Robert Petersen, Publisher, Dies at 80

Was Founder of Motor Trend, Hot Rod and Teen Magazines

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NEW YORK ( -- Robert E. Petersen, the entrepreneur and auto enthusiast who founded Motor Trend and Hot Rod magazines, died March 23 at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 80.
Robert E. Petersen
Robert E. Petersen

Mr. Petersen picked up his interest in cars from his father, who worked as a truck and equipment mechanic, but worked as a messenger boy at MGM studios and served in the Army Air Corps near the end of World War II before he got a chance to make his passion into something real by helping to create the first hot-rod show at the Los Angeles Armory.

25 cents a copy
To promote the event, Mr. Petersen created Hot Rod in January 1948 and visited local speedways to sell it for 25 cents a copy. Later on, Motor Trend and dozens of niche auto titles would follow, as well as titles such as Teen. Mr. Petersen held the post of chairman at what became Petersen Publishing Co. for decades.

In June 1994, the 300,000-square-foot Petersen Automotive Museum opened in Los Angeles, partly on the strength of Mr. Petersen's own $30 million donation.

"Mr. Petersen helped create and feed the American obsession with the automobile, delivering gasoline powered dreams to the mailboxes of millions," Dick Messer, the museum's director, said in a statement. "He understood the thrill that an average person could get from seeing and reading about horsepower as an art form."

A museum ceremony honoring Mr. Petersen with "Automotive Icon" and "Visionary" awards on May 10 will now be held as a tribute.

Mr. Petersen is survived by his wife, Margie.
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