The Magazine

Hot Rod Magazine History
By Bruce Taylor
THE sport in NZ dates back to the mid 1950s and was somewhat influenced by articles in Popular Mechanics magazines.
These were readily available in bookshops and often contained articles on modifying cars and drag racing. Hot Rod magazines were hard to find in the fifties as the country was desperate to conserve its overseas funds, and the decision makers at the time probably thought the likes of Popular Mechanics would appeal to the masses.

The NZ Hot Rod Association was formed in 1960. They tried hard to promote the sport but by 1962 there were still only two clubs joined up in the north island, Auckland and Hamilton Hot Rod Clubs. North Shore followed, then Wellington and Hawkes Bay, yet by 1967 there were still only nine clubs in the country. But things were about to change.

In Early 1967 four hot rod enthusiasts got together to establish the nation’s first hot rod magazine. In a way they were entrepreneurs but not for empire building wants; they simply saw it was timely for our own rod mag as the seed was blossoming. Their magazine catered for any hot rodding and fledgling drag racing plus ‘fringe’ autosport activities of the time like hillclimbs, speedway and Allcomer racing at the Grand Prix, which was seldom recognised by NZ’s other magazine, Motorman.

What they possibly didn’t recognise at that time, was the magazine would become the missing link or voice for hot rod enthusiasts throughout the country.
The original four as listed in volume one, number one - April/May 1967 were Bob Rossiter editor, Harvie Ferguson circulation manager, Rob Campbell executive editor, and Gene Campbell production manager. Four chiefs, no Indians, but one scout - a Wellington correspondent Roger Hermansen.

That first magazine, priced at 25 cents, was only 16 pages long and a mere 1,500 copies were circulated around the country. An idea had become reality with very little capital outlay and by issue number two the page numbers almost doubled and its future was looking good. For the first two years the mag was produced bimonthly and was compiled on a part-time basis. That is, nights and weekends, and don’t give up your day job just yet. Initially Rob’s day job was industrial designer at Fisher & Paykel, then commercial artist at Campbell Creative, which was an art studio run by his brother Gene.

After the introduction of the magazine, clubs sprouted up around the whole country and by December 1968 there were 25 affiliated to NZHRA. This was a rapid growth in our sport, and in my opinion, clearly a result of a local mag featuring all facets of hot rodding right here in NZ.

Two years after its inception the mag had a solid base but was still not a viable financial entity. The decision was made to form a publishing company and for the mag to be monthly. The Campbell Publishing logo first appeared on Dec 68/Jan 69 issues and from Feb 69 it became a monthly magazine. It was produced from a small office at 55 Upper Queen St, Auckland.
The first 10 years proved to be a rocky road financially. Unlike other magazines, which were part of a large publishing corporation producing a variety of mags and sharing clerical and advertising pulls, NZ Hot Rod was a one-magazine entity. The 1973 oil crisis hit them hard as no-one wanted to advertise in a mag full of V8s. If you thumb through copies of that era you’ll find that in some months there’s virtually no advertising at all. Magazines depend on the revenue from ads and when that dries up you have to either cut costs or change tack... or both. You only have to read the editorials in Feb and March 1974 issues for example, to understand the situation. And then to top it off, there was a world wide shortage of quality paper!

Another tack was the launch of NZ Motorcycle magazine, based on the same format as NZ Hot Rod, the country’s first part-colour mag dedicated to bikes, which hit the bookshops in April 1974. Its impressive cover shot of Wally Pushkey on his V8 drag bike at Champion was the perfect launch-pad aimed at a market going nuts over motorbikes. After just 18 issues it had become such a financial burden to Campbell Publishing that a decision was made to retire it off.

NZ Golf Magazine was launched soon after and it too was given the bum’s rush after 16 issues. If it was not for the fact that NZ Hot Rod magazine was published by hot rodders with a genuine interest in the sport, not producing the mag purely for financial gain, then it would have been history at that point in time. Even though it was NZ’s biggest selling auto mag at that time, it certainly was not the ticket to early retirement or millionaire status that some people imagined.

As mentioned prior, Bob Rossiter was the first editor and his column was titled ‘From Behind the Wheel’. Anthony Cox took that role from April/May ‘68 and ‘From’ was dropped from the heading. Rob Campbell had his ‘Stirring It’ column followed by ‘Campbell’s Column’. Rob stepped into the hot seat when the mag went monthly in Feb ‘69 and according to my estimates would have written about 420 editorials. That’s a lot of writing, and reading through some of them, I would have to say that he really put his head on the chopping block some months.

Then, of course, the editor has to decipher and pass judgement on the letters... and there were some beauties over the years. Magazines do not generally attract the prolific letter writers. Rich Neale did give Rob a short break as editor, coming on board as Assistant Editor from Jan 1974. Rob was still Managing Editor, so had his say on current topics and global events, which I dare say, had that anti-establishment streak about them.

However, one fact which cannot be disputed is that Rob was probably the longest serving editor of any publication New Zealand-wide. Not just motoring magazines but newspapers, the lot. Owen Campbell’s involvement with the magazine dates back to 1968. He was an art director at Campbell Creative and it was a natural progression for him to join the magazine team. With a good grounding and understanding of typography, and with artistic skills, he attributes this as something their family inherited from their Grandfather Campbell. He never went to art school but acknowledges he had “a damn good art teacher at high school”.
His talents as a singer/ songwriter were demonstrated on a 45rpm record available exclusively to NZ Hot Rod readers in the Dec ‘75 issue. The Big ‘O’ rendition on brother Gene’s ‘Pink’ label even rated a mention in a book called, for the record - ‘A History of the Recording Industry in NZ’.
Allan Porter, east of Manurewa, was NZ’s first freelance official NZ Hot Rod mag photographer/ contributor. He was actually self-employed and contrary to popular belief was never an employee of the magazine. His car features would number in the hundreds but it’s his drag racing photography which has made him a legend. Allan was an early member of Auckland Hot Rod Club and was introduced to Rob at a club meeting as someone who could be of benefit to the new phenomenon of NZ’s first rod mag, just as issue number two went on sale. By August 1969 Allan was listed as a contributing photographer. His first published photo was actually in an early 1968 Car Craft mag, USA. What was it? Wild Thing. I asked if there was one photo he’d describe as his favourite: He was caught between two: His studio photo of Noddy Watt’s black Y-block T-bucket for Jan ‘90 issue, and Dave Walls’ 1934 Ford coupe in June ‘89 magazine. Mal Bain’s best photo without doubt was his action shot of Greg Taylor’s horrific accident in Ron Collett’s dragster, shot from a cherry-picker. The tumbling, spiralling rail went beneath him a half-second after the shot. It featured on HRM’s April ‘84 cover, made the front page of the NZ Herald and Reuters agency sent it around the world. Owen Campbell’s favourite cover was May ‘88 featuring the Pavlovich/ Piaggi T-bucket, and a close second was the May ‘86 cover showing Garth Hogan and an orange Willys coupe. Rob’s favourite is August ‘81 issue; a brave departure from the norm and the story behind the big question-mark ruffled a few feathers at the time! What about a car shot? It would be the Mustang on October ‘98 cover. Mal Bain’s association with NZ Hot Rod dates back to 1974 when he was a mechanic at Checker Motors in Newton Road close-by to the mag’s office. Through a common interest and knowing the magazine guys, he began taking photos at the drags with a Kodak 126. Some were published and he graduated to car features. He admits he didn’t know anything about cameras in those days, and his mentor was Allan Porter who obviously taught him a thing or two because he rose to the role of Chief Photographer.

It would be a hard task to mention all the correspondents who’ve contributed articles over the years. Their work reflects the different styles of writing and broad range of vehicles featured over the length and breadth of the country. Everyone likes to read about a car that resides at the opposite end to themselves, which they’ve never seen in the flesh. In fact it is one medium in which you have the opportunity of submitting an article which you think is worthy of publishing. Magazine editors are grateful for receiving this type of mail.

However there is one person who must be mentioned here. The most prolific correspondent, without a doubt, is Christchurch’s John Eva and this is an interesting story in itself. John has a full-time job yet still finds time to contribute to nearly every issue. His association with HRM goes back thirty years and this is how it came about: For a couple of years prior, John would bike 15 miles from home to the Ruapuna strip and take photos with his Box Brownie camera. The shots were mounted in an album and at the following meet he’d bike out and get the drivers to autograph the photos. He began to do the same with hot rods and one day Rob Kennard took him on a cruise around a few garages in his big block T-bucket... He was introduced to Rich Neale, who gave him his first assignment for HRM. That appeared in the March 1974 issue; John particularly likes doing profiles on people, and special interest topics such as his history of top chops in NZ. His story on Ron Collett in January 1991 issue is one of his favourites.
The Columists
Throughout the magazine’s history there have been a number of people who had their own column, always listed under ‘departments’ on the contents page. Listed below are those people in order of appearance, starting from issue number seven to Mid 2004.
  • Pep Talk: Ken Lawrence Dec 68/Jan 69

  • Club Corner: Ralph Wright April/May 68

  • Sketchpad: Kevin Jenkinson June 69

  • Wilson’s Words: Robert Wilson Aug 70

  • Warrington Goode: June 71

  • Up-Hill: Peter Hill July 72

  • Neale Spiel: Rich Neale Aug 73

  • Happens to be Harrop: Fred Harrop Nov 76

  • Marshall’s Murmurs: Peter Marshall July 77

  • Watson on Wireless: Colin Watson May 78

  • Playtime: Louis Edwards June 78

  • Guideline: Alan Stacey Sep 83

  • Guideline: Bruce Hubber Feb 87

  • Oz Update: John Van Daal Oct 87

  • DJ Lady: Debbie Jarvis Sep 92

  • Trish’s Territory: Trish Duffy June 94

  • Landspeed Attempts: Chris Harris July 94

People who kept us up with the play on the Street Rod Nationals their club/s were hosting. Some years the Street Nats Preview columns may have only run for two or three months, but always good to read whether you were attending or not. The most ambitious by far was the five Wellington area clubs who instigated Project 34 in conjunction with their staging of the ‘92 Nats in Masterton.

Project 34 was launched in the Feb 1991 issue of HRM and was a two-fold assignment, first to promote the Street Nats and secondly to showcase the build-up of a street rod conforming to new Ministry of Transport reg’s aimed at low volume vehicles. Danny Neilson and Darryl Gates were the project managers. In the Sept 1991 issue it was announced that Project 34 was to be the Lucky Door Prize at their ‘92 Nats. One hell of an incentive to attend! The rod’s build-up concluded in the June ‘92 issue with a colour pin-up, a review of the 16-month project, and announcing the winner, Karen Cursons of Upper Hutt. She is still the registered owner of the rod today.

The magazine itself did produce a number of their own project cars. The first, in 1971, was a ‘63 Renault Caravelle built to demonstrate how easy it was to modify and customise a car in NZ. It may seem an unusual choice of model but it avoided any Ford-v-Chev rubbish. It was in neutral territory. Someone thought it was quite cool because it was even stolen from outside the magazine office.
Project Compact which first appeared in August ‘75 explained how to build a low-buck fast V8 sedan with superior handling. November ‘77 was the first issue featuring their Street Machine Safety Theme based on a ‘73 Chrysler Regal coupe. This was the era of the Starsky and Hutch look-alikes, but the project concentrated on comfort and superior handling, as well as power.

The biggie was Project T, first appearing in the January ‘73 magazine. This project would have inspired more people to build a hot rod than anything else in the country.

The likes of Wild Honey and Vandal would have created a huge desire among many, but Project T actually showed you how to build one. The step-by-step guide to building a T-bucket would have been the catalyst for the majority of buckets built in NZ. The magazine developed a two-leaf plan and guide, and mailed out nearly 900 sets over the years. In August ‘77 issue the T plans were updated under the heading “Project T Revival”. Project T became “Project Track Roadster” with smallblock Plymouth in the November ‘78 issue.

The longest build-up series of them all was ‘ReinCarnation’ of a ‘39 deluxe Ford coupe, running through 52 issues from August ‘93 to May ‘98. Originally Rob’s, it went to Ken Logan a mile away in Red Beach, Hibiscus Coast, 21 years to the month from when Rob beat Ken to buying it. They’d been close friends all that time and still are. It’s typical of so many liaisons. Today Rob realises that the magazine is apart from the norm of publications, which generally produce a title to the unknown masses. This is most likely because the mag has always been a single publishing concern run by rodders for rodders and drag racers plus customisers in our small dominion. “It’s the opposite of others” Rob reckons, “because we’ve never been a publisher-to-reader syndrome. We are a fraternity.”

On the subject of plans, the Aug 68/Sept 68 issues had a four-page article on how to build an Altered on a budget. Dec 68/Jan 69 magazine contained scale drawings for an in-line 4 or 6 cylinder dragster, followed by plans for a V6 or V8 dragster in March‘69 magazine. Just what you need today to build a Nostalgia front engined digger. The features all had brilliant illustrations by Rob Campbell, which have a style very similar to that of Art Ward. Makes you wonder if they may be the same person.
People have been able to subscribe to HRM from day one. The second issue contained a sub form that entitled you to six issues for eighteen shillings, post-free. The magazine had never been retailed outside of NZ except for a brief flirtation in the late seventies to Australia. That changed in Sept 2008 when it was launched onto the Australian market via retail in all seven states. Current circulation there is over 3000 copies per month. Subscribers are throughout Australia, Ireland, England, France, Bahrain, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, USA, Canada, and a number of European countries and around the South Pacific islands.

Subscribers are not necessarily all expat Kiwis, but folks who enjoy reading a magazine which has a point of difference from all other hot rod titles. It is not, and never has been a boutique style mag aimed at a particular niche. Each month you don’t know whether the feature cars will be high-tech, nostalgic or race cars. Many of the features and technical articles which have appeared in HRM have been used by other publishers around the world. These have included other rod mags, corporate magazines and in a couple of cases, technical bulletins for training company reps. The tech features have included everything from the manufacture of coil springs to air filter technology, and you never had to be a rocket scientist to understand them.

So there we have it, an insight into a magazine, which to me is far more than just cars. Sure there were probably 3,000 cars that had full features done on them but more importantly, since 1967, the magazine has recorded a culture and a social history which so many people have experienced a part of.

Historians will one day analyse the letter sent by the ANZAC soldier from Pukekohe serving in Vietnam. They may never figure out just how the Queen of England and Duke of Edinburgh came about inspecting a hot rod display in Napier (July ‘73 mag) and in the sixties’ issues you’ll see photos of prizegivings where the recipients are all dressed in suits and ties. To Rob, Owen, and all who’ve contributed to the magazine, thanks for the memories. To Paul and Liz Grace, you’re now the caretakers of this Kiwi icon and I for one will continue to support you in producing a magazine that I really look forward to receiving every month.

Message From Owen Campbell with his old mechanical typewriter:

I have typed and typed for over 30 years but there’s still some life left in me yet.

You’ll have to change the ribbon when the ink runs dry. It’s simple really, you will figure it out and I have left a box of spare ribbons for you. Remember to hit the W key three times ‘cos it’s worn down and the Y twice.

I might be old but I work bloody well when there’s a power cut.
Hot rod shifts up a gear
By Bruce Taylor
In June 2004 I received a phone call from Rob Campbell telling me that after 37 years the magazine had been sold and the new owners Paul and Liz Grace would really appreciate the continued support of the magazine’s correspondents.
It took me by surprise as I couldn’t really imagine the magazine without a Campbell at the helm. As Rob explained, the economics of producing a magazine the old manual way meant an inevitable change to electronic production. They were old school and the modern electronic way was a system they were not adept at. Rob and Owen would be joining the ranks of correspondents with Rob in an editorial capacity for a transitional period.

Shortly after an introductory letter arrived from Paul and Liz which mentioned that they’d eventually like to receive all contributions via Word Document and emailed. Ordinary photos are OK, no negatives needed but a progression to a digital camera would suit the electronic age. My initial reaction was what’s this guy thinking? The only thing digital cameras are good for is loading up photos of items you are selling on Trade Me. Emailing text was a good move but I thought nothing would ever replace a quality print. As for emailing pictures…what a joke. Don’t single me out because I was not the only person who had this train of thought.

Now I find it hard to believe that it was only five years ago and that we were so resistant to change. But one thing for sure was that the load which rested on the shoulders of Rob and Owen was shifted to those of Paul and Liz with a little more weight added for good measure.
Working to publishing deadlines does create a
lot of pressure and there is no let up.
Same deadlines…different month, every month.
The June 2004 issue signalled the end of an era. It was probably the last magazine produced in NZ using the hands-on method. That is cutting or producing photos to size suited to the page layout, then pasting them up and ruled with a black pen if they needed an outline. The skill of a good commercial artist. It was then produced on an eight-page layout form with colour pages done on astrofoil clear plastic. A platemaker would then photograph them and process it onto a plate for litho printing.

The July issue was a “transitional issue” which was the last we were to see of the contents and credits page as we knew it. The August issue announced the passing of the torch and it was farewell to Behind The Wheel and Box 8959 Letters. Magazine headquarters moved out of the Ponsonby basement office to the downstairs office of the Grace household in Stanmore Bay.

The September ‘04 issue saw a change in the style of cover art and a transformation throughout the magazine. Paul produced his first editorial under the Publishers Podium banner and Rob had his say in Campbell’s Context. Some readers didn’t “approve” of the change in style and were of the opinion that why change things for the hell of it. But Paul and Liz were guiding the magazine in a new direction and changes were inevitable.
The October issue featured more colour and four more pages. The December issue featured a cover shot of Ian Rainbow’s ‘37 Cabriolet from a completely different perspective that we’d never seen before and with the number of pages now up another twelve it was quickly becoming a fat magazine. The knockers complained about the jump in price from $4.50 to $5.95 in the space of six months but obviously ignored the fact that there was a lot more reading. The article on Ian’s ‘37 cabriolet was the first of what I call the super features. Six pages dedicated to one car was a first for the magazine and the following month John Reid’s ‘33 coupe was spread across seven pages. A real first was the October ’05 feature on Mike & Dyan Robert’s Model A which was a 9-pager on a bare-metal car. Things were definitely changing!

The February 2005 issue was the introduction of a new series of articles “How To Build A Hot Rod” and was a preview to Project ‘34. Project ‘34 proved popular with readers and culminated with the debut of the finished vehicle in the Feb 2009 issue.

2005 was a busy year for Paul and Liz who attended numerous events throughout the country marketing the magazine. Kumeu 2005 was the first big event and has become a yearly tradition. The crowds who attended Muscle Car Madness at Rangiora a month later were certainly appreciative of the fact that the magazine had ventured down south to fly the flag and generally meet with south island readers of the magazine in person. The first of the Hot Rod Magazine Collector’s Editions went on sale in June. The first Beach Hop Pictorial was a hit and has continued to be published every year since. The following year the Kiwi Deuce Pictorial was produced and was snapped up by enthusiasts of the ‘32 Ford all around the world.
The magazine continued to grow and was up to 64 pages by the time the May ‘05 issue hit the news stands. The May issue also announced the launch of the Hot Rod Magazine web site and the electronic discussion site known as a Forum. The Forum was activated on June 15th and dozens of people had joined up by the following day. The most number of people who were ever online at the same time of the day was when 374 people should have been working.

The greatest number of visits to the web site in a single month was over a million during Bonneville Speedweek 2008. The Forum itself has 879 members who have posted 65,345 messages. However, I believe the number of people who regularly visit the site and who are not members would be well over a thousand. In 2006 the magazine acquired a very enthusiastic, authoritative and energetic new staff member. Greg Stokes was contracted as the advertising representative and feature writer. His attention to detail when photographing feature cars has certainly contributed to raising the calibre of the magazine. It was only in May the previous year that Greg’s 4-banger Model A pickup featured in the magazine in the Young Guns section.

The pickup underwent a rebuild as Project ‘29 which commenced in the March 2007 issue and concluded with a full feature in the August issue this year.

Young Guns: The New Generation first appeared in the November 2004 issue. Mark Hornblow and his ‘48 Chev pickup and Russell Timmins with his 350 Chev powered Sunbird appeared as a double feature. The majority of young guns who have appeared in the magazine over the last five years will probably graduate to “old gun” status in years to come.

It was recognised that there were a number of readers under the age of 25 and the magazine has added content via Retro Rebels to appeal to this age group. Nadine Grace, Paul and Liz’s daughter, came on board in April 2008 as a Junior Sub Editor and to produce content for this segment as well as assisting with the day to day running.

2007 was the 40th anniversary year and the magazine logo featured a celebrating 40 years banner underneath it. The January issue was also a ‘92 page Bonus Summer Fun Issue. 84 page magazines were to become the norm later in the year.

Another milestone issue was October 2008 which was almost entirely devoted to the coverage of the Kiwis competing at the 60th Bonneville Speed Week. It was a great souvenir issue for the greatest exodus of hot rodders to ever attend the same overseas event. Hundreds of issues were sent back to the US to acquaintances made by the travelling Kiwis.

Paul and Liz are to be commended for producing a world class magazine. They stepped right out of their comfort zone just by purchasing the magazine and then immediately totally changed the way it was produced. They were ahead of most of us by producing the magazine digitally yet had no prior experience in the publishing industry, just experience in hot rodding and running a business.

Glenn O’Connor of Naughty Prawn UK has been responsible for the design and layout for over 16 years. But to achieve their goal of producing a magazine with outstanding crisp photos they had to convince the correspondents to ditch their film cameras. When Paul suggested this to Craig Stare the response was “That’s the last bloody thing I need”. I think the answer was the same when Paul suggested he should purchase a faster computer. But times change and the content of this bumper issue includes material from correspondents who have embraced the computer age and relish the thought of not having to spend large amounts of money developing prints. Lastly I have asked Paul to select two of his favourite magazine covers, one from the Campbell era and the other from those he has produced.

The October 1972 issue featuring Barry Greer’s Ardun powered T Bucket was his favourite. The February 2007 issue with Dave Alexander driving his Chrisman Special was his pick of the covers he has produced. NZ Hot Rod magazine is still on a growth curve and is regarded as a “high end” quality publication by renowned hot rodders in the US. There are numerous publications in the US for these people to compare it with and it gets a definite thumbs-up. Particularly when they read about events in their own back yard that appear in a NZ magazine months before any local magazine.

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