For ages, the Derrs, Karen and Bob, have been the go-to couple for real-estate deals inside the loop.
But Bob Derr is also a well-known hot-rod enthusiast and now the one-man band behind a new hot-rod magazine, Firing Order.
“We sold the company a few years ago,” he says, “and I got a little bored.” Husband and wife still sell real estate at Boulevard Realty, but not having to run a business freed Derr up to pursue his passion of homemade hot rods.
“I always wanted to go to all these big car shows around the country, and now we have the time,” he says.
For years he produced a real-estate magazine for their company, so he knew his way around publishing. Starting a bimonthly magazine about his passion for cars was the next logical step.
“My dad was a big car guy, so I’ve always had hot rods and worked on cars,” says the 64-year-old Derr. He currently has ten, including a 1941 Ford pickup he spent five years building.
“I thought it would only take six months to a year, but I was wrong,” Derr laughs.
Hot rods, mostly old American-made vehicles supped up by their owners, first showed up in Southern California in the 1930s. Made popular by the drag-racing culture, and through films like the classic 1973 film American Graffiti, they have remained popular through the decades with car fans, and today there are clubs, shows, and magazines. Some of these rebuilt classic cars can go for big bucks, hundreds of thousands of dollars. But those are not the cars Firing Order features.
Firing Order, named for the way a V-8 engine’s spark plugs ignite, is all about celebrating the average Joe hot-rod fan. As the website says, the magazine is “for kats and kittens who turn their own wrenches, bust their own knuckles, and spill a lil’ of their own blood in their project.”
Derr uses online media to reach a worldwide audience of these folks who submit photos and stories of restorations. The Facebook page has 65,000 Likes, some from as far away as Holland and Saudi Arabia.
And a lot of those featured cars are rat rods, a subculture of hot rods that are made of odds and ends and often appear unfinished. “It’s basically a car that’s unpainted,” Derr explains. “We revel in the rust. Maybe the gas pedal is made from a wrench. It’s anything goes. Coke bottle openers for door handles, tractor seats, no carpeting, no radio, cow skulls on the motor.”
And there’s even a subset of rat rods, where the autos have to be rebuilt for $3,000 or less. But Derr says he’s never been able to do one for that price.
While most Houstonians know about and have seen art cars, not everyone knows about the hot-rod culture in Houston. But it’s here and it’s thriving.
There’s the Niftee 50ees Saturday Night Cruise in Spring, Texas, every Saturday night during the springtime, and then there’s the hot-rod and custom-car show at Outlaw Dave’s Worldwide Headquarters on Washington Avenue the first and third Sundays of the month. “Dave broadcasts his radio show from his upscale ice house,” Derr says. “He’s an old friend and a hot-rod fan. The Sunday car shows are great fun—Bloody Marys and a great car show in the parking lot.”
Sounds like the place to hang, whether or not you built your own or just want to see some of these fascinating custom cars that harken back to an older era of Americana. Maybe you’ll run into the Derrs there and see Bob’s 1941 Ford pickup. It’s the one with the Firing Order logo on the rusted door. Or you can see it on the magazine’s website (firingordermagazine.com).
As Charles Martin Smith said in American Graffiti, “This is a super fine machine.”
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.