Throttle - 1941 The Complete Collection by Thom Taylor, Steve Coonan and the staff of The Rodder’s Journal
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Review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Most of my reviews are very simple. I explain the size, shape, construction, content and then place a value on the book so that the reader can quickly determine whether it's in their interest to look further into adding it to their library. Sometimes my review of books out of print is merely an effort to let readers know that a gem of a book exists in case they should run across a copy at a swap meet or a garage sale. On rare occasions I review a book that is a cornerstone addition; that is a book so valuable that it should be the beginning on which you build your collection. Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection is one of those cornerstone books. When Steve Coonan, Thom Taylor and Don Coonan mentioned that they were going to undertake this project and publish Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection, my expectations were very high. It took them quite some time, effort and expense, but my hopes for this book were not disappointed. Why is this book a masterpiece in my estimation? Well, it is an interesting story of a man and a magazine that has riveted the attention of anyone who ever owned or read an old issue of Throttle magazine. The story begins in the late 1930's, a time when the Great Depression changed America forever, and a world war was looming in the dark future. Young men in Southern California were developing their own brand of the car culture, which we call hot rodding today. They usually were poor, lucky if they had a job or part-time work and most people lived with extended family in small homes. Money was tight and that encouraged creativity and inventiveness. Young men would scour the junk yards for old cars and parts and build their own version of a fast and beautiful car. They raced their cars on the streets, at oval tracks, at the dry lakes in the Mojave Desert and anywhere they could find an opportunity to show them off.
It's hard to describe the activity and local racing in the 1930's to people today. The size and scope of the car culture then was huge, compared to today. During and just after the Great Depression and World War II, the freedom that cars, travel and racing gave to people was enormous. We didn't have the widespread use of television at that time. There was no internet to occupy our attentions. We had radio and it was a major part of our lives, though normally we only listened to it during the evenings, when the music and comedy shows came on. There were oval track races every night of the week in one location or another. A young man could take his roadster, coupe, jalopy, sprint car or midget to a track and race it on a constant basis and if he was a talented driver and his car was sturdy and well-built, he could win more money in a race than he could earn in a week. I remember seeing my Uncle Vance Ziebarth's check from the foundry. He earned $17 a week and in those days you worked 10 hours or more a week. A good driver might make that much or more in one night at the track, or sometimes win nothing and have to have his friends tow him home if he ran out of gas and money. Another activity for young men and their cars at that time, and still going on, is the time trials in the deserts on dry lakes, where the object is to match man and machine against time itself. It was a grueling trip out to the desert on roads that were primitive and sometimes non-existent. Once there it took organization and control in order to bring the chaos of young men racing their cars in every direction at once. George Wight and George Riley organized the Muroc Timing Association and ran it like a business, with help from young men and car clubs.
By 1937 the two men had decided to get out of the business of dry lakes racing and seven car clubs organized the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) to carry on racing on the desert playas. Once a month, from May through November, young men would make the long, slow and arduous trip out to the dry lakes of Southern California. In between they would race on the oval tracks or arrange for informal races on isolated streets and highways. Other groups would form to organize this boiling point of enthusiasm for young men and their lust to race their cars. The Western Timing Association (WTA) formed with the goal of conducting safe and controlled land speed racing on the dry lakes. The goal of the SCTA, WTA, Russetta Timing Association and oval track promoters and racing associations was to bring a measure of safety to car racing and to counter the public belief that auto racing was unsafe. Many people wanted to see car racing banned on the oval tracks, at the dry lakes and particularly on the streets, where it was virtually unsupervised. These groups would spend time and resources to counter the public perception that auto racing was dangerous, deadly and unnecessary. Individuals would also speak out on the subject; men like Wally Parks, Ed Adams, Art Tilton, Thatcher Darwin, Ak Miller and Jack Peters. Adams, Parks, Tilton, Darwin and Miller represented the SCTA and they were advocates of safe and sanctioned dry lakes racing. Walt James, J.C. Agajanian and other promoters and racing leaders oversaw the safety of oval track racing. However, there were hardly any publications devoted to promoting auto racing at the time and to be a voice for the interests of car guys and racers. Into that void stepped Jack Peters, a young man who passionately believed in promoting the interests of the racing public.
Jack Peters is actually an alias and if it hadn't been for the great detective work of the people at The Rodder's Journal, his story might never have been told. He was born Jack E. Jerrils, but went by the name of Jack Peters while he was racing. He had a striking and bubbly personality and you quickly noticed his piercing eyes, wide smile and big ears. He had a presence about him and he was well liked. For years people believed that Jack must have been a Throttler and that he went off to war and perished, for nothing was heard from him again after 1942. Jack Peters founded Throttle magazine in late 1940 and the first issue came out in January of 1941. He went everywhere with a bundle of magazines under his arm and how we came to know him was through his meetings with the SCTA Board of Director meetings. Throttle magazine was an instant success with car guys in Southern California, though Peters had to work hard to convince the advertisers that his little magazine had staying power. He produced 11 monthly issues and a special issue to honor and report on the biggest race of them all - the Indianapolis 500. Peters scoured the racing landscape for stories and Throttle magazine was one of the first publications to give space to the dry lakes and land speed racers. The quality of the magazine and its reporting accuracy was outstanding. Over the years collectors and historians made every effort to find and add Throttle magazine to their collections. The magazine grew in popularity, content and size to the point that in early December of 1941 Peters wrote in the editorial for that month that 1942 looks like his magazine will reach even greater reach and success. It was not to be, for a few days after the editorial was written and the magazines were being mailed out, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and all forms of racing would cease until after the war.
Peters closed his publication and entered the service and after that no one ever heard from him again. It was common for men to leave for the war and never return. Over the years we collected Throttle magazine, read and reread the old stories from 1941 and dreamed about what would have happened if WWII had never occurred. In 1948 Bob Lindsay and Robert "Pete" Petersen began to publish Hot Rod magazine and it was eerie how similar their publication was to Throttle magazine. They had the same cover, red stripes on the top and bottom with a gray background in the middle with a photograph of a car or driver. The headings, stories, titles and way of organizing the content were very similar and leads us to believe that Lindsay and Petersen copied the format of Throttle for their new racing magazine. Perhaps most magazines of the day had a similar format. I remember that Look, Life, Saturday Evening Post and other magazines often had similar outlines. But the similarity between Throttle magazine in 1941 and Hot Rod magazine in 1948 is nearly identical. Throttle magazine was forgotten for many years, until collectors began finding copies at swap meets, garage sales and on eBay. Hot Rod magazine became iconic and well sought after, but Throttle became a rarity and seldom mentioned by most racing fans. We knew that the magazine existed and I made a photo copy of Jack Underwood's collection of Throttle magazine, which is good that I did, since someone stole his Throttle magazines. That's all that he and I have to work with while using Throttle magazine as a researching tool for pre-WWII auto racing. The copied material is fine for that research, but no match for having the actual magazine in front of us.
Then the Coonan brothers at The Rodder's Journal talked to Thom Taylor and using Thom's original collection of Throttle magazines, great detective work and the excellent quality of The Rodder's Journal photography and printing, they brought us Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection. The result is a book that even exceeds the earlier magazines themselves. The sad part is that we only have one year, 1941, in which this magazine existed and reported on the racing scene. We are so thankful that we have this one year, but we can't help but think what a treasure was lost because Peters didn't start until that year and WWII ended his dream of starting a national car racing publication. If the war hadn't interrupted Throttle magazine's existence, it is highly probably and close to a near certainty that Lindsay and Petersen would never have created Hot Rod magazine. We don't know that for a fact and I don't recall that anyone ever asked Lindsay and Petersen this question while they were alive. Yet Throttle magazine began to thrive and grow rapidly and we can assume from the facts that if Peters had continued publishing Throttle magazine, that Hot Rod magazine would not have survived the competition. Another point is that Hot Rod magazine was started as a tool to help Petersen promote the SCTA Hot Rod Show at the Armory in Los Angeles in 1948. This show was put on for a major reason, to show the public that hot rodding was something to be appreciated and not feared. The SCTA didn't know whether it would be a commercial success or a failure. The need to promote hot rodding as an organized sport was imperative and they were desperate to get the public on their side. Pending legislation to end hot rodding was in the California Assembly and the public was clamoring for an end to street racing. The SCTA and other groups had to act and the Hot Rod Show was the tool that the group was using to educate the public.
If Throttle magazine had not closed and were still publishing, Petersen and the SCTA would certainly have used the publication for promoting the Hot Rod Show and Hot Rod magazine most likely would never have been created. As for the book, Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection, it is up to the high standards of the old Throttle magazine and The Rodder's Journal. The book measures 8 ½ x 10 ¾ inches in dimension and is about ¾ inch in thickness. It is a hard cover edition and the binding is an extra quality cloth binding and not glued. The book cover jacket is worth saving and is reminiscent of the covers on the old Throttle magazines. Strange as it may seem, the book cover jacket which is meant to protect the book, is probably worth half the price of what the book is valued at, so you need to make sure that you protect the book cover jacket. I stress this over and over again in all my reviews, for while a book cover jacket does not give any information as compared to the contents of the book itself, yet books lose a considerable amount of value when they are torn, tattered or lost. This book cover jacket really enhances the appeal of the book, making Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection valuable as a coffee table book, a racing book and an encyclopedia of racing history. The book has 185 pages, all of which are very high quality, waxed photographic paper, similar to that used by The Rodder's Journal and making the photographs stand out in high detail. It is as if they had taken 12 issues of Throttle magazine and bound them into a book. The quality of the old magazine and that of the new book are equal. This is a first class reproduction of a first class magazine of the day. There is a one page introduction by Thom Taylor and Steve Coonan, terse, passionate and to the point. Following that is a one page table of contents. There are 13 chapters; one chapter for each monthly issue of the old Throttle magazine and an extra chapter on the history of Throttle magazine and Jack Peters, aka Jack E. Jerrils. Finally there is a six page comprehensive index, which I always like to see in a book. I often go first to the index to judge a book. If an author creates a good index, that is an indication that the rest of the book will have content and detail as well. Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection has a thorough and complete index and the historian and fans of racing will appreciate that little extra attention to detail.
The photographs for the most part have come from the old Throttle magazines and thus the quality should be rated on what Jack Peters had to work with at the time. Peters did a remarkable job with his photography, considering what he had available to him. Steve Coonan did an excellent job of transferring the old photographs into the book without losing any more detail and clarity. Coonan always does an excellent job. The Rodder's Journal has competitor in journalism that is superior. At best there are a few magazines that can come close to equaling what Coonan does. That does not mean that the photographs in Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection are always of high quality as you see in The Rodder's Journal, but that is not Coonan's fault, but the type of cameras that Peters was using back in 1941. For most purposes the photographs are sufficient for the general public and auto racing historians to use and enjoy. This was the best that they had back in 1941 and Coonan has faithfully kept whatever quality there was from degrading further. Jack Peters wrote many of the columns and stories published in Throttle magazine, but he went out of his way to get others to contribute as well, so we have a well rounded view of racing in 1941. Besides Peters, there were articles and by-lines by his brother, Dick Jerrils, Pop Myers, Wally Parks, George Rowell, Lou Senter, Howard Wilson, Barney Glazer, W. Blaine Patton, Art Tilton, Sid Senter, and Howard Langley. Rowell and Lou Senter were the major columnists, but Jack Peters filled the majority of pages of Throttle magazine with his zealous reporting. The words simply pack energy and reach out after nearly seven decades with a resonance of power. Reading these old stories is like awakening from a long sleep and seeing familiar faces. They are still alive today, these events, men and their machines .
Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection is published by The Rodder's Journal, 263 Wattis Way, South San Francisco, California 94080. You can reach them at 1-650-246-8920 or 1-800-750-9550 and their website is www.roddersjournal.com . No price or ISB number was listed, and at present the book can only be purchased through The Rodder's Journal main office. As for references, well I have one and that is my father, Wally Parks. He kept and treasured The Rodder's Journal as he received it monthly. He left his copies to my brother and me and considered the magazine to be one of the finest that he has ever seen. If he had lived to see Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection, he would have told you that it was a true masterpiece. It is a masterpiece of work from Jack Peters that Steve Coonan and Thom Taylor have lovingly brought back to life so that all of us can share in owing a complete collection of the 12 issues of Throttle magazine. So it is easy for me to simply say - BUY it. I rate Throttle - 1941: The Complete Collection a complete and full 8 spark plugs out of a total of 8 possible. It is that good a book. I couldn't find anything that I even faintly found lacking. It's readable, informative, fast and fun. The book is chock full of details and history and the stories are as fresh today as when they were written. The enthusiasm and zeal of that day comes through for me in an age seven decades removed from the Great Depression era. It's a book I pick up often and scan through and enjoy, just for a moment or for an hour. It's, after all, a cornerstone book for your hot rodding and car racing library.
8 out of 8 sparkplugs.