Book Review: Art of the Hot Rod by Ken Gross, photography by Peter Harholdt
If you've ever wondered about the future of hot rodding or if you stopped paying attention to them years ago when they were all built in southern California, this book is for you. A reviewer from Rod & Custom magazine was right on the money when he said, "This is like a 240-page museum you can carry with you." Its production values are superb, and you'll be left wondering how you can own such a museum-quality book at a very affordable price. The text is clear and readable and the detailed photographs are stunning. So, how did they do it? The writer and photographer photographed twenty hot rod craftsmen and more than a hundred cars they'd built in all parts of the country—covering 13,000 miles from New England to the Deep South and from the Heartland to the West Coast. Interviews with the builders revealed them to be a diverse lot, some trained mechanical engineers, others who inherited the building gene from fathers or grandfathers, and still others who combined artistic and mechanical skills in creative new ways. By way of introduction, the author calls these builders "sculptors with sheet metal, magicians with motors, paragons with paint", etc. As over the top as that might sound, these are builders who love what they do, whose mission is to preserve history even as they develop personalized, creative designs and color schemes. Sprinkled within the text are tips as to how these builders create cars that are all about speed and performance but are also true works of art—"You have to restore a car first before making a hot rod out of it."; "start with the best piece you can"; there's "only one way to do things—the right way." Several builders start from the ground up—literally—by making sure they get the wheels right before doing anything else. All of them are passionate about cars and can visualize the end product before they finish a client's project or design a car of their own. The cars they create are as much complex concept cars as they are re-tooled originals.
While some of these artists have been in the business for forty years or more, others are still relative youngsters who'll ensure the hobby—and the art—of building hot rods has a bright, bright future. And with books like this one highlighting their abilities, all of us can cheer them on as they chart the next chapters of hot rod legends.
Note: The book also includes a description of how the photographer built a mobile studio for this project. With the brio of any hot rodder, he took an existing vehicle and made it serve an altogether different purpose.
About the Author and Photographer. After a lengthy career in advertising and marketing, Ken Gross became executive director of the acclaimed Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California. After a five-year tenure there, he relocated to Virginia where he has a large home and three-car garage that holds a collection of nearly a hundred intake manifolds for Ford flathead V8 engines. Now an automotive writer, he was also guest curator for "Allure of the Automobile" which opened at the High Museum in Atlanta and for "Speed: the Art of the Performance Car" which opened at the Utah Museum of Art, both in June, 2012. Peter Harholdt owns a studio photography business which concentrates on photography for museums and publishers but his interest in cars has been a lifelong one, leading him to become an SCCA racer. For a number of years he was staff photographer at the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Now he has built a portable studio that enables him to capture images of hot rods in any setting.