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When there were far fewer people around, far fewer laws and regulations, when the legal speed limit was 75 mph, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, if you owned a hot machine you could point the grill down an empty road and go!

A Quick History of Hot Rodding Milestones

Overview of Speed cycles of 1951 show. Photo by Bob Hegge

In my books and in conversation I have tried to straighten out the timeline of rodding events, especially in the Pacific Northwest. And yet, people make errors on dates and events such as saying that they were at the first Portland Roadster Show in 1954 or 1962, obviously confusing the PRS with some other show.

While it would require a good deal of space to cite every event, I want to list the major events, again primarily in the Northwest.

  • 1920s-1930s: Hot rodding began in California and accelerated before WWII. See my definitive book Flat Out (1930 – 1950)
  • 1945: Post WWII hot rodding thrived in the Northwest and across the US. See my book Hot Rodder! From Lakes to Street.
  • 1945 – 54: Oregon track roadster racing becomes popular. These years are covered in Northwest Oldtimers.
  • 1948: The first Hot Rod Exposition Show held in Los Angeles. Probably the first commercial hot rod show held anywhere.
  • 1949: First legal drag races held at Santa Ana, California blimp base. First legal drag races (called “sprint contests”) in Oregon are at the Eugene Mahlon-Sweet airport.
  • 1950: First Grand National Roadster Show in Oakland, California.
  • 1951: Portland “Speed Cycles” show held in March in the Armory.
  • 1951: May, National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) formed by Wally Parks.
  • 1951: September, first 1-mile timed runs at Madras, Oregon.
  • Rodding was booming. See Street Was Fun in ’51.
  • 1952: March, “Speed-O-Rama” show held in the Portland Auditorium.
  • 1952: March, 2 weeks later, the big Motor Show was held in the Portland Expo Center. New cars, rods, etc.
  • 1952: May, the first Portland area drag races are held at the Scappoose airport under the newly-formed Columbia Timing Association (CTA).
  • 1953 – 55: Portland “Rods and Customs” show at the Armory.
  • 1954: Formation of the Multnomah Hot Rod Council which included 28 Portland area hot rod clubs. See my definitive book, Jacket & Plaque: Portland Rod & Custom Clubs of the 'Fifties.
  • 1955: February, 2nd is an important meeting in the old Portland courthouse with Terry Schrunk, mayor of Portland and 44 area hot rod clubs.
  • 1956: November, first Portland Roadster Show, held in the Armory.
  • 1954 – 58: The golden age of hot rodding. The height of rods, customs, clubs, car shows, drags, speed shops, etc. See Portland Pictorial: The 1950s – focusing on 1950s rods & customs.
  • Circa 1960s: car clubs became less popular. Big decline in custom cars and street rods. More interest in Corvettes, muscle cars, go-karts, motorcycles and boats. See my two books on the history of the Pontiac GTO: The Big ‘Little GTO’ Book (out of print) and Herding Goats: An oral history of the Pontiac GTO.

Of course there is some overlap. For example, HotRodder! From Lakes to Street covers decades, and includes customs, track roadsters and dry lakes. Northwest Oldtimers covers circle track racing, old hot rodders, and some who were active in the 1950s and 1960s.

My most recent book Reflections in a Spinner Hubcap covers 40 years of hot rod essays including rods, customs, circle track racers, the Madras runs, and of course car shows such as “Speed Cycles” and the “Speed-O-Rama.”