SI Vault
Robert H. Boyle
April 24, 1961
To many persons the automobile is a status symbol. To 1.5 million hot rodders, however, the car is the cornerstone of a cult with its own lingo, totems and heaven. The cats range from wild to mild, but the fuzzy world they live in can be far out, man, far out
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April 24, 1961

The Car Cult From Rumpsville

To many persons the automobile is a status symbol. To 1.5 million hot rodders, however, the car is the cornerstone of a cult with its own lingo, totems and heaven. The cats range from wild to mild, but the fuzzy world they live in can be far out, man, far out

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I asked Zauss what he would do if I touched his car. He said he would fight. "If you were a baker and you baked a cake," he said, "wouldn't you get teed off if I put my hand on it? Nobody touches nothin'! You keep your hands to yourself."

Schorsch went even further. "If a guy went up and leaned on my fender, by God I'd flip!" he said. "It's like going up to Michelangelo's Venus de Milo and putting black paint on it. A bad scene! Back East you got magazines showing pictures of cars with broads lying on the hoods and fenders, sittin' on the roof. Oh, it wouldn't happen to the guys I know! In my town, a car gets known like a human being. A good car is known just like a person. Cars have personalities, just like people. You can have two 32 Ford coup�s, same color, but something is different. A car is a person. I can tell when it's sick. Man, when my car isn't running right I think about it all night."

Schorsch likes motorcycles, but they have to be "limey bikes," English motorcycles. "Guys in limey bikes are groovy cats," he said. "They wear dark glasses at 12 o'clock at night and ride the beach." He wanted nothing to do with the "hog riders" on American "sickles." "The hogs are usually a bunch of Okies who wear big boots, hang out in bars and dance with ugly girls," he said. "In one club the guys wear earrings. They don't change their Levi's. They wear leather jackets with the sleeves torn off. Not cut off, torn off. They've got weird tattoos all over their arms. The broads are tattooed too. I've seen broads with the cats' names tattooed on their legs. All the broads wear long hair and helmets. The hog riders are cats you wouldn't want to associate with. Strange clan."

"Man," said Roth, who had been listening in, "if you get in with the hog crowd you've really got it made!"

Schorsch disagreed. "I thought I was weird until I saw those guys," he said.

Unlike rugged individualists like Schorsch and Zauss, younger hot rodders want to belong to a group, a club. There are now 40,000 car clubs in the United States, and they are increasing at such a rate that Wally Parks plans to set up a national organization for them alone. The new organization will have nothing to do with the National Hot Rod Association—indeed the name hot rod will be avoided—or drag racing, but will devote itself to such activities as customizing.

Parks should have his hands full. Clubs range from one extreme to the other. The Waddlers of Bell, for instance, are composed, as Roth puts it, "of a bunch of guys no one else would let in. They've got a plaque that shows a privy on wheels with a guy sticking his head out the window throwing up." At the other extreme were the Heaven Pacers of the East Bay, a club near San Francisco that required each applicant to have been "born again, accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior." At drag races the Pacers held prayer meetings over the PA system, and once when the club dragster wasn't running properly they gathered around to ask for divine guidance. The dragster went on to top the strip record by six mph. The Pacers, who disbanded in 1960, had as their motto I Corinthians 9:24: "Know ye not that they which run in the race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain."

Occupying the middle of the road, sociologically speaking, are the Glen Cove Road Panthers, of Long Island in New York. Formed nine years ago by Ed Eaton, now the national field director of the NHRA, the Panthers enjoy local police sponsorship. The Panthers meet in a city garage, where they work on the club dragster, and everything is done in proper fashion before the public eye. The club has detailed bylaws—one forbids members from wearing the club jacket into a bar—and anyone guilty of squirrelly behavior is liable to expulsion. Last summer two members were drummed out for good for drag racing on Glen Cove's main street.

To improve public relations, Panthers assist motorists in trouble. After changing a flat or adjusting a minor mechanical failure, a Panther will present the motorist with a courtesy card which reads, "You have been assisted by a member of the Glen Cove Road Panthers...a 'HOT ROD' organization formed by a group of responsible auto enthusiasts, dedicated to promote interest in the sport, wherever it may be found, and who some day hope to unveil to the Public the true meaning of the word, 'Hot Rod.' " As a good-will gesture last Christmas, the Panthers raised $100 for a needy family.

Club membership now stands at 16, equally divided between speedsters and customizers, and on a January afternoon Reporter Mort Sharnik and I talked to a half dozen of them, all but one of whom worked as mechanics.

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