With the “birth” of the May ’72 issue of STREET RODDER, a magazine and the phenomenon known as street rodding began in earnest. SR wasn’t the first of the hot rod titles, or the first of the rod and custom titles; it wasn’t even the first of the street rod titles. But it’s the street rod title that’s currently in publication for the longest continuous period of time, the largest in circulation and advertising revenue, and read the world over. It’s a “force” in one small but incredibly visible segment of the automotive aftermarket industry.
For starters, many may ask just how and why SR came about. That’s a long, long story. Generally speaking, magazines come into the marketplace because there’s a need to satisfy the enthusiast’s desire to find the information and entertainment they desire about their hobby. There’s one individual who’s uniquely qualified to tell the story, at least the CliffsNotes version.
Knowing this I asked him—LeRoi “Tex” Smith—to write down some notes on where and why STREET RODDER came about. Often called a hot rodder’s hot rodder, Tex (although he didn’t come from Texas) is a well-known journalist on multiple continents. Over the decades he has found himself an integral part of many a start-up publication and is often credited with starting the modern street rod movement. (Many believe the hot rod came about prior to World War II, while today’s street rod movement began in the late-’60s.)
In the words of LeRoi “Tex” Smith:
“STREET RODDER magazine actually came to be back in the ’60s, back when street rodding was just beginning to be recognized as a standalone aspect of the overall hot rod sport/hobby.
“As more and more emphasis was piled on the burgeoning sport of drag racing, the more traditional elements of hot rodding were rapidly fading into the fumes of automotive history. At Hot Rod magazine, I carried the flags for on-the-street specialty cars, and it was always apparent this less flamboyant part of the specialty car hobby had a far wider interest base than met the eye. Still, it was very difficult to convey this truth to magazine publishers blinded by the possible profits from more volatile venues. In short, the magazines follow the money, which means editors and publishers flock to the advertisers. At that time, those dollars were centered on the quarter-mile, not on the home garage from whence they had sprang.
“So, it was then I recognized an opportunity to introduce a street rod–oriented newsstand title, I announced to Tom and Rose McMullen (TRM Publications) that I would create STREET RODDER as a partner to our several custom motorcycle titles. Tom’s reaction was, ‘Street rodding is dead; bikes are where it’s at!’ I insisted and Rose found that we could afford the move by dropping our Hot Bike title, and I already had the qualified staff on board. Current head honcho at SR, Brian Brennan, was one of those staffers. (Editor’s note: Hot Bike is back and alive and catering to its two-wheel audience.)
“The main concern for me at that time, early 1972, was the lack of an advertiser base. I knew we had potential reader sales of 130,000, based on past performance of Rod & Custom and activities at the National Hot Rod Association, but a survey of those hot rod equipment manufacturers and dealers was not at all encouraging. In short, we had practically no street rod equipment base at all.
“But there was strong encouragement from the field, with a rapidly growing number of open road–oriented street rod organizations. There was also a versatile group of fledgling parts suppliers and businesses just ready to surface. Into this breach is where I intended to slot STREET RODDER. Fortunately, we did have an audience, car nuts who wanted both a widely distributed monthly publication devoted entirely to their interests, and a place where they could identify and buy parts specifically for street rods.
“These were factors that had been identified back in the ’50s but had slipped under the rug as drag racing had shifted emphasis to organized sprints, which meant street driven and dual-purpose hot rods became invisible. STREET RODDER was destined to change that misconception. Radically!
“Persistence has been the key to STREET RODDER’s success, as well as the dramatic rise in a street rod industry that was, at first, dismissed by the ‘experts’ as too small an audience to warrant serious consideration. While mainstream hot rodding was drifting more and more to pickup bed liners and still more custom wheels, STREET RODDER and its following arrowed straight to the basics of original hot rodding … fun with cars!
“In the beginning the STREET RODDER staff pulled double duty on the motorcycle titles as well. At the same time, they were becoming more and more polished in the journalistic trade, at a time when we still relied on the manual/electric typewriter and old-fashioned film.
“Several of those staff members remain in the magazine/book trade, some have drifted to other related fields, and some have retired. STREET RODDER remains, doing now what it has always done … to give the reader value for buck and leadership for the hobby. Someday, somewhere, I’ll fill in all the blanks. Thanks for coming along for the ride.”
Thanks to LeRoi for giving us a bit of our own valued history. And, while this is the 40th anniversary issue, you want to be around for the Dec. ’12 issue, when we really get deep into this whole anniversary-issue thing. And, should you find yourself at the SEMA show in Las Vegas come early November you will want to stop by our booth as there will be lots more fun things going on.