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Car Craft 60th Anniversary Observance - Big Ideas

Tracking the Trends Fads, Fashions, and Flops from Car Craft’s Past

By Rick Voegelin, Photography by Car Craft Archives

American patriot Thomas Paine offered this sage advice to his fellow revolutionaries: "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." Centuries later, Car Craft writers continued to follow Paine's wise counsel.

Does a magazine simply report new trends, or does it create them on its ink-stained pages? The archive suggests that both forces were often at work. At times, CC's editorial package was seriously behind the curve; at others, it was so far ahead that it was in jeopardy of falling off the leading edge.

Automotive fashion is as fickle as hair styles and music. A car that's cool today can quickly become as dated as mullets and disco. So, as we look back at Big Ideas from Car Craft's past in this segment of our 60th anniversary observance, remember that they reflect the best and worst of times.

Drag Racing: It's A/Gas!

From its conception as TV Guide–size HONK! in 1953, Car Craft was in magazine purgatory. Its editorial coverage ranged from kustom kars and traditional street rods to lakesters, dragsters, and model cars. There was little to distinguish Car Craft from dozens of other car books on the newsstand— including its Petersen Publishing rivals, Rod & Custom and Hot Rod.

That all changed with the Feb. '65 issue, when Car Craft declared its allegiance to drag racing. The magazine's commitment to the quarter-mile sport was announced by Editorial Director Dick Day: "The ‘All-New' Car Craft is here—and, like us, you'll find it A/GAS!"

Suddenly, CC had a reason to exist. A new masthead proudly proclaimed CC to be "The Automotive Show & Go Magazine." Street rod buildups, motorcycle tests, and model-car plans still appeared alongside drag racing articles, but the new direction was clear. Noted racer/engine builder Tony Nancy contributed a monthly tech column, illustrator Steve Swaja penned a series of cutaway illustrations that became the magazine's trademark, and centerspreads showcased wheelstanders, fuel dragsters, Super Stocks, and Gassers.

As street rods and customs were gradually winnowed from the table of contents, CC became a hardcore racing magazine. Don Garlits and Tom McEwen were the magazine's new mainstays, appearing frequently on covers, centerspreads, and features. This shift to drag racing, in turn, attracted a new generation of racer/writers raised on nitromethane and tire smoke, not angel hair and Frenched headlights. The introduction of the Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing team in 1967 gave the magazine legitimacy among racers and the speed equipment industry.

The Feb. '68 issue introduced yet another new masthead; Car Craft was now "Drag Racing's Complete Magazine"—a declaration that endured until March 1978. As the new decade dawned, dragstrips were booming, the factories were buying ads to tout powerful new models, and performance was in full flower. What could possibly go wrong?

Minicars And Mileage

Imagine the hate mail we'd receive if a Volkswagen appeared on the cover of Car Craft today. In the early '70s, it happened twice—and there were no reported death threats or letter bombs.

In fact, Volkswagens were an integral part of the automotive performance scene. Building and racing souped-up Bugs was a popular pastime in California, and VWs were regularly featured on Car Craft's pages throughout the muscle-car era. Buggin' Out, a department devoted to all things Volkswagen—from dune buggies to dragsters—first appeared in the Jan. '69 Car Craft and had a four-year run.

As a perfect storm of emission laws, outrageous insurance rates, and safety regulations engulfed the American muscle car, CC editors looked to minicars for salvation. Vegas and Pintos soon populated the magazine's pages, and articles on the "Import Hop-Up Boom" showed incredulous Car Craft readers how to modify Datsuns and Toyotas. A comparison test of "Nine Minicars for Under $2,500" included such memorable machines as a Fiat 128, a Plymouth Cricket, and a 36hp, two-cylinder Honda coupe.

The OPEC oil embargo of 1973–'74, followed by a second Energy Crisis in 1979, meant hard times for gas-guzzling muscle cars—and for the magazines that covered them. Car Craft responded with articles on improving fuel economy: "20 Gas Saving Tips" was the highlight of the Mar. '74 issue, and "How to Get 21 MPG From Your Chevy V8" was a compelling cover blurb in June '74.

By Rick Voegelin
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