been around for 75 years)—and see the progression develop from the aforementioned hopped-up As and Ts through a variety of wheeled creations including dragsters, Bonneville land speed racers, customs, pro street racers and, well, “literally everything,” Freiburger adds.

The fact that the event is occurring at the Fairplex is also no surprise to local auto enthusiasts. The location is home to a number of major motorsports events throughout the year, including the National Hot Rod Association’s competitions at the dragstrip on its west end and the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum on the southern edge of the premises. Plus, it’s in close proximity to everything associated with hot rodding, anyways.

“We wanted to be close to home because the magazine was founded in Hollywood and has been Southern California based the entire time,” says Freiburger. “And the NHRA also had its first drag race there in 1953. The NHRA is no longer business-wise affiliated with Hot Rod, however, it was founded in the offices of Hot Rod magazine by Wally Parks, who was the editor of the magazine at the time he founded it.”

“The Middle of the Hot Rod Industry”

Area residents—and their respective rods—have been featured in the pages Hot Rod throughout the years, including Pomona’s Don Grant, who will be showing his ’29 Ford Model A Tudor sedan which appeared in the January 1963 issue.

“Living here [in Pomona] is like being in the middle of the hot rod industry,” says Grant. “We have access to almost any kind of parts and accessories that anyone could want. There are numerous activities [and] shows going on every week and weekend. The Twilight Cruise at the NHRA museum is very near my home, I try to never miss that.”

San Bernardino’s Jim Kitchen will be showing his ’29 Ford Roadster which can be found in April 1956’s issue of Hot Rod. It’s a car he’s owned for over a half-century and was originally built in Riverside.

“I bought it in 1962 and converted it back to my only street car, occasionally racing it at the Fontana, Colton and Riverside drag strips,” says Kitchen. “In 2002, I converted it to a land speed racer in the Street Roadster class and set my first record at the Bonneville Salt Flats at 190 MPH with a 300-inch Chevy V-8. I later set and reset records up to 210 MPH. The car presently holds its class record at the 1.3-mile El Mirage Dry Lake at 193 MPH.”

Kitchen’s speed demon is just one of the many incredible vehicles on display. And some will be part of a Pro-Builder Showcase.

“One of the things they’re doing is hosting areas that are collections of cars by individual car builders,” says Freiburger. “There are many famous car builders who have five, six or sometimes 10 cars that have been in the magazine, and those won’t be in chronological order like the rest of the other cars. They’ll be gathered together, so you’ll be able to see all the cars from a builder like Boyd Coddington or Chip Foose.” In fact, one of the cars built by Coddington is being shipped all the way from Australia to the U.S., just for this show.

Hot . . . Boat?!?!

But, fast cars won’t be the only form of souped-up transport to see. A boat, dubbed the “Hot Rod Magazine Special,” will also be shown.

“The boat was raced in, I believe, 1965 by a guy named Rudy Ramos,” says Freiburger. “He moved from cars over to boats and ran the Hot Rod Magazine Special in the Salton Sea 500 which was a race in the Salton Sea in the ’50s and ’60s. And it was powered by an Allison aircraft engine, which is going to be fun to see.”

Other fun-to-see event happenings include a Pin-Striper Panel Jam, which gathers pin stripers to paint pinstripes on, well, just about anything. (“They’ll paint people’s cell phones or anything you’ve got, garbage can lids, toilet seats, all sorts of crazy stuff,” Freiburger says.)

And another pin-related item is the Miss Hot Rod Homecoming Pin-Up Contest with two rounds of judging. “Female models have been a part of the magazine from the very beginning,” says Freiburger. “It was never really risqué, just girl-next-door stuff.”

Live bands will also be a part of the mix (with music by melodic rockers Margate and the very aptly-titled rockabilly act Hot Rod Trio), and admission to the NHRA Museum is free with a ticket purchase to the Homecoming. Plus, the public is invited to bring their own classic cars to show and tell at the event (both advance and on-site registration is available; fees vary).

One-Time Only

With all this looking back into the past, what’s ahead for hot rodding’s future—especially given that newer cars are crammed with so much advanced technology?

“The big one is that for 2014 and on, many of the performance models have direct fuel injection, which is very much the way diesel engines manage their fuel except it’s applied to gas engines,” says Freiburger. “It’s a big shift in the technology and it’s going to be a stumbling point for hot rodders here in the short term. But what’s interesting is that, over the years—even back in the ’70s—hot rodders freaked out when new technology came out, and people would be concerned that there would be no hot rodding. But every time we’ve overcome and figured out how to do it, and every time we’ve learned how to make cars faster and more efficient. The hot rods that are being built today really aren’t a pollution issue and are so efficient yet make so much power, it’s amazing.”

And what about the future of the Hot Rod Homecoming—more specifically, does Freiburger see this as a first of more Homecomings to come?

“I would like to see that,” he says. “I’m interested myself in trying to put one together back east. There are so many people who couldn’t afford to send their cars out to this and there’s a ton of cars featured in Hot Rod from all over the country. If this thing is as big of an event as I expect it’s going to be, yeah, we may put that together at the end of the year. But it’s not going to become a regular, annual thing. It’s an anniversary celebration. It’s a one-time only collection of these kinds of cars and that’s what makes it a big deal.”

And a big deal it is, especially to those well entrenched in this sector of the motorsports industry. But for anyone who has even a mild interest in cars, Freiburger says they’ll be blown away by what’s at the Homecoming.

“If someone walks in there with absolutely no understanding of what the hot rod world is all about, why people modify cars, they’ll come away from that getting it,” he says. “They will not only see incredible cars, they’re going to meet guys that have been deeply involved for their entire lives; that created these with their bare hands. They’ll realize that the ingenuity of the guys that came back from World War II and invented this whole hobby and this craft is just stunning. The passion people put into these things, whether it’s a race car or show car, it’s a human interest story that just never stops.”

Hot Rod Homecoming Car Show at the Pomona Fairplex, 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona; www.hotrodhomecoming.com. Sat, March 23, 10am-8pm; Sunday, March 24, 10am-4pm. $20 adults, $5 children. 


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