Rod & Custom guru and automotive journalist Pat Ganahl has spent his hot-rodding career on the left coast and just posted this short-course on HOT RODS, CUSTOMS & DRIVE-INS.


Before social media and cell phones, hot rod and custom car owners communicated with each other at club meetings, shows, drag strips and drive-ins. Drive-ins were where you took your dates and showed off your wheels, finished or unfinished. In some locales, drive-ins were the places to go looking to hookup for runs. Yeah, illegal street racing!

If you were a serious carguy growing up in the New York City metro area, drive-ins were where you went to earn street-racing cred. It only mattered how fast your car was, not how good it looked. It was not unusual to see real Super/Stock racecars (Ramcharger’s CandyMatic Dodge) and even blown gassers with license plates, ready to run if the price was right.


Most of you know that besides this bi-weekly column, I also post individual photos from my archive regularly on Instagram,  http://@patganahl. A few weeks ago, I ran a simple black and white version of a color cover photo I set up for a Street Rodder cover in 1975, showing two rods at an A&W drive-in at night. I was astounded at the number of “likes” and responses that one image drew – more than any other. So, this reminded me that I have a whole binder titled “Misc. Color, Drive-ins etc.” You like Drive-ins? I’ve got plenty!

Baldwin-Motion SS-454 Camaro waiting for a “run” at Wetson’s on Sunrise Highway, right, near Motion Performance, Baldwin, NY.

Sometime in the 1980s I joined a group called the Society for Commercial Archeology, a slightly academic “National organization devoted to celebrating the 20th century American roadscape.” In other words, they appreciate and study what we call roadside attractions: bright neon signs, Googie diners, hot dog stands shaped like hot dogs (or dogs), cobblers in shoe-shaped shops, giant Uniroyal tires, big oranges, Wigwam Motels–stuff designed to grab your attention as you drive by in your car. This of course includes drive-in restaurants in several shapes, sizes, and colors. And note the involvement of the automobile.

This group holds annual conferences where members present papers with large-screen photos on a wide variety of relevant (usually colorful, often amazing) topics, and in late-1988 it was scheduled for the Henry Ford Museum, which had recently been redone in diorama form. We had just relaunched Rod & Custom, and I wanted to see and cover the new Ford Museum, so I submitted a paper titled, “The Dynamic Architecture of the Drive-In.” Briefly, its point was that however unique, zany, or neon-lit a drive-in was, it wasn’t complete without a bunch of cars parked around it, which were also colorful, of many shapes and forms, perhaps zany or noisy, and constantly changing. They became part of the architecture, thus making it dynamic, both in sight and sound. So, I collected a whole lot of photos of drive-ins, several I had taken myself, others from sources I can’t remember. Plenty included rods or customs. The paper was well-received.

To illustrate my point, I found photos of several early drive-ins built in a unique round style, usually with a central tower on top with a name in bright neon. But as you can see, they really aren’t complete without a full ring of cars parked around them.

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