Book Review: The American Speed Shop Offers a Compelling Look into a Bygone Era
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As old as mankind’s ambition to invent new things is our desire to deconstruct and modify them into greater things. From its onset, the automotive industry has been driven by the attitude: How can we turn what’s new into what’s better?
Practically immediately after Henry Ford made automobiles widely accessible to the average household, curious engineers began tinkering with them to push their capabilities ever further. The evolution of the automotive industry over the 20th century owes just as much to the average household mechanic and corner aftermarket shop as it does to prominent automakers.
Lovingly chronicling these stores and stories, Bob McClurg’s new book The American Speed Shop is a treat for hot rod enthusiasts. Far from being a catalog of bygone businesses (although that does inhabit a substantial portion of the book), this recently released digest captures the heart and soul of the culture through the memories of those who lived in it.
The American Speed Shop:
Birth and Evolution of Hot Rodding
by Bob McClurg
Product Details: Hardcover, 192 pages
Retail Price: $42.95
Size: 8.75″ x 11.25″
Publication Date: February 2021
Publisher: CarTech Books
Summary of the book’s contents
In The American Speed Shop, Longtime hot-rodder and industry veteran Bob McClurg has crafted a charming, compelling chronicle of speed shops and the trade’s culture.
At the start of its eight chapters, this book recounts the history of performance modding as early on as the first aftermarket engine parts for Ford’s first mass-produced automobiles — and the racing craze that soon followed. It was an age of high aspirations and dangerous feats which proved that even something well-built can always be made even better.
With the Big Three producing groundbreaking flathead and overhead valve engines, the groundspeed innovations continued, which eventually inspired the launch of the still-running annual SEMA Show — all of these topics receiving dedicated chapters in The American Speed Shop.
These mechanical innovations at literal breakneck speeds gave way to the first public speed shops that opened across the U.S., with the household hot-rodding culture rapidly sweeping the nation.
McClurg populates the remaining chapters with spotlights on the premier aftermarket businesses around the country through the people who founded them and the gearheads who frequented them. Using first-hand interviews and quotes from those who knew these stores in their heydays, McClurg provides a personal perspective on each of these establishments, bolstered by a wealth of advertising and branding print as well as vintage photographs.
Evaluation: Is this a worthy tribute to the trade?
McClurg did an excellent job unearthing and recording profiles on defunct shops that would otherwise have been lost to time, going beyond just surface-level facts you could find in an old catalog. Halfway through, the book shifts to being less about the industry and more about the people who inhabited it, showing that the trade was less about commercial aspirations than the love of the sport.
It’s this candid, personal perspective that elevates The American Speed Shop beyond being another dry catalogue of the rudimentary who, what, and where of these businesses.
What’s most striking is the message McClurg ends with: “The spirit of competition and free enterprise still reigns.” The book concludes by proving that performance car customization isn’t a dead hobby. The final chapter and subsequent appendix contain interviews with speed shops still in business that you can visit and support today.
Final thoughts: A personal note
If you participated in hot rod culture when you were young, The American Speed Shop will be a delightful drive down memory lane for you. Every such reader will probably find a store spotlighted here that sparks long-forgotten memories. For me, it was Ohio-based Summit Racing Equipment — a store that holds personal significance to me as a place my father frequented whenever he needed parts for his modded 1978 Chevy Nova.
The American Speed Shop would make an excellent Father’s Day gift for your car-enthusiast family members. I know my dad would’ve gotten a kick out of all the treasures buried between these covers.
The American Speed Shop is available through the publisher’s website, Amazon, and other book retailers.
Product provided for review by the publisher.
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a Hyundai Veloster Turbo (which recently replaced his 1995 Saturn SC-2). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.