Magazine, April 29, 1957.
in 1958, Thunder Road was one of several movies of
the time to feature fast driving.
Norman Rockwell celebrated hot rod culture in his illustration for a
1950 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.
Through magazines such as Hot Rod, rodders stayed
aware of automotive trends from across the nation. This 1961 magazine
featured a car from Southwest Virginia.
the late-1940s and ‘50s, the popular media—especially
magazines, movies, and pop music—“discovered” the
growing car scene. A number of publications such as Speed Age
(1947), Rod and Custom (1953), and Car Speed & Style
(1957) were geared specifically toward the men who were customizing
and/or racing cars. Largely centered on California car culture, Hot
Rod (1948) became the premier hot rod magazine. Through these
publications auto enthusiasts stayed up to date with design trends
and mechanical innovations across the nation. In 1951 a customized
1950 Ford convertible from Covington became the first Southwest Virginia
car to be pictured in a national hot rod magazine.
While magazines gave auto fans ideas about car building, movies and
television shaped the public image of the racing hot rodder. Devil
on Wheels (1947) was the first movie to feature hot rods, and
a host of films quickly followed. Six car-related movies were made
in 1958 alone, including the classic Thunder Road. The hot
rodder’s life was often pictured as restless and dangerous.
Not surprisingly, the hot rodder’s girlfriend usually came across
the screen as a young woman bound for trouble.
and car culture were also highlighted in other popular media in the
1950s and ‘60s. In television scripts auto enthusiasts were
sometimes featured as support characters, the most famous being the
hair-combing “Kookie” Burns on the detective show 77
Sunset Strip. Magazines such as Life, The Saturday
Evening Post, and Sports Illustrated included front-cover
articles on hot rods and drag racing.
The Beach Boys reached #7 on the music charts in 1963 with their
single Little Deuce Coupe.
was immortalized in songs ranging from country and western’s
“Cadillac Boogie” (1946) and rhythm and blues’ “Rocket
88” (1951) to rock and roll’s “Maybelline”
(1955) and top-forty’s “Dead Man’s Curve”
(1964). (The nation’s first automotive racing song may actually
have been “The Chevrolet Six” recorded by Frank Hutchison
of West Virginia in 1929; Hutchison’s song tells the story of
a moonshiner who outruns the police with a powerful Chevrolet.) The
success of car songs came from thousands of record-buying teenagers
who did not even own hot rods or street machines but who identified
in some way with the culture of speed.
5 » Car