Hot Rod Mags Pump Up Government Fears To Boost Advertisers

A chain of the country's most popular auto enthusiast magazines used at least 20 of its titles to run similar stories and covers this month, all asking "CAN THEY OUTLAW HOT RODDING?" It's less about street machines than political ones.

All of the stories this month in magazines such as Hot Rod, Mustang Monthly and Chevy High Performance follow the same template: Raise questions about whether jack-booted Washington bureaucrats will soon confiscate everything with a carburetor, then spend a lot of words saying "not really." And all use some version of the "no circle" over a hot rod on their covers, even if they don't always agree on which way it should face.

The magazines are owned by Source Interlink, the conglomerate which also owns Motor Trend and Automobile. Doug Evans, Source Interlink's senior vice president and group publisher of its Performance Automotive Group, says it's because "hot rodders need to get organized":

"These issues of our automotive magazines will give our readers an opportunity to consider how actions being taken by federal and state lawmakers impact the auto enthusiast. The need for the enthusiast community to stay informed and become involved is greater than ever. From emissions to auto equipment standards, the government is making decisions about your current and future car."

The breathless pieces — none, oddly considering the vast majority of restrictive laws are on the state level, differentiating between state and federal officials — all have the same answer for the car lover ready to fight the man: Join the SEMA Action Network.

The Specialty Equipment Market Association is a trade group of about 6,000 companies that's spent $220,000 this year on lobbying federal officials and an unknown amount on state-level work. It also runs a small political action committee that has donated about $26,250 to congressional candidates and lawmakers this year, just enough to open a few doors by Washington standards.

Most of SEMA's lobbying in Washington and state legislatures involves smaller issues, such as whether trails in a certain national park should be made off-limits to off-roaders or tougher standards on exhaust noise. Nothing in Congress over the past two years came close to outlawing street rods or garage mods, and given the Republican surge expected next month, there's no such threat on the horizon. Even if one were brought up out of nowhere on Capitol Hill, SEMA could lean on the 95 lawmakers who belong to the SEMA-organized "Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus."

But in California, SEMA has weighed in on a variety of topics, notably a ballot initiative to roll back the state's greenhouse gas limits. While SEMA has been vigilant on smog and emissions rules, it's also opposed to proposals reversing business tax cuts and changing California's constitution to cut the logjam in the state legislature that nearly pushed it into default - issues that have no direct link to classic car owners.

Hot Rod Mags Pump Up Government Fears To Boost Advertisers

Like all trade groups, SEMA rewards longtime supporters, such as 2009 Person Of The Year recipient Doug Evans, the Source Interlink executive, who's served on SEMA's board and its PAC. Given that many of SEMA's companies advertise in Source Interlink's rodding magazines, helping their political cause can't hurt business.

While some readers have signed on, a few have protested the blanket political pitch:

Yes, thank you for the fear-invoking theme. This type of big corporate politicking is why i did not renew any of my subscriptions and why I no longer buy the mags at the newsstand. No body is trying to outlaw hot rodding and to suggest it just to get people to support aftermarket parts suppliers in there attempt to loosen corporate regulations is disgusting. I'll keep wrenching and driving my cars, but I will not give any more money to mags who support this nonsense and I'll try not to buy parts from the suppliers either.

(H/t to Igor!)