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.
The Feb. '65 issue saw the debut of an "al-new" Car Craft that focused on drag racing. The
Terry Cook’s “How to Build the Ultimate Junior Stock” series was hugely influential in est
Drag racing was evolving rapidly in the late ’60s, as one-piece fiberglass bodies and drag
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!"
Car Craft Editorial Director Dick Day declared that the magazine’s dedication to drag raci
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.
Bugs were big in Car Craft in the early ’70s, making more appearances on CC covers than Ca
Could CC readers raised on Boss 429s and L88s get excited about four-cylinder subcompacts?
Performance and racing were in dire straits in March 1974, judging by the hysterical tone
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.
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.
Street Freaks warranted a special section in June ’72, when Richard Guess’ V8-powered Corv
What could be freakier than a Funny Car on a suburban boulevard? John Franks rebuilt the H
Was it every boy’s dream to drive an AA/Fuel Dragster on the street? Car Craft tapped into
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.
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.
With new cars offering anemic performance and emission laws discouraging engine upgrades,
In June ’79, Car Craft declared that swoopy, road racing–inspired styling would define str
What’s wrong with this picture? Start with the CC Project Pacer decked out with a Porsche
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.