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. offers dozens of titles of period publications, as does Nick Licata of 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.

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