PART 7: 1960
Part 7: Petersen Publishing grows as the 1960s begin.
With so much action occurring simultaneously in so many regional hotbeds this year, no single magazine staff could hope to be in all places at all times. Robert E. Petersen’s unique advantage was owning multiple titles, each employing specialists who overlapped into the print equivalent of an automotive internet. Moreover, “Pete” could test the potential of any emerging market quickly and relatively cheaply by utilizing in-house editorial and production people to either start a publication from scratch or spin one off from an established Petersen title, then heavily promote the new project in the others.
This year, go-kart-crazy Car Craft launched an offshoot called Kart, packed with ads. Similarly, Motor Trend soon spawned the competition-oriented Sports Car Graphic. Immediate, widespread distribution of anything new was assured by a North American dealer network already profiting from Pete’s established monthlies, plus a steady barrage of thicker, higher-priced, “special edition” Petersen annuals, how-to books, racing compilations, and other recyclings of previously published articles and photography.
We’re sharing this ancient history to illustrate how the vast Petersen Publishing Company photo archive came to acquire an incomparable range of subjects. This year’s vehicular variety foretold the unprecedented strangeness of the decade to come.
Among other oddities, Pete’s road warriors documented beatniks and bubbletops, a fighter-jet engine on wheels, four V8s on wheels, and a show-winning custom “car” with no engine and no wheels. They covered the first 400-mph American car and driver, tested a new wave of “medium compacts” from all three of the Big Three, and chronicled sleepy Pontiac’s seemingly sudden emergence atop auto racing (the GM division’s reward for three years of discreetly circumventing Detroit’s 1957 agreement to stop sponsoring, supporting, or even promoting high performance).
While those lucky guys enjoyed virtually unrestricted access wherever they flashed a Petersen business card, only a tiny fraction of their photos were published at the time. Whereas anything in print had passed scrutiny from the editors, advertiser-conscious publishers, and all-powerful editorial director Wally Parks, the rest of the story often went unseen and untold due to political, business, personal, or space considerations. It’s these unpublished outtakes that deliver deeper, truer insight into scenes unfolding right in front of staffers’ lenses—but subsequently kept behind the curtain separating us mere mortals, the readers.
Some of the artists’ faces appear here, frozen in time by mischievous colleagues always armed with cameras. Almost all of them are gone now, nearly six decades after so much of their best 1960 work was developed, dried, sleeved, labeled, filed, and forgotten, forever—or so it must have seemed to our frustrated editorial ancestors. It’s our pleasure to prove them wrong here in the next century.
Motor Trend magazine’s Aug. 1960 Indy 500 coverage bemoaned rain delays during both qualifying weekends that reduced attempts by 66 entries. Soggy fans were effectively repurposing handout copies of an Indianapolis daily when Petersen Publishing Co. (PPC) photo chief Bob D’olivo happened by. (Kiddies, don’t try this with your smartphones or tablets.)
As the go-kart craze took off, drag and lakes racer Charles Scott’s muffler and dyno shop diversified into manufacturing pintsized performance parts. Sons George (left) and Billy Scott respectively demonstrated the differences between a conventional quartermidget roadster and a rebodied, dual-purpose kart. “Billy the Kid” advanced to fuel and gas dragsters as a young teen and, ultimately, to champ cars, finishing 23rd in the 1976 Indy 500.
Below: Norm Grabowski continued living every young male’s dream life, driving hot rods and acting in B-movies and television shows alongside Hollywood’s hottest honeys. Mamie Van Doren posed for HRM’S Eric Rickman in Norm’s ’25 T to promote a forgettable film with an unforgettable title, Sex Kittens Go to College. Still powered by a flathead here, the red touring soon acquired a hot Chevy V8, landed its own TV series ( My Mother the Car), and found a new owner, studio-photographer Kaye Trapp. Socal drag fans watched it push-start both the Zeuschel, Fuller & Moody Aa/fueler and the Magicar that Trapp campaigned in partnership with Ron Winkel. (See Aug. 1960 HRM.)
It’s hard to believe that such great action and from such a rare angle wasn’t published at the time, somewhere, but what we cannot find in our incomplete collection of PPC magazines qualifies for Backstage Past consideration. The surprisingly stock Burkhardt, Brammer & Wilson ’29 on ’32 rails is boiling the biggest balonies like a dragster at Riverside because it ran like one, and then some. NHRA Museum curator Greg Sharp cited 1958 evidence that thendriver Howard Eichenhoffer’s 212.264 mph in the dirt was the best by any dry-lakes car, including streamliners and lakesters. Mike Burns and Don Rackemann also spent time in the seat. A Sept. 1959 HRM feature called it the world’s swiftest drag roadster at 9.81/156.79. Its front-blown, nitro-burning, 341ci Desoto was backed by a ’39 Lincoln tranny using high gear only.
Many of the negatives selected for this series were both composed and processed by the same PPC employee: Pat Brollier. Equally skilled as a photographer and lab technician, Pat enjoyed a long career on photographic director Bob D’olivo’s team.
Technical editor Barney Navarro helped make Motor Life a respected monthly both before and after parent Quinn Publications was acquired by rival publisher Robert E. Petersen. Navarro broke the story of GMC’S groundbreaking V6 in the May 1960 issue and offered a prescient prediction: “Granted, the new powerplant can be found at this time time only in a pickup truck, but such a unit certainly has possibilities for future passenger-car power.” The same article teased readers with a small factory photo of the 12- cylinder, 610- cubic-inch prototype that GM engineers created by aligning two of these engines inside of a single crankcase and oil pan.