Life Magazine, April 29, 1957.

Released in 1958, Thunder Road was one of several movies of the time to feature fast driving.

Even Norman Rockwell celebrated hot rod culture in his illustration for a 1950 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.

Through magazines such as Hot Rod, rodders stayed aware of automotive trends from across the nation. This 1961 magazine featured a car from Southwest Virginia.

In the late-1940s and ‘50s, the popular media—especially magazines, movies, and pop music—“discovered” the growing car scene. A number of publications such as Speed Age (1947), Rod and Custom (1953), and Car Speed & Style (1957) were geared specifically toward the men who were customizing and/or racing cars. Largely centered on California car culture, Hot Rod (1948) became the premier hot rod magazine. Through these publications auto enthusiasts stayed up to date with design trends and mechanical innovations across the nation. In 1951 a customized 1950 Ford convertible from Covington became the first Southwest Virginia car to be pictured in a national hot rod magazine.

While magazines gave auto fans ideas about car building, movies and television shaped the public image of the racing hot rodder. Devil on Wheels (1947) was the first movie to feature hot rods, and a host of films quickly followed. Six car-related movies were made in 1958 alone, including the classic Thunder Road. The hot rodder’s life was often pictured as restless and dangerous. Not surprisingly, the hot rodder’s girlfriend usually came across the screen as a young woman bound for trouble.

Racing and car culture were also highlighted in other popular media in the 1950s and ‘60s. In television scripts auto enthusiasts were sometimes featured as support characters, the most famous being the hair-combing “Kookie” Burns on the detective show 77 Sunset Strip. Magazines such as Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and Sports Illustrated included front-cover articles on hot rods and drag racing.

The Beach Boys reached #7 on the music charts in 1963 with their single
Little Deuce Coupe.


Speed was immortalized in songs ranging from country and western’s “Cadillac Boogie” (1946) and rhythm and blues’ “Rocket 88” (1951) to rock and roll’s “Maybelline” (1955) and top-forty’s “Dead Man’s Curve” (1964). (The nation’s first automotive racing song may actually have been “The Chevrolet Six” recorded by Frank Hutchison of West Virginia in 1929; Hutchison’s song tells the story of a moonshiner who outruns the police with a powerful Chevrolet.) The success of car songs came from thousands of record-buying teenagers who did not even own hot rods or street machines but who identified in some way with the culture of speed.        

Chapter 5 » Car Clubs


Acknowledgements | Ferrum College and the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum | Contact