Hot rods have had a large impact on the history of the American automobile, so I thought it would be good to document the path hot rods have taken over the years, starting as a racing fad through the "rebel' generation, and later on through today, the hobby and collecting generations. The path of the hot rod even branched out into three different sections in the 1950's thanks to technology, changing the future of hot rodding. Here is the story.
Hot rods are associated with the 1950’s, but the true roots go back to 1920 when adrenaline thirsty young men took their new “gow jobs” to the salt flats in California. These were automobiles designed to go fast. Autom0biles were being sold by the millions by the 1920’s,so old cars and parts were readily available and generally cheap. To make the car go faster, they removed all unnecessary weight from the vehicle, including base runners, panels, ornaments, etc. This got more speed out of the small 20 horsepower engine the Model T had.
By 1932 the Model A had a few years of sales behind it when the flathead V8 engine was released to power the Model A, and a Sedan version was also available making for a great looking ride. The new Flathead V8 produced 80 horsepower, and this could nearly be doubled with a few modifications including removing the muffler, straightening and shortening the exhaust pipes, and adding multiple carburetors. Hot rodding would never be the same as cars started passing he 100 mph mark with ease.
The depression in the mid 1930’s took a severe hit on the hot rod scene, and things would not turn around until after World War II. Once the young men came home after the war and had money to spend, free time, and new mechanical skills, the hot rod scene exploded. California was also a place where many soldiers went through, and California soldiers shared their pictures and stories of their hot rods with others. This helped fuel the craze as it exploded across the country, not just California.
By the early 1950’s, hot rodding accidents and other problems became a real issue. Engine technology was pushing insane speeds on new vehicles, and it was just too dangerous to drive these cars on city streets and highways. The NHRA was formed in 1953, and promoted safety first with simple safety requirements on the car, and track racing only. It was a wild success, but it had a big impact on the “hot rod” movement. Soon after the NHRA was formed, funny cars and other extreme racing cars were built, and these have nothing to do with the original hot rod. Many abandoned the old “hot rod” for the extreme racing circuit.
The hot rod scene forked another path around this time as well, with Custom cars. These were cars redesigned and engineered to be well, Custom one of a kinds. These cars were more about looks than all out speed, but many could still perform if they put the nice engines in them. After the NHRA started, many call the hot rod generation more of the street rod generation, since hot rods started to take on more qualities of looks as the Custom groups started.
Interest in hot rods started to slow in the 1960’s when young men became fathers with families, and the hobby was cut, or the hot rod had to be sold to purchase the “family” vehicle. By the 1970’s muscle cars and pony cars were introduced, and now you could drive a car off the purchase lot and probably be able to beat 90% of the competition. Add a few new modifications, and you have a truly fast car.
The hobby side of hot rods started getting big in the 1980’s, when “hot rodders in the 1950’s” turned “family man”, soon was an empty nester with their children gone, some extra savings, and nearing retirement age. Hot rod shows flourished, and new companies entered the business. You could now buy complete fiberglass kits to make your own hot rod. Popularity is still growing today with new T.V. shows and channels dedicated to hot rods, and websites for hot rods for sale.