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Hot Rods in the Forties: A Blast from the Past by Don Montgomery

Hot Rods in the Forties: A Blast from the Past by Don Montgomery
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Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz


Another great book in the series by Don Montgomery is Hot Rods in the Forties, a Blast from the Past. This is a hardbound book measuring 9 inches wide by 11 ¼ inches in height. There are 144 pages in the book and it is composed of high quality glossy-waxed paper. There are no color photos as the subject matter dates back to the 1940’s. There are 12 charts giving statistics and points standings and 285 black and white photos. Some of the photos are grainy and hard to see while other photographs are exceptionally well done. Montgomery cannot be faulted for the quality of the photographs since they came from many sources. What the author has done is to find and publish some very rare photos of a period of time that defined the golden age of automotive racing and experimentation. Some of the photos are extremely well captioned and tell the story all by themselves. Other captions are sparse or non-existent, which is a problem for the readers who are looking for their friends or relatives. Another disappointment is the lack of an index, which serious scholars will find to be a detriment in their researching. Otherwise, Hot Rods in the Forties, a Blast from the Past is another fine example of the editing, writing and researching that Don Montgomery puts into his books. Montgomery’s books all have the same format, with a red hardbound cover and a white, red and black dust cover jacket. Pay extra attention to the dust cover jacket because it enhances the look of the book. Hot Rods in the Forties, a Blast from the Past is self-published by the author and was first published in 1987, republished in 1989 and 1993. Copies can be obtained from the author by contacting him at 760-728-5557 or at Autobooks/Aerobooks at 818-845-0707.

Montgomery writes the introduction, the acknowledgments and the seven chapters. This is a one-man operation and the author is very good at what he does. Montgomery has a driving desire to record the history and heritage of hot rodding and car racing. He specializes in dry lakes time trials, drag racing and the street rod culture, because that is where the hot rod saw its greatest glory. In fact, hot rodding has never gone out of fashion and is even as popular today as during its heyday of the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Montgomery is respected by the old time hot rodders and this is why he is able to dig deep into their archives and memories. He is respected because of his attention to detail and accuracy. He accumulates stories and photographs until he has enough to create a book, which he likes to refer to as his “hot rodder’s photo albums.” Montgomery provides enough text and captions to help the new reader along. Hot Rods in the Forties, a Blast from the Past is a pictorial, after all, and it helps to have a background in hot rodding in order to fully grasp and appreciate the variety of the sport. If you are new to hot rodding, or are young and never had the opportunity to see the dry lakes or the old drag strips, then buy all of Don Montgomery’s books, because taken as a whole they truly explain the history.

Chapter One is called The Prewar Years and discusses how the hot rodders went to the dry lakes of Southern California to test their hopped up gows against the elements and each other. Gows is a term for hot rods popular in the 1930’s. A newspaper reporter first used the term ‘hot rod’ to express his ideas of what these new and fascinating cars were like. Hot rod was used as a pejorative put down and came to define a wild, out of control teenager’s street racing car. Gradually, the term hot rod changed in the minds of the public and earned a begrudging respect. Today the term gow is almost forgotten, while the lowly hot rod has risen in esteem. Chapter Two is named The Great Years and discusses how World War II shut down racing and the car culture while millions of men and women went into the military. After the war these young people returned and created a stronger and more vibrant car culture than ever before. Hot rodding expanded past the street rod and dry lakes car. Chapter Three is titled The Clubs and Montgomery discusses how the local car clubs formed, competed at the lakes and on the streets. Chapter Four is called the Dry Lakes and discusses the racing that took place there. Chapter Five is named the Hot Rod Shows. Hot rodders were gaining pride in their custom creations and were beginning to see the commercial opportunities opening up to them. The 1948 Hot Rod Exposition at the National Guard Armory, near the Los Angeles Coliseum, became a huge hit and soon thereafter there were hot rod shows everywhere. Chapter Six is entitled Hot Rod Magazine and discusses how this seminal newsmagazine put hot rodding on a new level of respect. Pete Petersen and Bob Lindsay brought out the new magazine, with Wally Parks as editor and the photographers and staffers included Don Francisco, Bill Burke, Racer Brown, Tom Medley and Rick Rickman. Chapter Seven is called The Survivors and is pictorial with no text. Hot Rods in the Forties, a Blast from the Past is a must for your hot rodding library.

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