Simanaitis Says

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STROTHER MACMINN taught automotive design at the Art Center College of Design for five decades, with disciples throughout the industry. He was also instrumental in establishing Toyota’s Calty Design Research Inc.


Strother “Mac” MacMinn (1919-1998), automotive design authority, executive and educator. Image of a 1960s outdoor seminar from Art Center Archives. See for a video with Mac.

Mac contributed to R&T, where his profound knowledge of automotive design—and his refined taste—were reflected in many of the magazine’s Salon features.

Mac also had a love of West Coast hot rod and custom car culture, as exhibited in this very special book.


Hot Rods and Custom Cars, Los Angeles and the Dry Lakes: The Early Years, Rare Photographs by Strother MacMinn, commentary by Ken Gross and Robert Ames, Crown Holdings, 2009; a limited edition of 1000 copies and selected Author Proofs. Though rare, the book is listed at and

Robert Ames says in the book, “In truth, Mac’s interests did not fall neatly into categories. They were all-encompassing, defined primarily by the form/function dictum.”


Picture Perfect Deuce highboy roadster, built and owned by John Ryan. This and other images from Hot Rods and Custom Cars.


Ken Gross describes the essence of a Picture Perfect Deuce. Start with a 1932 (“Deuce”) Ford, remove its fenders, fit a dropped front axle, add modifications to its flat-head V-8.

If its body contours are left unaltered, it’s a “highboy.” If they’re “channeled” for more rakish lines, it’s a “lowboy.”


Keith Landrigan’s 1932 lowboy was on the cover of Hot Rod magazine’s second issue, February 1948. According to that Hot Rod article, Keith and his wife Betty took the car on their honeymoon.

Characteristic of many hot rodders of the era, Keith Landrigan gained mechanical expertise in the military—in his case, repairing Navy Hellcats and Corsairs on the USS Yorktown during World War II.

A “custom” was typically a styling exercise on a postwar car. A “chopped” top had a horizontal section removed. Elimination of the top’s rear three-quarter windows made it a “Carson” top.


A classically restyled postwar Ford custom.

Bodywork was “nosed” and “decked,” with extraneous trim removed and the resulting surfaces smoothed over. Hubcaps were replaced with “moon discs.” Often fender skirts covered the rear wheels.

The dry lakes of Southern California—no more than a couple of hours inland from the coast—provided vast expanses on which to compete for top speed. Mac brought his Leica to these venues as well.


Regg Schlemmer’s Class C “lakes modified” turned a very respectable 136.05 mph in 1948.

The Southern California Timing Association was (and continues to be) the sanctioning body. It’s noted that SCTA programs listed the obvious features of competitor cars—whose heads, headers, intake manifolds and cams—but no specific details of tuning. Also assumed was having the courage to plant one’s right foot.


War-surplus “belly tanks” provided streamlined bodywork for a new class of racer.

World War II fighters carried detachable fuel tanks for extended missions. Postwar hot rodders appreciated their streamlined shapes—and war-surplus prices. As these streamliners evolved, their V-8 engines moved aft of the driver, the chassis derived from Ford Model T rails.


Bill Burke’s Sweet 16 streamliner at El Mirage Dry Lake.

There were two sizes of belly tanks, 165- and 315-gal., and consequently two types of streamliner. Bill Burke’s Sweet 16 was the first of the larger variety. Through gradual improvement, its speed capability rose from 139 mph in 1947, to 150 mph in 1948, to 164 mph later than year.


What a marvelous time it must have been. And my thanks to Strother MacMinn (as well as Robert Ames and Ken Gross) for sharing a sampling of it all. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013


  1. carmacarcounselor
    December 12, 2013

    I always looked forward to Strother’s insights about classics in the Salon section of R&T, but never knew he was interested in hot rodding. A good friend who lived down the hill from the Art Center College wangled a lunch with him at the Rout 66 cafe in Pasadena, and while the meeting would not be classified as a resounding success (Strother did not suffer fools gladly and I was a bit in awe and probably acted like one), I still count it among my most cherished automotive memories.

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This entry was posted on November 14, 2013 by in Classic Bits and tagged , , , , .
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