The Birth of Hot Rods: From Gow Jobs to Hollywood

Who started hot rods? Learn about how hot rods became popular in 1940s America and how they still survive today thanks to Petersen Publications and Wally Parks' efforts.

The Birth of Hot Rods: From Gow Jobs to Hollywood

When the Second World War ended in 1945, a new fashion trend exploded in the United States: hot rods. But who started this trend? The answer is not as simple as it seems. While the term 'hot rod' became popular in the 1940s, the first examples of these cars, known as 'gow jobs' or 'soups', were built during the Great Depression by enthusiastic young people with little or no money. These were the pioneering days of hot rods, and California, especially the dry lake region in the southern part of the state, is generally considered to be their birthplace.

Robert Petersen launched Hot Rod magazine in 1948 and Wally Parks, former editor of SCTA Racing News, became its editor. Thanks to Petersen Publications, hot rodding and customization (albeit with a 90s costume) survive today and even flourish. The National Hot Rod Association was founded in 1951 to take drag racing off the streets and into controlled environments. Victims gave rise to the brand of hot rods as a social threat that required restrictions or, in some cases, elimination.

Many hot rods would upgrade brakes from mechanical to hydraulic (juice) and headlights from bulb to sealed beam. The common theme is that heat is related to heating a car, which means modifying it for greater performance. In the 1950s, hot rods became part of pop culture and HOT ROD editor Wally Parks sought Hollywood attention as a way to legitimize the hobby. Ernie Nagamatsu bought a car that was featured on the March 1950 cover of HOT ROD and restored it to a higher level than it was on the cover.

When the car was shown on HOT ROD, it was owned by Willet Brown (misspelled as Willit in the magazine), manager of radio stations for the Los Angeles area, including KHJ, who later co-founded the Mutual Broadcasting System. A channeled roadster, something typical of the time, has received improvements over the years that make it more unique and also make you look twice to see that it is the same car that appeared in the June 1958 edition of HOT ROD. This includes a new generation of builders, artists and traditional hot rod styles, as well as classic-style car clubs.So while hot rods may have become popular in the 1940s, it was during the Great Depression that these cars were first built by enthusiastic young people with little or no money. California is generally considered to be their birthplace and thanks to Petersen Publications and Wally Parks' efforts to gain Hollywood attention for this hobby, hot rodding and customization still survive today.