Andy Southard Hot Rodder

Andy Southard – Customizer, Pinstriper, Photojournalist

Automotive journalists have played a prominent, if sometimes hidden, role in advancing hot rodding’s popularity in modern culture. We’ve profiled some of the greats on Fuel Curve – Wally Parks, Gray Baskerville, Tom McMullen, Tom Medley and Tex Smith – whose articles, publications, and photography inspired millions to join the challenge and fun of building a hot rod or custom. This month we’ve added another acclaimed writer and photographer to our honor roll – Andy Southard Jr., who sadly passed away recently at the age of 90.

While the hot rod scene in the ’50s was percolating heavily on the West Coast, Southard was an East coaster, growing up on New York’s Long Island. Cars caught his fancy at a young age, and he worked two jobs during high school to afford his own ride. Soon his chinos bulged with enough loot to afford a ’40 Mercury club coupe.

Another avocation piqued his interest, one that would fuel his future career – photography. He joined the school photo club, and post-graduation he eschewed traditional college for the New York Institute of Photography in the Big Apple. He graduated in late 1952 with a diploma of “Professional Photographer,” even earning an official press photographers card of NYC.

Andy Southard Hot Rodder

While attending the Institute, he sold his ’40 Mercury and replaced it with a ’49 Ford club coupe. Being the car guy that he was, he embarked on mild customizing: chrome acorn nuts, blue-dot taillights, and in an ode to the growing sport of drag racing, a couple of NHRA decals.

In 1952, he and a buddy piled into the coupe and, heeding Horace Greeley’s famous cry, the young men went west to California. Upon arrival in the Golden State the duo toured the Mother Lode of hot rod and custom establishments – Barris Kustoms, Bell Auto Parts, Bob’s Drive-In, and more. Duly inspired, when Southard returned to New York he immediately restyled the coupe, applying ideas from the masters. The club coupe soon sported more cosmetic nips ’n tucks than an aging Hollywood starlet – nosed, decked, frenched, Olds grille, and a radiant metallic green hue.

Upon his return from a two-year stint in the Army – he was drafted during the Korean War but was sent to Germany – Southard committed to a career as a lensman. He loaded up his new ’55 T-bird and motored back to SoCal with the goal to attend the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. However, his enrollment was delayed, so he headed north to Salinas, California. There, he learned how to pinstripe – from Dean Jeffries, no less – and purchased a ’27 Ford roadster.

With school and job prospects having faded, Southard retuned to New York and opened a business punching louvers, painting, and pinstriping. The venture thrived. Andy’s business cards read “Kustom Pin Striping by Andy.” Soon he added painting to his skillset, mastering the art of scalloping. It was during this period that he embarked another career as a photojournalist.

Southard couldn’t shake the appeal of the West Coast, though, so once again he put his California dreaming into action and returned to Salinas. “I loved the West Coast because of the nice weather, the hot rods, and the girls,” he once told The Jalopy Journal. “And not necessarily in that order!”  In 1961 he made a side trip to Los Angeles for a roadster expedition where he met the editors of Rod & Custom magazine. Soon he was providing car features, with some images featured on the cover.

So began his long career as one of hot rodding’s most accomplished authors, photographers, and car builders. He authored several books, including “Hot Rods of the 1950s,” “Custom Cars of the 1950s,” “Hot Rods & Customs of the 1960s,” and “The Oakland Roadster Show-50 Years of Rod and Customs,” which he co-wrote with Dain Gingerelli.  He also supplied all the images for the first Motorbooks hot rod calendar in 1997.

His collection of rods and customs was equally impressive. The custom car history site Kustorama lists nine significant cars, including his beautifully customized ’58 Chevrolet Impala with its intricately scalloped paint scheme. Early Fords were also a passion. He built several early hot rods, including two traditional ’32 Ford roadsters, which he was forced sell post-divorce in the late-’70s. Andy Brizio purchased one, and John Buttera bought the other – which happened to be the old Lee Titus hot rod from the late-’50s, which was eventually restored by Roy Brizio’s shop to its 1959 incarnation.

The profile on Southard in Kustomrama, updated after his passing, finishes with a touching sentiment on all that he meant to our hobby:

“Andy Southard passed away on September 30, 2023. He did so much for our culture. His exceptional photographs and books stand as milestones in documenting our scene and culture. Through his lens and words, he captured the essence, spirit, and evolution of the hot rod and custom car community, ensuring that future generations would understand and appreciate its rich history.”

A spot-on tribute to another Legend of Hot Rodding.

Lead image of Andy with his custom ’39 Merc by Trent Sherill for Speed & Kulture magazine.

Gary Medley has been a friend, ally and contributor to the performance community for decades. His interest in cars and journalism was pretty much a genetic imperative, as he is the son of Tom Medley, creator of Stroker McGurk. Medley’s own career path has traveled from the halls of Petersen Publishing to PR director for an Indy Car race to pitching tight-fitting Italian-made cycling shorts and countless other forms of high-speed life. Living between two volcanoes in Hood River, Oregon, Medley will be a regular Fuel Curve contributor when he’s not working to sustain his father’s legacy.