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Book Review - Street Rod and Custom Showtime

Book Review - Street Rod and Custom Showtime

Most books that I review are rather straightforward and they are relatively easy to read and to review.  There’s nothing wrong with a quick and easy book; they’re really fun to pick up and spend a few minutes or hours with.  Nor is there anything wrong with a large history, compendium, encyclopedia or research to me; they are just more complex for the reviewer to render a judgment on.  I also advise the public to avoid assuming that a large and complex book isn’t worth adding to their library.  Every sincere and enthusiastic hot rodder, car fanatic, racing fan and just plain automotive nut needs to have a few books which I call seminal works on a subject.  In every type of subject imaginable there are a few books which I call essential to the subject.  They are the books that define a topic and set it apart.  In hot rodding one of my favorite books is Roy Richter, by Art Bagnall, and on Bonneville land speed racing the seminal work in "Bonneville Salt Flats", by Land Speed Louise Ann Noeth.  
Make no mistake "Street Rod & Custom Showtime" is the seminal book on the subject of indoor custom and hot rod shows in the British Isles.  You buy a seminal book on a subject to begin your collection on a subject and add books to flesh out your library.  Is "Street Rod & Custom Showtime"  the last word on the subject?  No, but it is the beginning.  No book will tell it all, nor should such a work even try.  I love my edition of The Oxford Illustrated History of the Brittish Monarchy.  It is a huge book and it is quite thorough, but it is not comprehensive and does not tell the entire story of British history.  It simply is, however, one of my seminal books on English history, but I have other books to round out my collection.  The same is true with "Street Rod & Custom Showtime" , by Rodger Attaway.  Start with it and add other books on the subject of car shows, drag racing and hot rodding in Great Britain.  The first thing that I noticed is how heavy and large this book is and how small the print is to read.  The author had no choice for if he increased the type size the book would be over 500 pages long.  "Street Rod & Custom Showtime"  is simply huge and jam-packed with information.
Usually I count each photo, black and white so that I know whether the book jacket blurb is accurate or inflated.  I’m not going to do that here in this review because it would take me the better part of a day to quantify and qualify all the photos.  There are around 800 to 900 photographs, most of them are in color and the captions are adequate or better.  Many are small because the author had to cram them all into just 304 pages, but the quality of the photos is excellent and the paper quality of the book is superior.  The text is much larger than I would expect and surprisingly full of information that I have never heard of before, even on subjects that I am familiar with.  The construction of the book is high quality with a cloth binding of the spine for long lasting wear, a hard-bound cover, and a nice, red-colored book jacket or sleeve.  Strange as it may seem the book jacket to collectors is crucial and many times the jacket is more valuable than the book because they are often worn, tattered or lost.  Always keep the book jacket on the book.  The price is listed at 29 Pounds, which works out to around $43.12 today, though expect to pay more for shipping and handling.  You can order the book by going to the website at  
One area that indicates a quality book is the index.  The second thing that I look at after simply handling a book and looking at the construction quality is the index.  If there isn’t an index, no matter how nice the book is, it won’t garner the highest review.  An index is vital for historians, scholars, and interested readers because we have to find a subject and review it.  Without an index, we can spend hours of our time scanning a book for what might or might not be in it.  "Street Rod & Custom Showtime" has a six-page index, which is in small type and so it is very large in comparison to other indexes that I have seen.  I checked out a few names and they matched the pages.  There was even an index on the cars in the book.  It is impossible to match every noun in an index, but I was pleased with the index that Attaway constructed and if you read my reviews you will know that I am not always happy with the indexes in most books and the absence of indexes in many, otherwise great books on the car culture.
What else do I look for?  Strangely, a foreword and acknowledgments; for they tell me a lot that I need to know before reviewing the book.  Just who is the author asking to give this book a recommendation?  And who is the author thanking for helping him put the book together?  Attaway names and thanks a very large list of contributors to STREET ROD & CUSTOM SHOWTIME, and in being thorough he shows us that the views are going to be just as thorough.  Darryl Starbird writes the Foreword and is one of Great Britain’s most respected custom car builders.  There is also a dedication, chiefly to the stewards and judges of car shows whom Attaway relied upon and without which there could be no-shows.  They are the backbone of the sport and Attaway is effusive in his praise for their work and dedication.  After that come the 16 chapters of the book, the very reason that readers buy this book; the meat and potatoes of any book.  I have to repeat that it took some time to get used to the small print.  It might have been unavoidable in order to get everything included, but I would have liked to have seen a bigger print size for older eyes.  Perhaps the author could have ended the book in 1979 and started Volume II in 1980.  If he does write a sequel I hope he does increase the type size.
I concentrated in Chapter 1 through Chapter 4 and scanned the remaining twelve chapters.  Attaway is a fine researcher and presents some facts, especially on early hot rodding in the United States that I have not heard before.  There were also some facts that are common knowledge that are presented well but have more subtle meanings.  I don’t detract from the research, because Attaway would have had to spend more time and space than necessary to fully explain the early history of hot rodding in the United States and, after all, this is a British history.  I especially like how he introduces Karl and Veda Orr, two very important people who are often overlooked.  The author lays the groundwork for an early day hot rodding and customizing.  Young people were often ostracized and heavily criticized, sometimes correctly, but often it was just blatant prejudice towards the hot rod culture.  In Chapter 2 Attaway tells the readers about how hot rodders banded together to create a viable culture and the first Hot Rod show in Los Angeles, that was an artistic success even if it failed to be a financial one.  But that show set the stage for the Grand National Roadster Show in Oakland in 1949 and from there the Car Show Era exploded in size all around the world.  
Chapter 3 tells of the creative genius of not only hot rodders, but car customizers in the United States and the magazines and news sources that paved the way for men like customizers George Barris, and Blackie Gejeian to create the cars, and show promoters like Bob Larivee Sr, Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian, and Al and Mary Slonaker to create the shows to spotlight these metal objects of artistic brilliance.  Chapter 4 moves the story of hot rod and custom car shows to Great Britain and here is where Attaway is most at home and familiar with his topic.  The particularly British hot rodding culture has always seemed like it trailed the American version by a decade.  Drag racing and car shows began in the late 1940’s and early ‘50’s in the States and a decade or so later in Great Britain and the continent.  I’m not quite sure that this viewpoint is correct.  Custom cars and hot rods have always existed, in various ways wherever a mechanic, an idea and a car were present.  Perhaps the rest of the world was not as far behind as we thought they were.  But it is true that American movies, TV shows and car magazines heavily influenced the thinking of British and world opinion on what a hot rod and custom car ought to be.  
Attaway then uses the next twelve chapters to bring you up to date on the history of car shows in Great Britain, at least up to 1982.  This implies that he will work on Volume 2 of "Street Rod & Custom Showtime", and carry that history forward to the present day.  I hope he does so.  It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need for good books and articles on particular car shows or another book on the subject by a different author.  We need more than one perspective to adequately tell any history on any subject.  It will be difficult to outdo the work that Rodger Attaway has lavished on "Street Rod & Custom Showtime".  To sum up the quality of the book is superior, the research is extensive, and the photographs are well captioned and accurate as far as I can tell.  The text is also well researched and the conclusions drawn by the author are fresh and sometimes a bit challenging in that they are not what I normally see.  Perhaps it is the British way of viewing the world.  The Brits that I have known were not ones who jumped on any bandwagons.  Richard Noble, Andy Green, Tony Thacker and many other Brits tended to be trendsetters; not trend followers.  You’ll like this book and it meets almost all of my goals.  It is a seminal book; one that you can build a library around.
 I rate it highly and give it a 7.9 out of an 8 sparkplug rating.