The First… or Second…
I was exhausted last night. I laid in bed between the states of awake and asleep and began to think about customs. More specifically, I thought about what custom was the first to grace the cover of Hot Rod Magazine. By the time I had nodded off, I decided it was Bob Pierson’s ’36 that appeared on the August, 1948 cover. Satisfied, I finally nodded off.
The morning brought a differing opinion. As I stared at the ’36, I began to realize that while it had some custom touches (reverse rake, full wheel covers, fender skirts) it was better classified as a hot rod. Hell, even the editors of HRM called it a “competition coupe” and its performance on the salt was just further evidence. I was back to square one…
Starting from issue 1 in 1948, I thumbed through each magazine and made it all the way to the April, 1952 cover before I spied this fairly radical 1937 Ford. Amazingly, the well proportioned car was built by a rookie with no fabrication experience and little to no tools. Glenn Johnson built the car primarily under a shade tree at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada (They had shade trees in Vegas back then? – ED). He had a clawhammer, a blow torch, a hacksaw, a flat body file, some metal shears, a regular set of hand tools, and a borrowed welder – that’s it. Adding even more pressure to the build was the fact that this ’37 was Glenn’s transportation to work 6-days a week. At no time, could the car be down or undriveable for more than 24 hours.
After about two years of laboring on the project, Glenn was making some last minute welds under the deck lid to button up the freshly stitched interior. A spark from the welder ignited the gas tank and started a fire that Glenn couldn’t extinguish until after it had blistered paint, burned leather, and melted out all of his body lead. Undeterred, Glenn started all over. The car appeared on the 1952 cover just a year later.
Somehow, such an honest custom from such a dedicated builder deserves the distinction of being the first… It makes me wonder why or how I didn’t know this story until this morning.
Editor’s Note: After this article was published, SUHRsc pointed out that Jack Calorie’s ’36 appeared on the cover of the November, 1949 issue of Hot Rod Magazine. As luck would have it, that’s the only issue I am missing that is pre-55… In any regard, the appearance of Jack’s car would make this ’37 the second custom to grace a HRM cover.