Complaints, yours and mine.
The inbox lately has been full of the usual interesting mix of old-timey photos and fond memories, leavened with folks calling us out for the mistakes that creep into our copy, whether by oversight or lack of knowledge. Two stand out, though, complaining that I’ve run too many early 1930s Fords in the magazine.
Yes, two similar cars ran on back-toback covers recently, Tom Morris’s red Model A roadster in Nov. 2018 and Austin Grabowski’s maroon ’32 roadster in Jan. 2019. Yet they told such different stories. One was a survivor from the late 1940s, teaching us lessons of how hot rods were built 60 years ago. The other was crafted by a 21st century college student who took those decades-old lessons and made them his own.
Look at it another way: If you haven’t already, turn to the collection of dry-lakes racing photos from 1948 that make up our cover story (p. 34). What kinds of cars do you see? Aside from a couple of belly tanks, the vast majority are Fords—model Ts, Model As, ’32 roadsters. Much like our editorial plan.
When I took over this magazine from Dave Wallace five years ago, I came here with none of his drag racing experience and expertise. So I nudged the magazine towards its namesake, hot rods, with an eye towards those cars that distill the essence of traditional rodding, be they historic cars or those built in their likeness decades later. Dave elected to stay on with us in a contributing role, bringing his life on the dragstrip to bear in a number of ways. It’s most obvious in his coverage of the vintage meets at Famoso, and the occasional drag car features he writes. But he has branched out, too, with his much-praised historical essays that mine the Petersen photographic archives for unseen, unpublished gems.
Honestly (and maybe defensively), I think that complaining that we run too many old Fords is like telling the editor of Super Chevy magazine that he runs too many Chevys. The terms hot rod and old Ford are nearly synonymous, I figure. Nearly.
Obviously there’s room for other kinds of cars. And with these complaints in mind, I’ll take a fresh look at my 2019 editorial calendar. The Gasser issue will be in production soon, and if plans come together, there will be an historic Willys on that cover. Maybe I can put off the Model A special for a few more issues, and replace it with … what? That’s my job to figure out, but I’m open to suggestions.
Art for Art’s Sake
When the Los Angeles Times reviewed the “Auto-didactic” exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum recently (see Roddin’ @ Random, page 12), art critic Christopher Knight took the museum to task for “whitewashing” Kenneth Howard, aka Von Dutch, whose works appeared in the gallery. Knight’s issue was that none of the material about or in the exhibit mentioned Howard’s anti-semitism and Nazi sympathies.
As evidence of those beliefs, Knight cited a graphically racist letter Howard wrote shortly before his death, a letter that was printed in a Los Angeles Magazine profile about the artist/pinstriper/machinist.
Knight also saw in Von Dutch’s trademark flying eyeball “an adolescent’s malicious cartoon riff on the wreathed swastika surmounted by a winged eagle . . . that was an emblem of . . . Nazi Germany. Sent aloft on flapping wings, the artist’s all-seeing eye, bloodshot from booze, replaces the Nazi hooked cross nestled inside the circle of a victorious laurel wreath.”
Now, bigotry of any kind is abhorrent and should not be tolerated. Period. End of discussion. But . . . is this context always necessary? Are we obligated to describe Von Dutch’s admittedly ugly personal views every time we print a photo of a car he striped? By the same token, do we need to mention Henry Ford’s anti-semitic beliefs with every Deuce roadster car feature we print? Can’t the car, or art, stand on its own merits? Or am I being naïve?
The ’57 Fords of Chuck Stevensen (on the pole) and Troy Ruttman shared the front row at this April 1957 USAC race held at Paramount Ranch Racetrack in Agoura Hills, California. Ruttman would go on to win, leading 48 of the race’s 50 laps. During the two years it operated, the undulating, 2-mile course was most often used by the California Sports Car Club, but two Stock Car races were held there too, in November 1956 and this one, the track’s penultimate race. A series of racing-related fatalities caused the track to close, though it led a second life as a filming location. The ranch, which Paramount Pictures bought it in 1927, has been the setting for movies and TV shows. In November, most of the ranch was destroyed by the fast-moving Woolsey Fire that denuded so much of the Malibu area, though, remarkably, the white Chapel and railroad station sets used in HBO’S Westworld were undamaged.