Hot Rod Highlights from 20, 40 and 60 Years Ago: Inside Our Feb. 1959, '79 and '99 Issues

20 Years Ago
February 1999 (144 pages, $3.50): Way back before technology became a replacement for displacement, big street power on unleaded fuel still called for “Big Cubes”—the title of Tech Editor Terry McGean’s guide to aftermarket stroker kits. Large rat motors and wedges of the era ranged up to the mid-500s, with small-block Chevys and Fords topping out around 435 ci. Ray Barton swung the biggest stick of all: a 4.625-inch-stroke, 4340-billet crank expanding the 426 Hemi to a monstrous 604. Musicians Dick Dale and Paul Rodgers showed up in coverage of our first Power Tour East (Joan Jett also performed). Senior Editor Gray Baskerville honored the upcoming 60th Grand National Roadster Show by illustrating the event’s history with previously unseen archive photos.

40 Years Ago
February 1979 (108 pages, $1.25): Inside, “The Last American Musclecar” teased readers by testing a 1979 Trans-Am with one of the last 10,000 or so 6.6L/400ci, genuine-Pontiac V8s. Of those, 7,500 were reserved for the 10th-anniversary, midyear “silver edition” that our cover helped introduce. The rest reportedly went into T-As and Formula Firebirds ordered with a four-speed (after which all buyers were stuck with Olds’s 185hp 403). Possibly none of those 2,000 or so others could’ve equaled the 14.61 at 96.67 that our factory-“blueprinted” model clocked, even despite a granny-shifting writer. Those numbers were so unreal that we were compelled to warn potential buyers to realistically expect “15.30/94.00 at best, and only if you can find one with a 400-inch motor.”

60 Years Ago
February 1959 (100 pages, 35¢): Here’s one of those rare issues that newsstand buyers surely cursed upon realizing that this was the only photo they’d get of Webb Callahan’s “fabulous ’34 Ford competition coupe to be featured soon in HR.” Grrrrrrr! Our first Don Garlits dragster feature was another big surprise, considering its lead role resisting the nationwide fuel ban imposed by NHRA President Wally Parks, who also happened to be HRM editor—and had already squabbled publicly with the outspoken outlaw, expanding the racer’s popularity. Weirder still was this issue’s NHRA Bulletin Board introduction of Garlits as “World’s fastest NHRA Advisor,” showing the fueler in tire-blazing action and crediting its “all-time top speed…with 180.00 run” (about 25- to 30-mph faster than legal gas rails).


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