As citizens band radio and slot car racing came and went. With them, their Petersen publications.
"Off-road is red-hot right now," Petersen continues. "Mountain bikes are putting more people into ski resorts in summer than skiers in winter. But for how long?"
So no broad topics, nothing prestigious. Just a double whammy giving manufacturers of shotgun speed loaders access to a concentrated, captive audience. While readers curious about development of the ball pivot rocker arm on a GM V-8 have a $3.25 medium for indulging their gluttony.
"Profits," noted a recent issue of Forbes, "have made Petersen one of the Forbes Four Hundred, worth some $400 million."
A buck saved, Petersen remembers from his six-pack days, is a dollar earned. So his magazines have always been trim, energetic and usually staffed by seven or eight employees. Hires are experts first, writers second and mostly participants in the pursuits they report.
Petersen makes no apologies for the overwhelming male caste of his magazines. Nor for the Barbie doll femininity of 'Teen and Sassy. He knows that young and male is where the advertising money is.
He's not concerned by the indestructible sexism of Hot Rod Bikes, where thong bikinis and nubility without tan lines still ride an '87 Softail. Or the political propriety of his handgun magazines supporting the National Rifle Assn.
He gets letters. A few protests from mothers. But if the Harley swimsuit issue and reporting of Sarah Brady's income ($110,000 a year) sell magazines, he says, then let's hear it for freedom of choice and speech.
"I just put out magazines that a lot of people like," Petersen says. "If there are other people that don't like them, I guess they should just read something else.
"I don't get mad at somebody who wants to read the Audubon Society News."
To those who work for him, have driven against him and hunted Africa alongside him, Petersen is no enigma.
His large skill is for staying surrounded by people of larger talents. If he sometimes seems remote, says friend and car collector Bruce Meyer, president of Geary's, it is because his mind is several moves ahead of the conversation. Gigi Carleton, his administrative assistant since 1964, says Petersen considers loyalty to a friendship the ultimate morality.
He loves street smarts, the old days, working for no one, Nancy his Irish maid of 30 years, spending the Fourth of July at home, fishing for salmon in British Columbia, the Thalians and other charities dedicated to the young, red wine, red sports cars and his red-haired wife, Margie.
Some say he was tight and self-centered in the early days, which is why he never took his companies public. "Nope," Petersen says. "I didn't want anyone else telling me what to do. And when you go public, it's a big liability against moving fast or doing what you need to do."
It is suggested that the reduced literary quality of his magazines make them an easy sanctuary for wanna-be writers. Or a farm club for underpaid youngsters on their ascent to serious magazine journalism.
"Am I trying to get classier in any way?" he asks. "No. I think that has killed a lot of people . . . when comedians try to be dramatic actors.
"And I wouldn't want to be publisher of the New Yorker."
Critics have long presumed some ego-driven hunt for perpetual identity in the appearance of \o7 Petersen\f7 on every building, each company and most causes he touches.
He says it has to do with early fumblings among names for his companies. "Then a car-dealer friend came in and said: 'Why don't you call your company Petersen Publishing?'
"I thought: 'Weeeeeellll, maybe I am being a little bashful.' He said: 'Look, I've been broke two or three times, but right or wrong, I keep coming back and the only thing that did it for me is that I always used my name.' "
Petersen is a bear for privacy. His 20-room Beverly Hills Colonial does not have a guest room, but he happily books visiting friends and relatives into the nearby Beverly Hills Hotel. And Petersen is far from self-conscious about his Barstow Union High School education when in the company of other giants.
In his business, he believes, a college degree would have been an impediment.
"It's a matter of matching yourself with the industry," he says. "Most of the guys in the [hot rod] industry didn't like outsiders, didn't care for people who came in and tried to hotshot it over them."
They had their ways, their cliques. Today's legends were yesterday's grease monkeys pounding out fenders at an Inglewood body shop. Carroll Shelby, racing champion and crafter of the immortal Cobra sports car, started as a chicken farmer.
Says Petersen: "If you walked in on these people and said: 'Hey, what do you think about this guy who just came out of college and is telling you how to build an engine?' most of them would laugh."
Not every part of Petersen's Progress has come up champagne and black ink.