Aaron Widmar

Book Review: Pat Ganahl’s ‘Hot Rod Gallery I & II’ Immortalize the Golden Years of Custom Cars

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Hot Rod Gallery Book review Pat Ganahl classic cars cover

4.5 out of 5 stars rating




There was a time when household garages and driveways across the country were inhabited by men who worked diligently to customize their cars into unique, unbeatable hot rod machines. The hot rodding craze defined the childhoods–and adulthoods–of many growing up from the 1930s-60s.

Because hot rodding is just a personal endeavor, its was rarely officially documented. To immortalize the bygone era, journalist Pat Ganahl has spent decades collecting candid images of hot rod work, which he has published in two excellent volumes: Hot Rod Gallery and Hot Rod Gallery II.

Hot Rod Gallery:
A Nostalgic Look at Hot Rodding’s Golden Years: 1930-1960

By Pat Ganahl

Product Details:
Paperback, 192 pages, 11 x 8.5 inches
Price: $34.95
Publication Date: May 2014
ISBN: 978-1-6132528-2-6
Publisher: CarTech Inc.
Website: www.cartechbooks.com

Hot Rod Gallery II:
More Great Photos and Stories from Hot Rodding’s Golden Years
By Pat Ganahl

Product Details:
Hardcover, 192 pages, 11 x 8.5 inches
Price: $39.95
Publication Date: August 2016
ISBN: 978-1-6132528-1-9
Publisher: CarTech Inc.
Website: www.cartechbooks.com

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Hot Rod Gallery Book review Pat Ganahl classic cars photos


Both installments of Pat Ganahl’s Hot Rod Gallery display hundreds of candid, exciting, and fascinating pictures from the 1930s-60s.

As Ganahls explains in the Introduction, he began collecting them at a very young age in the 1960s, when the hot rodding movement was starting to die out. Having spent decades as an editor for multiple hot rodding publications, his efforts have doubled as a photo archivist preserving tens of thousands of images.

Each book contains hundreds of mostly-black-and-white images of hot rod races, garage work, models posing, and car shows. As stated by the author, the books are intended to be photo galleries sharing the most noteworthy and high-quality images from the era, with each chapter exploring a different aspect. Each chapter begins with a couple pages introducing the theme or focus of that chapter, the culture of the time and how hot rods played a part.

The chapters of Hot Rod Gallery are:

  1. Hop-Ups, Gow Jobs, and Modifieds
  2. On the Street
  3. The First Car Shows
  4. The First Drag Strips
  5. The Early Customs
  6. Early Hot Rod Shops and Speed Parts
  7. Car Shows, Angel Hair, and Tiki Heads
  8. 1950s Hot Rods in Color
  9. 1950s Customs in Color

The chapters of Hot Rod Gallery II are:

  1. Dry Lakes and Streets in the 1930s and 1940s
  2. Post-War Rods: 1945-1950
  3. On Track
  4. Paddling Lead
  5. The Fab 1950s
  6. Going for Show
  7. Medley
  8. Marvelous Mills
  9. The 1960s

Hot Rod Gallery Book review Pat Ganahl classic cars

Product Quality

The copies I received of Hot Rod Gallery I & II both had bold, attractive covers that emphasized the quality of the pictures that were contained within them. The choice of using color photos that took up much of the cover–with the bold lettering “Hot Rod” above them–clearly advertises what the books have to offer.

While both are made of adequate quality, Hot Rod Gallery II is undeniably better bound, printed, and assembled–and worth the extra $5 cost. While the first Hot Rod Gallery book’s softcover binding held together well, it tended to scuff and bend easily–which the hardback Hot Rod Gallery II did not do. The detail and quality of the printing on the pages of Hot Rod Gallery II were much finer, and thus I’d say it’s the more impressive of the two.

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Hot Rod Gallery Book review Pat Ganahl classic cars pages

Overall Review

Without reading the author’s introduction, you can tell that these books were made by someone who has a passion and expertise in the hot rodding culture. His choice of images to include are, for the most part, very interesting and noteworthy; and while browsing the images is rewarding, half the fun is the personality of the author in the captions. I especially loved that these picture captions were wry, casual discussions of the contents of the pictures rather than the dry recitation of tedious facts. That also shows how limited documentation there is on many of these historic images, and it’s up to archivists like Ganahl to interpret them.

Hot Rod Gallery Book review Pat Ganahl classic cars bindingMost readers will browse through both books and only stop to examine the images that strike them–and that’s a perfectly fine way to read Hot Rod Gallery. They’re easy publications to pick up, thumb through, and divert your attention for a couple minutes. Yet Ganahl’s collections even hold up under thorough readings and meticulous scrutiny, so veterans of the hot rodding era won’t be disappointed.

Both books have similar layouts, chapter themes, and images, though Hot Rod Gallery II gives a more thorough look at hot rodding throughout the decades while the first book focuses on types of customization. You’ll see many candid or behind-the-scenes photos of famous customizers, painters, and racers—like Big Daddy Roth and Andy Brizio. The images aren’t exactly printed in high-definition, but they’re clear enough to be examined.

Getting both Hot Rod Galleries isn’t a requirement, but if you like one, you’ll certainly enjoy the other. Whether you like automotive history, photography, or the nostalgia of hot rodding, you’ll find plenty to see in these great books.

Hot Rod Gallery and Hot Rod Gallery II are available through the publisher’s website, Google PlayAmazonBarnes and Noble, and other retailers.

Product provided for review by publisher.

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