Go to the newsstand today. Walk over to the automotive section. There, behind some of the oldest and most beloved magazine titles on the stand, you’ll find some of the worst: “rat rod” magazines (and yeah –– we use that term loosely) that are just a GOT-damn embarrassment to anyone who loves this stuff. We saw the advent of these shitty rags a few years ago and we really didn’t think that the Hot Topic of car culture would’ve lasted more than a year or two. Three, tops. But, here we are, staring at these things on the newsstand, shaking our heads and wondering where it all went so wrong…
But it didn’t used to be like this. In 1999, Hot Rod Deluxe quietly showed up on the newsstand and it represented a change in the traditional way hot rods and customs were portrayed in print. Not only was it a magazine dedicated to the first rat rods, retro scene and kustom kulture (see Part VI), but its very idea somehow got through the gates at the granddaddy automotive publishing house, Petersen. This little magazine was published by the very same house its editors railed against in the premiere issue’s Editor’s Letter!
The rumor was that Petersen was going to “try out” this new idea using the venerable Hot Rod moniker. It didn’t seem as though many copies hit the stands at the time, but the hands they found themselves in were attached to arms that reached for the wallets in the cuffed jeans of the hotrodders who freaked out over them. In the pre-Y2K world, Hot Rod Deluxe had a similar effect to MTV in 1981: for the first time, pockets of this new car culture were being exposed to anyone who could get to the magazine rack.
In the very first issue, editors John Pecorelli and Christine Ryan laid out what was important to that southern California hotrodding set: a brief history of Moon Racing Equipment, nostalgia drag racing, dating tips for picking up retro chicks, a tech article on flamethrower installation, features on Social Distortion’s Mike Ness and Boyd Coddington’s renegade son Greg, Low Brow art and a cover feature on one of the best traditional car clubs still going strong: the Choppers of Burbank, among other music and art reviews. Right from the start, John and Christine made no bones about their struggle to get the publishing giant to agree to such an idea:
“What is the real issue, then? The difference between riding around in a megamoney air-conditioned trailer queen or throwing together a makeshift speedster in your driveway with spare change. The issue is also paying attention to all the other things that go along with hot rodding: the music, the artwork, the clothes, even how to pick up the lassy chicks. You know, the kulture in kustom kulture.”
They go on… “In fact, this magazine is so far off the beaten path at Petersen HQ (aka the Deathstar) that it took a Godziller-sized pile of persistence to get this thing off the ground at all. And we’d like to say a prayer of thanks to all the tiki gods that the publishing powers that be finally listened –– and let us bend the Petersen Automotive Group rule book beyond recognition!”
By the time the second –– and last –– issue of Hot Rod Deluxe was published the following year, John and Christine were gone. Petersen Publishing had become an entity called emap usa. But there was significantly more content in this one and it was easy to see how many early rat rods were being built. Almost all were well-done, historically influenced cars that looked more like the machines in the vintage photos of dry lakes racing and mid-century hot rod snapshots than the cars showcased in magazines like Hot Rod and Rod & Custom that shared shelf space with the issue. This one featured the Road Rockets cc, the Blessing Of The Cars show (as well as the Shifters cc-sponored Anti Blessing) and other southern California events, but it also featured some Nor-Cal greatness like the Road Zombies cc, the Billetproof car show, Nor-Cal Rat Fink Reunion and even went so far as the East Coast and Yankee Dave Walter’s Deuce roadster in Hummelstown, PA.
But that was it. For reasons that will probably be argued for years to come, Hot Rod Deluxe would only put out those two issues. In some ways, it was OK, though: the magazine had proven there was a need to be fulfilled and would be the impetus for the launch a few different brands in magazine and book publishing, video production, fashion lines, car shows, nostalgia choppers, speed parts, etc. It was a new world with an old soul and a fresh viewpoint and a healthy skepticism of the old guard. Things would never be the same and that was a good thing. The roots of the Rat Rod movement can be found in the pages of the original Hot Rod Deluxe.