19 August 2013

Hot Rod Rags

Old magazines like Hop Up and Honk aren’t expensive, yet they still offer a rich experience


In 1943, Robert E. Petersen started publishing a hot rod magazine that he sold for 25 cents at the local car races. He was only 16, and his Petersen Publishing Company went on to generate annual sales of $250 million from 80 different magazines. His initial publication, Hot Rod magazine, flourished in southern California as servicemen returning from World War II had demobilization money in their pockets and expressed their newfound sense of freedom by creating unique and individualized automobiles, many of which were featured on its pages.

The first official Hot Rod magazine was published in January 1948, with Wally Parks — who founded the National Hot Rod Association in 1951 — soon joining as editor. The magazine was only sold at events and was often folded in half and stuck in back pockets, so finding a pristine copy is rare indeed. When they do show up they sell for $1,000 to $1,500, but there are many more reprints in circulation than were originally printed.

For several years, Hot Rod stood alone as the voice of the hobby, but as the popularity of hot rodding increased, competition came both from within Petersen’s company and elsewhere. Petersen Publishing introduced Motor Trend in 1949 to offer Hot Rod readers a look at the latest new cars. Car Craft followed in 1953 and focused on “real world” budget vehicles that were within the financial reach of a wider audience. Publications such as Hop Up, Honk, Car Life, Tach and Rod and Custom followed — each aimed at a specific niche within the custom and hot rod scene.

Today there is an active market for early auto magazines, with eBay showing at least 500 listings for various issues at any one time. Most are in the $10 – $20 range. Vintage-Car-Magazines.com offers dozens of titles of period publications, as does nitroactive.net. Nick Licata of nitoractive.net says that for many of his buyers, the appeal of the vintage publications is in trying to complete a run of a specific magazine. Others, he says, seek out magazines that mention the very car that a friend or relative once owned.

If you are restoring a vintage hot rod or custom, researching a period event or just reminiscing about the rich car culture of the ’40s and ’50s, early car magazines provide hours of pleasurable and informative reading at a modest price.

10 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Ak Dad Bakersfield CA February 16, 2015 at 05:37
    I have 100s of hot rod magazines I may even have the 1949 January. My email akaraindrops@yahoo.com I have a lot. Of them in greAt shape .
  • 2
    LouAnn Bee Mahaffey, Pa. May 31, 2015 at 19:44
    my husband has Hot Rod magazines from 1971 to 2011. He is now disabled,can't talk or walk, I have been sorting them by the years. Was wondering if anyone collects them. Would like to sell them, we have to start down sizing.
  • 3
    Jeff Keitz GA June 14, 2015 at 21:07
    I have old automobile magazines like HONK, Rod & Custom, and many other in very good condition dating back to 1953. What are they worth? and ho do I sell them.
  • 4
    Irish Brendan Mullallly SoCal August 6, 2015 at 21:50
    This is for the folks in the comments. I'm just getting into the whole "sell stuff online" gig myself and I've been doing some research. I too have a variety of Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, De Luxe , etc magazines and have been trying to in a sense value them. Like the article states, EBay is most likely the best resource. Just search the mags title, month, yr, volume & no and try different combos of them. I believe if it's a normal issue and not a special, commemorative, first or final then they most likely will go for face value or less. If it is a special or final then really it's upto you. For instance, I have the final issue of Custom Rodder. My eBay search turned up 2 listings. One in a bundle of 7 for about $5. Another by itself for $15. I myself am proud to have a mag that's part of an important collection for the Culture/hobby/ lifestyle or however you see it. So I'll place it in between. If you want to just unload them as quick as possible, try bundling. Apologies for the ramble. I was just interrupted and completely lost my train of thought. But I hope that helps.
  • 5
    Mitch Ritchie P.a. October 26, 2015 at 01:39
    Mag Hunter n buying.
  • 6
    Freddy Stamey Lincolnton, NC 28092 May 9, 2016 at 22:29
    I have lots of Car Craft and Got Rod and Popular Hot Rod and National Dragster back when they looked like newspapers. Books dated fron 1980's - 2016
  • 7
    Arthur Shoffner Palo Cedro, California May 20, 2016 at 12:19
    I have a collection of Hot Rod Mags, 1965-1978, most of them are in Hot Rod binders...Mint Cond.. I have no idea of how much they would be worth ?? Thanks, Art Shoffner
  • 8
    Ron macfarlane cannon city co. June 3, 2016 at 11:23
    I have 100s of hot rod,street rodder,classic chevy,super chevy,mustle machines,car craft and others.some from the late 1950 s to 2015.Would love to sell all or some.
  • 9
    Barbara Guzowski deland florida 32724 July 3, 2016 at 08:29
    I want to sell my old magazines I have 1969 thur 1995 I have every name and in excellent condition.
  • 10
    Eloy Garza Laredo, Texas September 17, 2016 at 13:49
    I have Hot Rod from the 70s to the 80s along with National Dragster in the newspaper type format! Would like to get rid of them but not sure of value! Thank you!

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