Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz
An excellent coffee table and display book is Hot Rod Chronicle, by the auto editors of Consumer Guide, with Don Prieto. This hard-bound book measures 12 by 12 inches and has 144 pages of beautiful color plate pictures on the highest grade waxed photographic paper. Hot Rod Chronicle contains a one page index, a four page glossary of hot rodding terms, a one page list of credits, a two page Table of Contents and a two page foreword. There are six chapters, each corresponding to a decade, starting with the 1940's and continuing to the 1990's. That seemed a bit arbitrary, as the 1930's was a decade that saw the beginning of hot rodding as a way of life, yet the Great Depression and World War II sapped much of that period's vitality. With the end of the war and the depression, a pent up demand for everything about cars exploded and the era of the hot rod took off and has never waned. Hot Rod Chronicle was published in 2003 by Publications International, Ltd and the ISBN # is 0-7853-7990-8. If you can't find the book in stores or used book outlets, try writing to the publisher at 7373 North Cicero Avenue, Lincolnwood, Illinois 60712. Hot Rod Chronicle is cloth bound for added durability and quality and the dust cover jacket is strikingly attractive, but should you lose the cover, the book has the same photographs and artwork on the cover. However, don't lose the dust cover jacket, for as I mentioned many times in my reviews, a cover doesn't just protect the book from damage and overuse, but has a value all its own. So many covers are lost that books can lose up to half of their value if they don't have their jackets. I will stress this again, the cover of this particular book is spectacular and you should protect the cover at all cost. Often people read the book and overlook how a book was constructed or what the foreword, list of credits and index has to say about a book. In this case, all of these aspects including the materials used indicate at first glance that we are dealing with a work of quality. Don Prieto is known for his work. Consumer Guide is also a well-known group. The credits list people like Pat Ganahl, Robert Genat, Neil Nissing, Greg Sharp and Tony Thacker, among others, for their photographs and captions. Listed as sources are people respected in the hot rodding community, such as; Julian Alvarez, John Athans, Ed Iskenderian, Jerry Kugel, Bruce Meyer, Don Montgomery, Jim Aust, Nick Barron, Joe MacPherson and many more.
Ken Gross wrote the foreword and provided historical background. Ken was a past director of the Petersen Automotive Museum and well versed in hot rodding. The four page glossary of terms was an interesting and welcome addition. Most hot rodders will find this a quaint section and will probably already understand the terminology, but as this was meant to be a coffee table book that attracts all types of people, it is well worth the effort to include it. The editors included an index and although many coffee table books do have an index, they are not that common. This definitely makes it easier for the true fan and historian to research subjects that they are interested in and shows that the writers strove for all of the quality that they could put into this volume. There are 109 black and white and 317 color photographs. Additionally there are ten posters, one magazine cover, two record album covers and 22 drawings in the book. Some of the black and white photographs are grainy and difficult to make out because of the age and the conditions that they were taken under, but the color photographs are of the highest degree of quality and craftsmanship. The text and sidebars are illuminating and interesting. The research into the history of the cars and the men behind them was very professionally done. The textual material read seamlessly and much like a National Geographic magazine, the reader would tend to alternate between the captioned photographs and then the story lines in the text. There is a tendency to try and scan through the book like one would quickly browse through a candy store. Don't resist this temptation; pick the book up and thumb through it and devour the beautiful photographs and then go back and read the text. It's a book that is easy to pick up, but hard to put down. That's why it belongs on your coffee table.
I'm not sure that the editors needed to mark off chapters into decades. It is sufficient to start with page one and simply go to the last page in one long chapter. It's also difficult to divide up the cars and the people involved into one decade. Ed Iskenderian fits as well into the 1990's as he does in the 1940's and it seems a shame to try and place him in a category. Isky simply can't be categorized so easily. In fact, all the hot rodders from the earliest days of street and dry lakes racing seem to fit so casually into any decade that you are discussing. They simply adapted to the environment that they found themselves placed in. That's what makes a hot rodder what he is; the ability to take what is there and make it fit one's situation. That's why hot rodders fit so well into the Army and Navy during the war years; their adaptability and ingenuity made them indispensible. It's why their cars command our respect and why we find them so beautiful to watch and so stunning to see running down the street. I believe that Prieto made the size of the book just large enough to keep it out of one's bookcase and firmly ensconced on a coffee table, exactly where I found this book in my father's house. Speaking of dad, Wally Parks was listed ten times in the book, more than anyone else except for magazines and the Grand National Roadster Show. It's amazing how many hot rods he owned and drove in his life. Like so many other hot rodders, owning and driving a hot rod gets in one's blood. Probably no other person promoted the hot rod culture as much as Parks did. He was known for his importance in drag racing, but down deep inside he considered himself a hot rodder. He was helping others promote the sport right up to his passing at 94. Hot rodding it seems is a contagious sport that has no cure.
Bruce Meyer is mentioned eight times and this seems unusual since he is such a young man. A lot of hot rodders judge a person by the years they wear and Bruce is a relative newcomer to hot rodding. What they don't realize is that Bruce has had a huge impact on modern hot rodding, more than he is given credit for. He is a passionate collector and willing to write the check that will get researchers out into the field looking for famous cars to restore. Bruce and Don Garlits began collecting hot rods when their values weren't as high as they are today. I can't say that he started the modern day craze in finding and restoring these old cars, but he certainly was one of the first. He was the first to show a hot rod at Pebble Beach. It took the business and professional side of a man like Bruce Meyer to elevate the outlaw culture of hot rodding into the mainstream of the classic marques, like Packard, Duesenberg and Rolls-Royce. On the other hand there are hot rodders who tenaciously hold to the view that a hot rod is a "junk-yard dog," and should never hold paint or chrome. These traditional hot rodders comprise several subsections; traditionalists, moderates and rat rodders. The last aren't even happy with rusted chrome and primered paint jobs. To them a hot rod is a driver, done on the cheap and a mean machine. If one looks at the old photographs it is apparent that as hot rodders grew more affluent that chrome, paint, decaling and striping increased over the decades. Maybe the rat rodders and traditional hot rodders are not so far off the mark after all. I certainly don't recall all that chrome and great paint jobs on those old cars when I saw them at the dry lakes in the 1940's. Ah, memories have a way of fading and changing, but old photographs don't lie. Some of those traditional hot rods belong to Ed Iskenderian, John Athans and Doane Spencer. To me, that's what a hot rod ought to look like, or if you will, the cherry red hot rod my dad used to take my cousin, John Ziebarth and me to the Garmar Theater for the Saturday matinee. Whizzing down the back roads along the farms, he would race the little hot rod with the flathead engine and get it up to 90 mph, with the wind in our hair and the engine making that distinctive whine and watch the two of us squeal. Well, it was more of a lumpy growl for me as I clung to the door of the little Ford, notorious for opening at the slightest jar and tossing the passenger headlong into the ditch. Hot Rod Chronicle is as good as they get and I give it rating of a 7.75 out of a possible 8 spark plugs.
I rate this book a 7 3/4 out of 8 sparkplugs.
Pick One Up Today!
If you can't find the book in stores or used book outlets, try writing to the publisher at 7373 North Cicero Avenue, Lincolnwood, Illinois 60712.