PART 6: 1959


Part 6: Clos­ing out the 1950s with weirdos, beat­niks, and Mamie Van Doren.


If you could see the hun­dreds of re­jected 1959 im­ages cur­rently cov­er­ing our cut­ting-room floor (dig­i­tal ver­sion), you’d be shocked and awed; shocked by the vol­ume and awed by the va­ri­ety. You’d be for­given for won­der­ing aloud why 34 oth­ers made it to print in­stead. Heck, who wouldn’t?

No two hu­mans granted ac­cess to the mas­sive film col­lec­tion com­piled by late pub­lisher Robert E. Petersen could be ex­pected to make iden­ti­cal choices. Go­ing in, we’d ad­vise an aspir­ing ed­i­tor to bury any and all bi­ases about rac­ing types and or­ga­ni­za­tions, ve­hi­cle makes and mod­els, he­roes and vil­lains, other per­son­al­i­ties, af­ter­mar­ket com­pa­nies, en­gine de­signs, mag­a­zines and their staffers. He or she would be re­minded that many ma­ture HOT ROD Deluxe read­ers made first­hand au­to­mo­tive me­mories dur­ing 1959 (though not your cor­re­spon­dent, who turned 10 that Oc­to­ber, nor ed­i­tor Hardin, who turned 2 that Au­gust).

While the ob­jec­tive of this se­ries is to share never-be­fore-seen scenes along­side the mugs of the lucky Petersen pho­tog­ra­phers and writ­ers who worked be­hind the scenes dur­ing one cal­en­dar year, what three-dozen such pho­tos would most ap­peal to most of you (thus en­cour­ag­ing nice reader mail and sub­scrip­tion re­newals)? How many artists and en­ter­tain­ers should steal space from steel sub­jects? Rods or cus­toms? Open-wheeled ver­sus fullfend­ered? Shouldn’t some space be made for sig­nif­i­cant shops and shows? Don’t for­get the drag bikes and dream cars. How about this killer ac­tion from Indy, Day­tona, Bon­neville, Se­bring, and Pomona? Or a tor­tu­ous road test of Detroit’s hottest 1959 iron?

Petersen’s in-house photo lab pro­cessed more than 3,000 rolls of black-and-white film be­tween Jan­uary 4 and De­cem­ber 31. Most rolls con­tained 12 ex­po­sures (though the com­pact, ver­sa­tile 35mm for­mat’s 24- and 36-frame rolls ap­pear more fre­quently as the rac­ing sea­son pro­gresses). Of these 50,000-odd in­di­vid­ual im­ages, your ed­i­tor has room for 34, no more. He’s also got a dead­line with an in­flex­i­ble Mid­west­ern printer whose gi­ant presses will roll right on time, ready or not, lit­tle HOT ROD Deluxe. You’d bet­ter get busy.

That’s just the fun part. The hard part is re­search—not the un­re­li­able kind done on­line, ei­ther. You can’t beat 60-year-old pa­per

and ink, par­tic­u­larly the month­lies pub­lished by Petersen. All too of­ten, though, a per­son, place, or thing that shows up on old film in the ar­chive never did show up in a mag­a­zine, forc­ing mod­ern­day ed­i­tors to re­ject in­ter­est­ing im­ages for want of cap­tion ma­te­rial, rather than com­mit pub­lish­ing’s mor­tal sin of omis­sion. An­other, more com­mon cause for re­jec­tion is prior pub­li­ca­tion. In most of the lat­ter cases, at least one scanned out­take can be found to sur­prise and amaze even those read­ers who have seem­ingly mem­o­rized ev­ery photo in ev­ery is­sue since 1948 (e.g., in­valu­able HRD con­trib­u­tor Greg Sharp).

In­deed, unpublishe­d out­takes buried in the ar­chive vastly out­num­ber the pho­tos printed in Petersen pe­ri­od­i­cals and other, so­called “spe­cial in­ter­est pub­li­ca­tions” (year­books, pic­to­ri­als, how-to com­pi­la­tions, and so on.). Film was rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive; print­ing and bind­ing and stor­ing and mail­ing never have been. Then, as now, the num­ber of ed­i­to­rial pages in print mag­a­zines is largely de­ter­mined by pro­jected com­bined rev­enue from sub­scrip­tions, news­stand sales, and ad­ver­tis­ing. Be­cause so many of you good peo­ple sup­port this one, we’re get­ting space in 2019 to tell a 1959 story. These 34 frames will hope­fully be as en­joy­able to view as they were painful to pick.

> Bob D’olivo shot count­less con­certs and doesn’t re­mem­ber Johnny Mathis’s gig at the Co­coanut Grove, L.A.’S first and big­gest night­club (orig­i­nally named the Zin­nia Grill in 1921). The 1,000-seat venue was part of the 24-acre Am­bas­sador Ho­tel com­plex, which closed in 1989.

> Con­trary to sup­po­si­tions put forth in the pre­vi­ous in­stall­ment of this se­ries (Nov. 2018), Mickey Thomp­son’s 294-mph car made at least this one pub­lic ap­pear­ance (in far-off San Ma­teo) after its record-set­ting 1958 sea­son, adorned in a quickie coat of new paint (no­tice over­sprayed rear slick). The Har­man-collins let­ter­ing led to fur­ther Car Craft re­search con­firm­ing that it was, in fact, Cliff Collins—not Ed Isk­ende­rian, as er­ro­neously re­ported—who pro­duced steel-bil­let camshafts for the dual Chryslers. For the Aug. 1959 is­sue, Mickey con­fided to Don Fran­cisco that one of those bump­sticks had to be pried out of the for­ward en­gine after two con­nect­ing rods came apart dur­ing an un­suc­cess­ful re­turn run. “The thing that fouled us up was time,” M/T ex­plained. “When we saw we were be­gin­ning to run short of time, we got fran­tic, and when you get fran­tic at Bon­neville, you dump more ni­tro into the fuel tank. That’s just what we did.” He planned to bring six Pon­tiac en­gines, de­vel­oped with Mr. Isky’s grinds and per­sonal as­sis­tance, this time, back to Utah with a new car, boldly promis­ing to “break the World’s Land Speed Record. I’m as sure of this as I am that Bon­neville salt is white.”

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