Ad Radar
Car Craft
Click here to find out more!

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

Dragsters For The Street

The notion of driving a race car on the street has seduced generations of car enthusiasts. The advent of "Dragsters for the Street" introduced a theme that was to become a staple of Car Craft's editorial package for decades to come. The Mar. '68 issue featured a remarkable collection of what came to be known as "Street Freaks"—a street slingshot powered by a SOHC Ford, a Gasser-style supercharged '55 Chevy, a big-block powered Anglia, and a blown Willys coupe. Although several were thinly disguised race cars, the idea resonated with readers.

One year later, the "Drive-In Dragsters" were back, featuring a mid-engined, Toronado-powered '55 Nomad, billed as a "Street Wheelie Wagon." The first use of the term "Street Freaks" appeared in the Nov. '70 issue that featured a street-driven, flip-top two-seat Nova that was built from the remains of the Hawaiian Funny Car that took flight at the '69 NHRA Winternationals.

But something else was going on. If L.A. was the birthplace of Dragsters for the Street, then Detroit was the cradle of seriously fast street racers. Jimmy Addison's understated 10-second Plymouth, immortalized by writer Ro McGonegal as the Silver Bullet, was the leader of this clandestine pack.

The parallel universes of street freaks and street racers existed side-by-side in Car Craft for decades. Flamed-and-supercharged machines ruled the covers as "Homemade Musclecars" and "More Mind Blowers for the Street," while serious street racers equipped their cars with Pro Stock–style powertrains.

The debut of Pro Street in the Nov. '81 issue signaled the next step in street machine evolution, as these two trends merged and morphed. Late-model bodies outfitted with full-race engines, rollcages, and massive rear tires stoked the race-car fantasy, while glitzy paint and graphics paid Technicolor homage to the custom cars in Car Craft's not-so-distant past. The Car Craft Street Machine Nationals fueled the frenzy, as builders attempted to create increasingly outrageous machines. The most extreme expression of the Street Freak/Pro Street movement was Rick Dobbertin's flip-top J2000 Pontiac, dissected in the June '13 issue's 60th anniversary retrospective.

Café Racers

If the fantasy of the Street Freaks fad was to drive a Funny Car on the street, then the premise of the Café Racer movement was to wheel a road racer on the highway. While the hallmarks of Pro Street were blowers and wheelie bars, spoilers and fender flares were favored by the Café Racer crowd.

The Café Racer concept originated with motorcyclists who decked out their bikes with Grand Prix–inspired styling cues. When the idea of a street-worthy road racer migrated to the automotive realm, the result was heralded as "Road Racers for the Street" in the Mar. '78 Car Craft. The idea resurfaced as "Street Machines for the '80s" in several subsequent issues.

Strongly influenced by the winged-and-flared race cars competing in the IMSA GT series, the Café Racers were the pioneers of the Pro Touring movement. They introduced a new vocabulary to Car Craft readers: Stabilizer bars, spring rates, and camber curves became the new buzzwords. Enthusiasts discovered that handling could be as rewarding as horsepower—and immune to the anti-tampering laws and emission inspections that made it difficult for citizens to modify engines, legally.

As with any fashion, some took the Café Racer concept to its illogical conclusion, creating outrageously flared and lowered cars that sacrificed real-world performance for far-out styling. But the legacy of the "Road Racers for the Street" survives in today's street GTs, canyon carvers, and track-day cars.

Vans, Pickups, And CB Radios

The simultaneous appearance of vans, pickups, and CB radios in the pages of Car Craft was an unholy trinity, a sure sign of the Apocalypse. Although the masthead still declared Car Craft to be "Drag Racing's Complete Magazine," the reality was starkly different.

Car Craft unwittingly aided and abetted the van craze with its first customized Econoline project. Featured in the Jan. '71 issue, the CC Van was tested by Simon Stokes and the Black Whip Thrill Band. Yes, really.

The first van appeared on a Car Craft cover in April '74, unleashing a torrent of similar covers, featuring "Funky Pickups and Vans"—a theme repeated throughout the mid-'70s. The nadir was perhaps the blown Hemi cover van (Feb. '77) that pitched its driveshaft just as astonished staff photographer Jon Asher released the shutter. Surely a candidate for the worst cover blurb in the magazine's history, "Van Couch Plans" adorned the Oct. '76 issue.

But it wasn't just garish vans that made this period so painful. CB radio was another craze that swept through the pages of CC like a plague of locusts. With "10-4, good buddy" echoing in their ears and dynamite stories, such as "Citizens Band Radio Tech" and "CB Troubleshooting" on the assignment sheets, writers longed for the days of 454 Chevelle drag tests and road trips with Dyno Don Nicholson.

CC's flamed and chopped GMC pickup project (Nov. '73) at least looked the part, when it was pictured trailering a race car. The same cannot be said for the Datsun stepside pickup, the California Cruiser van, and the Pinto panel wagon projects that appeared in subsequent issues. Attempts to confiscate and destroy these copies have thus far proven futile.

By Rick Voegelin
Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!
Car Craft