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Behind the Wheel - Editor's Letter

What Does This Month Have In Store For Us?

Greg Emmerson
Jun 26, 2007
0706et_01_z+editor_letter+robert_peterson Photo 1/1   |   Behind the Wheel - Editor's Letter

On March 23, 2007 Robert E Petersen died aged 80. You may not know who he was, but he founded Hot Rod and Motor Trend magazines, and was the benefactor of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

"Mr Petersen helped create the American obsession with the automobile, delivering gasoline-powered dreams to the mailboxes of millions," said an associate. "He understood the thrill the average person gets from reading about horsepower as an art form."

He picked up his father's skills as a truck mechanic, learning to weld and de-coke engines when he was a young man. He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-'40s, becoming involved in the emerging auto customizing culture. He was then instrumental in creating the first hot rod show in LA. To establish the event, he launched Hot Rod magazine in '48, selling it at local speedways for 25 a copy.

"Today, that would be like launching Gangbanger's Monthly," explained NHRA Museum Director, Tony Thacker. "Hot rods were seen as evil back in the '40s and he was brave to do what he did."

Petersen had one lasting vision: a museum to pay tribute to the automobile. And in '94 he made a $30 million endowment to realize this dream with the 300,000sqft Petersen Automotive Museum.

He also spent decades as Chairman of the Board of Petersen Publishing Company, until selling it to private investors in '96.

As the company changed hands, a small title called Max Speed was born. That later became Max Power and was eventually reborn as eurotuner.

And while we like to think what we do is original, magazines like this are simply repeating a formula laid down in the '40s, reinventing it to appeal to new generations. And shows like Hot Import Nights owe much to those first hot rod shows.

As I sit in a building that bears his name, two blocks from his museum, we acknowledge the pioneering spirit of Robert E Petersen and tip a glass in his memory.

In further keeping with the hot rod tradition, this month we have an extraordinary 470hp rear-wheel drive Corrado. Josh Brown's photos accurately capture the unrestrained hooliganism of Richard Hawse's tire-smokin', donut-spinning creation. And we're happy to embrace the hot rodder in every American Euro enthusiast.

Perhaps the most enlightening story was talking to Derek Jenkins about his GTI on this month's cover, I remarked at how few people would expect the senior designer at VW to have such a hardcore ride. "But I'm just a regular guy," he replied.

For some reason we expected a man in Derek's position to be above the mundane, but he had the same concerns as we do. Would the exhaust be too loud? Would the software affect his warranty? Would the chin spoiler scrape his driveway? Would the tires rub? Would he get another ticket for the tint?

What's cool is Derek has the chance to influence the cars we're passionate about. And by building his own GTI, it proves VW still has a heart, and the cars it produces will continue to have a soul.

He's probably the ultimate tuner. Think about it; the ideas he put into his GTI inspired elements of the RGTI, and the RGTI concept could influence the Mk6 GTI. A tuner who can affect what we all drive - that's cool.

It's also enlightening to learn how a boy from Huntington Beach, CA can dream about Euros and end up designing them in a studio a few miles from his family home.

By the way, have you seen the latest import craze? It's called VIP and basically involves dropping a black Lexus LS on 20s and fitting a body kit - sort of like '90s AMG or Brabus Mercedes. Only the import boys imagine they invented this look. Don't you love 'em!

By Greg Emmerson
1078 Articles

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