My Generation: First Read

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MyGeneration Hot Rod novel cover258x400.jpg

by Rick Tavel
Special to Corvette Forum

? 6-25-2013 All rights reserved

It happened just the other day?I was browsing one of my favorite automobile image sites,Omnibus of Speed ( and there it was, something I had not seen in over fifty years, a picture of the cover of the first book I ever read (excluding of course the Dick and Jane books that our school class was forced to read together), Henry Gregor Felsen’s Hot Rod. The Midwestern author wrote several novels centered upon the growing interest in hot rodding and car culture in the 1950’s. Though Hot Rod is not about the Corvette per se and certainly not considered the great American novel, more like 50’s pulp fiction for teens, who knows how many future Corvette owners had their need for speed ignited by Felsen. He was able to portray a young boy’s coming of age based on the culture of hot rodding, car clubs and a teenager’s special relationship with his car. In fact, it was Felsen’s ability to accurately depict this that earned him the title of ?granddaddy of the street rod.?

Felsen wrote over sixty books on various subjects as a novelist, getting his start as a freelance journalist while in the Marine Corps, stationed in the Pacific. While serving in the Marines he also edited the Marine Corps magazine Leathernecks. He lived most of his life in Iowa and taught part time at Drake University. During his long career as a writer, Felsen’s greatest success came from his hot rod, car club and speed-crazed series? of books. His most successful novel Hot Rod, first published in 1950, was followed by Street Rod in 1953. Crash Club, Rag Top and Road Rocket were also part of the series. Combined, his hot rod novels sold over eight million copies. Not bad for teen pulp fiction.

While he passed away in 1995, Felsen still has a following from several of those who were lucky enough to discover his novels as adolescents and teens. A first edition Hot Rod sells for several hundred dollars and most all of his hardback hot rod novels are considered rare. In fact, there is a hot rod car show tribute to Felsen coming up on September 22 in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Though Henry Gregor Felsen may not be as highly regarded as Hemingway or Kerouac, millions of young readers can thank him for the hours of excitement he provided, before video games and the internet, often under the bedcovers with a flashlight after Mom and Dad ordered ?lights out.?

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