An Odd Rod Review!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (©2001 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine
The biggest disadvantage to writing for The Wrapper is that the most popular sets have already been discussed at great length. Since Wrapper readers are a remarkably loyal lot (I just got off the phone with someone who's read it since issue #17), it seems pointless to cover sets that already have several good articles written about them. Mars Attacks, Civil War News, Wacky Packages... been there, read that. All the best classics have already been covered in plenty of detail.
Or so I thought.
Imagine my disbelief while compiling The Wrapper index to notice no articles on the very set that addicted me to non-sports collecting as a child. A set that was a phenomenon at my school, and probably yours too. The classic Odd Rods.
I'm sure someone has mentioned something about them somewhere before, but I didn't see any article devoted to what was arguably the most successful non-sports series Donruss ever produced. Such a tribute is long overdue...
The year was 1970. I was busy driving my teachers up the wall at the local elementary school. It was an unpaid position but a job I enjoyed. I was the first student ever suspended from Maclay and felt proud of the fact I had managed this feat in the first grade. But a nagging question continued to haunt my subconscious mind: How could I darken my already black record?
The answer was unintentionally provided by my mother when she bought me a pack of Odd Rods at the local 7-11. I went bonkers over them. The cards had everything I thought was cool at the time-- Monsters, hot rods and a smart ass attitude. The gum was good too (anything that helped rot my teeth was always a plus). But the piece de resistance was a feature that would eventually lead me down that well worn path to the principal's office once more; adhesive backs!
Yes, I had irked teachers with other cards sets before. Many a monster set had been confiscated from me during class. But Odd Rods had something more annoying than gruesome images to help needle the nerves of the struggling educator. Odd Rods could stick to things and were difficult to remove! In just a few weeks, I had secretly managed to convert my school into an Odd Rods Exhibition Hall.
Everywhere you looked, goofy monsters on mean machines were "peeling rubber". They covered the lockers, they obscured the windows, and they coated the desk tops. I even managed to place one on the pencil sharpener-- not an easy task since it was mounted to the teacher's desk. I probably would have gotten away with it too except for one thing. I had resorted to "dealing" in order to fund my habit.
I fancied the teachers stupid, but alas, they weren't as dumb as I thought. When they noticed my classmates lining up during lunch to hand me their money, they correctly deduced that something foul was afoot. I was caught red handed selling stickers at a nickel a pop. My teacher didn't buy the "I'm learning free marketing skills" argument, either. And so I was sent to the principal's office for another weekly visit. I was really angry when I left his office. Not because he broke the paddle on me again, but because he had "stolen" my stack of stickers.
Anyone who has tried to acquire Odd Rods recently can understand why I'm still miffed at losing my boyhood stash. They're difficult to locate these days, yet as popular as ever to collect. Little wonder. Odd Rods are FUN! Whoever the artists was, he had a great love of cars, a wonderful imagination and a good sense of humor. He was obviously influenced by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. The Rat Fink cartoonist sold truck loads of similar decals in the mid 60s through advertisements in hot rod magazines. Robert Williams began his art career helping draw such decals. But Odd Rods didn't require dipping in water to make them stick to things. What's more, they were full color and conveniently available at the local candy counter. It was a winning combination for youngsters.
The first series from Donruss was issued in 1969 and titled Odd Rods. There were 44 in the set. These are difficult to find in nice condition. But they are easy to identify from the other series since they have large numbers printed on the front (twice the size of the later series).
The second series was called Odder Odd Rods and consisted of 66 stickers. It was printed in 1970, and again in 1973 under the name of Fabulous Odd Rods. This is the set I remember best, especially "Man X Forever" (a giant mosquito driving a dune buggy), "Bonny and Clod" (a large gangster lighting a bomb with his cigar while driving an old jalopy), and "Gasser" (a monster made of exhaust fumes from a drag racer). But my favorite was "Blow Your Mind", since it had some cross eyed goof-ball with a drive shaft protruding from his head.
Oddest Odd Rods followed fast on its tread tracks (1970). It continued the numbering sequence from Odder Odd Rods, picking up at #67 and going to 132 (66 in all). But this series confuses many collectors today because it was reissued in 1973 as Fantastic Odd Rods series 1 (with pink borders), which was followed by a completely new series called Fantastic Odd Rods series 2. The confusion stems from the fact that Series 2 did not continue the numbering sequence at #133. Instead, Series 2 started back at #1. Many collectors often think Fantastic Odd Rods Series 1 continues Series 2, instead of Odder Odd Rods (or Fabulous Odd Rods) which is where it belongs chronologically.
To add to this already confusing tale, Donruss issued a "best of" series called Odd Rod All Stars in 1971. It featured 66 stickers of previously released artwork. There are subtle differences on the backs that help distinguish each series from one another. Perhaps the easiest way to tell them apart is to consult the Benjamin Price Guide.
There were other Odd Rod type sets by Donruss released in the same time frame. Silly Cycles was a 66 sticker set using the same theme except the monsters drove motorcycles. Fiends and Machines was a 66 sticker set with a twist: Each piece of artwork was issued in two parts: The top had the monster and the bottom had the machine. Collectors could switch monsters and machines to make different combinations.
In 1980, Topps reprised the monster/car formula with a 55 sticker set called Weird Wheels. They must have really cranked them out, because the sets are still plentiful and quite inexpensive today. It copied the same gimmicks and even mimicked the Donruss back design, but somehow missed the essence of the earlier series. The characters weren't quite the same style. The large heads, giant eye balls, big mouths and long drawn out tongues were missing for the most part. They just weren't the same.
That concluded the monster/hot rod craze... until now. Odd Rod enthusiast Kurt Kelsey has recently worked with artist John Detrich to create Hot Rod Super Freaks. The 44 card set is due out any day now and succeeds in capturing the spirit of the original Odd Rods. The artwork is top notch and the characters and situations are quite clever. The biggest difference is that they are not stickers and come issued in boxed factory sets. The first 1,000 sets will also contain a signed "chase" card. It promises to be a welcome addition to the Odd Rods tradition.
But for me, nothing can bring back those mischievous memories like the original Odd Rods. They were, after all, my partners in childhood crime. They symbolize one of the very few things I miss about my old school.
Come to think of it, selling those stickers in the school yard really did teach me free market skills. I'm still selling Odd Rods today! Now if only I could find someone as dumb as I was to sell them for a nickel each...
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