I like old car magazines because they tell you the real story about what was on the streets in a particular era.
I see recreations of 50s street rods at every show, but many of them are like a ‘Happy Days’ TV version—this magazine is a history book on how things really were back in ’58.
The first thing I learned was that car guys then—just like now–are detail guys.
Their readers wanted to learn how to specifically make their old car faster and how to do it on a budget. The magazine had a question-and-answer section called ‘Ed Eaton’s Speed Tips’. Ed was a drag racing legend because he was an East Coast car guy who became a big player in the NHRA. He was the go-to guy for tech advice and the readers ate it up back in ’58.
Ed’s biggest contribution to the car culture was the Christmas tree at the drag strip, but he was a big tech guy too, so he offered advice to guys with flathead V-8s and flathead sixes who wanted more out of their lukewarm cars. Ed was blunt—he told one guy to chuck the tired flattie in his ’38 Ford and put a newer early 50s Merc flathead in it.
The scallop custom paint job was brand new back in June 1958, so ‘Car Speed and Style’ did a big feature (with examples) on the latest craze in street rods.
The magazine used examples of this trend on some relatively new cars because owners wanted their ’57 Ford to stand out on the street in 1958.
I can’t imagine how or why a guy with a brand-new Lexus would put scallops on his brand-new Lexus in 2024, but back in ’58 it was the right thing to do. That’s why we’ll never achieve the same high-level cool factor in 2024. We’ll have to be satisfied with the latent cool factor of the latest iPhone.
‘Car Speed and Style’ also did a piece about what was the most affordable engine for your street rod or custom.
If today’s car hobby world has taught me anything, the obvious answer would have been the Chevy small block because it debuted three years earlier.
That wasn’t the case. ‘Car Speed and Style’ preferred the Oldsmobile Rocket engine because it was cheap and easily built to next level performance.
They plunked an Olds engine in a Henry and gave a detailed explanation on how they did it. As expected, this wasn’t easy–but even though car guys didn’t have internet advice back in ’58, they built this car without a safety net. The guys ended up with a 400+ monster engine in a 2300-pound car—do the math.
‘Car Speed and Style’ visited the then 8-year-old Autorama in Hartford, Connecticut and looked at the winners in various categories.
This section really told me what rocked the car guy world 66 years ago.
There was a ’34 Ford that won its class—this one easily hit 120 miles per hour, but its biggest feature was how they built it.
This car was a true junkyard dog built because it had a Buick engine, ’41 Ford steering, ’39 Ford transmission, ’39 Ford taillights, Chevy truck headlights, Willys bumpers, ’42 Buick dash, and a ’55 Ford steering wheel. That, folks, is how you built a class winner back in ’58.
By: Jerry Sutherland
Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.