My involvement with Petersen began when a good friend of mine, Danny Corns, called me out of the blue one day to ask me if I would be interested in joining Petersen Publishing. I knew nothing about the company except that it published iconic titles such as Hot Rod and Motor Trend as well as Teen and Guns & Ammo. Danny at the time was the Midwest regional sales manager for Petersen, and he told me they were looking for someone to run their national sales staff. I told Danny I knew next to nothing about cars. He dismissed my comments and told me that my name had been mentioned as a possible candidate for the top sales job.
I took the job, and the next couple of years were an adventure unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I had to reorganize the sales force of some 80 people at a time when the automotive industry was going through a recession. With the help of good people, I was able to bring some semblance of team play to the sales force. I couldnt have done it without Bob, who was a supportive boss and so much fun to be around.
Bobs achievements were all the more remarkable because he was a high school dropout. His father was a mechanic with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and he taught his son all about engines. In 1948, Bob founded Hot Rod to help publicize a car show for the National Hot Rod Association. He sold the issues of the new magazines himself in the pits and to fans. A year later he started Motor Trend, which was a more mainstream publication that, according to the Wall Street Journal, Caught the beginning of the postwar car culture. Most of his titles succeeded, but some were failures, stories about which he loved to regale you with. In 1996, he sold his majority interest in his companywhich by then sported close to 75 titlesto an investor group led by Willis Stein & Partners for about $400 million.
As I noted, cars were his passion and he put together a magnificent automobile collection that included cars driven by Hollywood stars. For instance, he bought his motorcycling pal Steve McQueens 1956 Jaguar XKSS, Clark Gables 1941 Cadillac Series 62 and Elvis Presleys 1971 Pantera De Tomaso. He owned 16 Ferraris and, according to the Journal, once had his driveway in Beverly Hills rebuilt to accommodate his Lamborghini Diablo. His car collection is housed in Los Angeles Petersen Automotive Museum. Besides his passion for cars, he had other interests, including starting a charter-jet company and operating a vineyard.
However, at the zenith of his success, Bob and his wife Margie sustained a tragedy from which they would never recover. They lost their two sons in a plane crash in Colorado. From that day forward, Im sure life for both of them was bittersweet.
Bob Petersen was what America is all about, a man who came from nothing but had a dream and worked to fulfill it. We will miss him.
A true maverick.