Dragging and DRIVING by Tom MacPherson
published 1960 (second printing 1965) by Scholastic Book Services
155 pages, softcover
Acquired from a sale on Facebook. Currently out of print.
I was born at the end of the 1960s. I always had an interest in cars. I was often able to get my hands on magazines like Hot Rod and Car Craft, but I never had many books about cars. Dragging and DRIVING was a book I’d never seen. I imagine it was quite a popular pocket-sized book in its day.
Dragging and DRIVING was aimed at the young male approaching driving age, and it’s definitely written in a style consistent with the time. It’s reminiscent of those reel-to-reel films you used to see in school, that kind of instructional film about good hygiene or being a good citizen, but with a liberal dose of hot rod slang throughout.
Overall, the theme is safety and responsible ownership and operation. The first chapter acknowledges a societal dichotomy – how society pushes us to be better, to strive to be the best, in sports and academics, to be competitive and even aggressive to be successful. And yet, “we must throw an entire philosopy in reverse… (because) the competitive and aggressive driver is a misfit on the highway.” Author Tom MacPherson set the tone that a smart and responsible attitude would result in years of pleasurable miles on the open roads.
There’s a chapter on acquiring your first car, with good advice on navigating used car lots to “get the most and best automobile for your money.” This includes a very good description of how to inspect a vehicle, from eyeing the panels for ripples and bubbles, to examining the interior, the tires and suspension for wear and what to look for when starting and test driving a car. Though some points no longer apply today, much of what’s written is good advice now.
Once the car is bought, MacPherson talks about customizing and hot rodding, and some of the benefits of learning to do as much as you can. Again, the info is dated (“it is downright foolish to pay a mechanic’s hourly rate ($4.00 or more) for the unskilled work” – can you imagine?) For example, MacPherson describes how one can go about removing cylinder heads oneself, saving labour costs, while perhaps leaving the hard work – milling, porting etc., to the skilled tradesman. It’s good advice for the guy who wants to save a little while still getting the work done properly. The information is not limited to one area, as MacPherson touches on other custom work to both engine and body.
After souping up your job, MacPherson talks about how to race it – legally, especially in the NHRA – even breaking down existing classes. More interesting is information on what was known as the Jaycee Safe Driving Road-E-O, a (now defunct?) written and on-course test that could result in what were then scholarship prizes up to $2000.
But that’s not all there is for a youth to know about having and using a car. MacPherson includes a wealth of wisdom that deals with maintaining your ride and being a safe driver.
- ‘So You’re Stuck with Stock’ delves into maintaining your vehicle. Granted this is another very dated section – from the days when Dad was out under the hood in the driveway every other weekend. It drives home the idea that while driving around is a blast, your car won’t last long if you don’t keep it in great condition.
- ‘How to be Popular and Chicken’ talks to “three drivers with real guts – a trucker who pilots a big trailer rig, a dragster who (drove) 140 miles per hour in eleven seconds, and a turnpike cop…” about how they drive defensively as a matter of life and death.
- ‘Skids, Skins and Skills’ describes techniques one needs to know in order to safely navigate whatever hazards may be encountered on the road.
- ‘Had an Accident?’ discusses what to do in the event of an accident, from exchanging information, dealing with insurance, as well as how to administer first aid at the scene including setting splints. The following chapter ‘Second Impact’ discusses head injuries specifically, as well as the importance of seatbelts, which is something for 1960.
The final chapter guesses at ‘Tomorrow’s Driving’. Some of those guesses were prophetic, in the form of electric-powered and self-driving cars, as well as electronic warning systems (lane-keeping, blind-spot, reverse camera) that are now available on many cars. Others, such as turbine and rotary-engined cars have been tried but seem to have disappeared. And others, like rocket- and atom-power are probably never to be seen.
There’s 2 appendices. The first concentrates on slang terms, from ammeter and bent-eight to dash-pot and glass-packs to velocity stacks and z-ing. The second shows how a car goes, not only describing internal combustion but also how fuel and spark are delivered.
I really enjoyed ‘Dragging and DRIVING’. It’s definitely a blast from the past, obviously aimed at young males and now with many of the specifics really long out of date. However, I like that it’s a book designed to excite youth about driving while making clear that there’s a great deal of responsibility to being a safe driver and owning a car. I realized how the title actually fit – Dragging… that sort of hooks you in, the excitement of having a car… but DRIVING, that’s the emphasis, learning to be a safe, responsible driver, not just some drag racer. Frankly, much of the information still applies today.
Pros: a look into ideas about cars and driving during the early 1960s; period-correct
Cons: much of the information is now out-dated (though it is somewhat valuable in understanding pre-1960s cars)
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, private collections