Rod & Custom was started by Quinn Publishing under the leadership of Bill Quinn. Bill left Road & Track and took the rights to Hop Up magazine with him, along with Lou Kimzey (artist and writer) and Ralph Poole (photographer). Dean Batchelor joined in April 1952.
Hop Up struggled financially due to its small size and lack of advertisers, so in March, 1953 Quinn went to a larger print format. Readers wrote and many complained about the change, so Quinn assigned Spencer Murray to create a new title to be called Rod & Custom in a small trade- or pocket-sized format similar to what Hop Up had originally done in 1951.
In May 1954, Quinn folded Hop Up into Rod & Custom. A year later, Quinn sold Rod & Custom and Motor Life titles to Petersen Publishing. The first publication of Rod & Custom under the Petersen empire was June, 1955.
Rod & Custom was a huge hit when launched in May 1953, and quickly improved in quality. It went to a full-sized print format in August 1961. The magazine was known for many "firsts": swapping a Chevrolet V8; the first project series with Dream Truck; the introduction of model cars, go-karts and dune buggies; and the emphasis on street rodding. However, Rod & Custom kept a steady diet of customs and hot rods, along with some Bonneville and drag racing coverage.
Whereas most titles from Petersen Publishing targeted those under age 21, Rod & Custom targeted those around age 15. Technical articles were easy to understand for the younger reader. This was also clever branding, as a younger reader would naturally be inclined to stay with the title as his or her interest expanded to hot rods and customs upon reaching driving age.
Mr. Murray remained as the editor for at least 60 issues into 1959, and then transferred editorial duties to Lynn Wineland. Mr. Wineland stayed a few years, then Bill Neumann became editor. During this time, the magazine published its 40 millionth copy. Pricing increased from $.25 to $.35, and content was expanded to include more model cars, go karts, and mini-bikes.
In 1967, Spence Murray returned for a short stint as editor. He was followed by Bud Bryan, who started in 1969 and stayed through the May, 1974 issue. Mssrs. Murray and Bryan included project car series, introduced the vintage tin content, and eliminated car models, karting and drag racing content. They reached their 50 millionth copy, and pricing grew to $.50.
The magazine continued to expand street rod coverage and featured multi-issue project vehicles. John Christy joined the title from Car Craft magazine, and they began doing an interview series called "RC Visits". It occasionally featured modern muscle cars, a move that was controversial at the time. Near the end, content included a focus on the anti-hot rod movement and a great special edition on track roadsters. They reached their 60 millionth copy, and pricing was now $.75.
The magazine was published continuously through June, 1971 then was cancelled by Petersen and folded into Hot Rod magazine. After the closure, several competitive titles emerged to fill the street rod void including Street Rod in October 1971, Street Rodder in May 1972, and Rod Action in August 1972.
Rod & Custom was resurrected in July, 1972 with Bud Bryan as the editor, and it was printed until May 1974 when it was cancelled a second time. Upon its second cancellation, content again was folded into Hot Rod magazine.
The publication was restarted a third time in 1988 by Pat Ganahl and can be found HERE.
In the beginning, Rod & Custom started strong and was consistently in #4, #5 or #6 position in print volumes among automotive titles that provided paid circulation details. But through the period ending in 1968 to 1970, it fell to #10 or #12 position. Its growth rate from 1955 to 1970 was 1.3% annually, which was lower than the general automotive magazine market which was growing 16% annually. Average monthly net paid circulation data from NW Ayer started at 16,556 in 1955, reached its peak in 1963 at 28,643, and end in 1971 at 19,690 monthly issues. No data were provided by the publisher for the years 1972 through 1974.
A total of 241 issues were printed from May, 1953 through May, 1974. All cover images and all table of content pages are complete.
READER BONUS FEATURE:
A searchable index in .PDF format is available HERE.