Robert E. Petersen launched Hot Rod magazine in 1948 to coincide with the first Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) Exposition in Los Angeles.  This magazine closed a needed gap in hot rod coverage after the demise of Throttle magazine at the start of World War II.  It gained success quickly, and many imitators followed.  Petersen's success allowed him to launch Motor Trend and many other titles.

The first magazines were  9" by 12" and were bigger than the popular pocket- or digest-sized magazines that came later. The size was reduced to 8-1/2" by 11" with the October, 1949 issue. This magazine marks the beginning of a golden age in automotive publications, and it set the style for much more to come.

Hot Rod has always been a generalist rodding magazine, successfully covering all aspects in the world of wheels from hot rods, customs, muscle cars, drag racing, dune buggies, vans, etc. Like other Petersen titles like Car Craft, in the mid-1960s content began slowly shifting away from pre-1948 vehicles and instead embraced Detroit classics from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. This fact is represented by the re-grouping of the title into the performance & muscle genre for all issues from 1965 forward.

Rod & Custom was a sister magazine in the Petersen empire. When it ended for a second time in May 1974, it was folded into Hot Rod magazine.

The table of contents, if available, for each specific month can be seen by clicking on the icon.

The publisher provided net paid circulation data to N.W. Ayer & Sons, Gale Research and Oxbridge Communication's The Standard Periodical Directory from 1950 through 2005 (the last year for which we have data). Annual print production grew from 94,600 to a peak 1,842,000. Hot Rod has consistently been one of the top five magazines in print volume for over six decades.

A total of 876 issues were printed from January, 1948 through December, 2020. All cover images are complete through 2012, and all table of content pages are complete from 1948 through 1964.

A searchable index for issues from 1948 through 1974 in .PDF format is available here.