By the end of the 1980s, the soul of hot rodding was on its deathbed: battered by chunks of polished billet aluminum, covered in pastel paint and stabbed into its heart with a tilt steering column.
But there was hope on the horizon.
Young hot rodders were discovering old scrapbooks and scavenging shoeboxes in their grandparents’ attics, filled with faded black and white photographs from the dry lakes and the backstreets of Los Angeles.
And there was Don Montgomery. He also had been searching for old pictures from the birth of hot rodding but from time to time he was publishing them in hot rod magazines. He tried to find as much information as possible and being complemented by those stories, the old pictures came back to life again. Not only the oldtimers loved Don’s articles, so in 1988, he decided to publish his first book: Hot Rods of the Forties.
It was on a Saturday in September 2013 that I got the chance to visit Don Montgomery at his house in Fallbrook, California.
Don, your books are full of inspiring pictures from back in the day. Did you take most of the photos?
»No, I didn’t take a lot of pictures. In the late 1940s and the early 1950s, hardly anyone was taking photos. We would just go to the lakes, work on our cars, make a run, come back and work on the cars again… So, we didn’t have many pictures. In most cases it was either a girlfriend or a friend who had by coincidence taken some photos. A good friend of mine, he was in the Gophers Car Club, took many pictures. He even took my junior high graduation photos.«
How did you come across most old photos?
»When I started looking for pictures for my magazine articles, I asked everybody I could. But experience from talking to a lot of guys was, when they got divorced, the pictures got thrown away. When they died the family had no interest in the pictures and they were thrown away. So, they sat around in shoeboxes or albums and eventually just got tossed out… unless I could save them. And in fact, in the mid-1980s there wasn’t much interest in nostalgia. Nowadays there is.«
What was your goal with your books?
»Well, I had done some magazine articles and then in 1988 I said: Hey, I'll do a book so people can see the old pictures… and hopefully enough guys will buy it. So, I did a book and it sold pretty well. And then guys would show up and say hey, I got some old pictures as well. More and more stuff was coming in and that led me to another book and another book… In the end, I did eight books. And they sold pretty well… I sold around 35’000 books. I had so much fun doing this and I spent a lot of time researching stuff. I’m an engineer so I wanted it to be accurate. So, I talked to everybody and tried to get the correct information which isn’t always easy, you know. There’s a famous saying about hot rodders that goes like: The older I am, the faster I was. So you get an awful lot of that…«
When looking back, what's your favorite thing about doing these books?
»I had a blast doing these books. During all those years, I met so many people and I made a lot of correspondence all over the world… particularly with people from Australia, England, Sweden, and also a few from places like Germany, or New Zealand.«
Your books are an amazing resource, Don.
»Thank you. With all of my books I wanted to be factual. And I think, to a great degree, I accomplished that. I almost never had a complaint of someone.«
It was my first time at the Ventura Nationals. Or do they call it Primer Nationals? Or maybe that was the old name. Whatever. There's a quote from one of my favorite movies that pretty much sums up my experience in Ventura. You probably know that moment in From Dusk Til Dawn when Santanico Pandemonium is doing her thing and Seth Gecko, the character played by George Clooney, bursts out with his opinion on her performance: That's what I call a fuckin' show! Yeah, that's what it was.
Unfortunately, due to the hot and humid weather, my action behind the camera was somewhat slowed down, but there are still some pictures which I hope you enjoy. More photos...