Hot Rods take familiar classic cars and transform them into stripped down speed demons. We explore their origins and unearth some unbelievable examples.
Hot rods and hot rodding represent a distinct and pivotal automotive culture stretching back to the late 1930s. Take a passing glance at Carsforsale.com’s listing of vintage cars from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s and you will quickly discover how rare unmodified versions of certain cars are today as many have been converted into hot rods. Indeed, the heart of hot rodding has always been and remains about taking something old and repurposing and reimagining it into something new, something fast.
Southern California has long been the spiritual heart of American car culture, spawning numerous automotive sub-cultures including hot rodding. Though modifying existing cars for speed and personal expression can be traced back to the earliest days of the car, hot rodding as it is generally defined began in the late 1930s in Southern California when young car enthusiasts began taking older cars and stripping them down and at the same time souping them up. The efforts to save weight created their own visual aesthetic as hot rodders removed hoods and bumpers, roofs and windshields, producing the stripped down look that has come to epitomize the hot rod. At the same time larger engines (the Ford V8 being an early favorite) added more power.
The goal of saving weight and adding horsepower was all in service of speed with races often held out on the dry lakes beds of the Mojave Desert. Hot rodding clubs began to coalesce, and in 1937 the Southern California Timing Association was established to further organize these clubs for promoting hot rod racing. A post-war boom in hot rodding in Southern California resulted from the return of American GIs, bring both newly found expertise and military surplus parts. (Concomitant and comingling with the rise of hot rodding in Southern California was the low rider culture emerging from the Chicano community and centering along East LA’s Whittier Boulevard.)
Though hod rodding was eclipsed by the rise of muscle cars in the late 1960s, it has retained a devoted following through to today. As we will look at below, builders all over the country are still creating hot rods from classic American cars. Proving that the twin goals of speed and self-expression never go out of style.
Fords have historically been the most common platforms for hot rod modification. Starting in the 1930s, Model Ts, As, Bs, and Ford V8s were (and remain) ubiquitous in hot rodding circles, with the latter also often donating its engine to early models. Carsforsale.com’s listings of early Ford are replete with hot rods. The Model T featured above is an impeccable example of what is commonly referred to as a T-Tub or T-Bucket where the body of the car has been reduced to its simplest elements, a mere bucket, seat, steering wheel, and pedals bolted to a chassis directly behind an exposed engine. Among the many cool details on this car are the massive side pipe exhaust, flame paint work, staggered white-wall tires, and vintage radiator.
It is not just Fords that get the hot rod treatment, this 1934 Dodge DRXX has been done right with it is spectacular blue paint job and 350 cu-in V8. The Dodge DRXX was not a big seller, adding to its rarity today. Like most hot rods, nearly everything on the car has been customized, from the drivetrain with its V8 and 350 turbo transmission to the interior with aftermarket bucket seats and digital gauge display.
Hot rods, like any other custom car, are the expression of their builder’s personality. Themes naturally help unify the final product, and this hot rod 1932 Chevy Confederate takes the classic Orange Crush advertising logo and runs with it. Orange fuzzy dice and an orange interior are complimented by orange decals in the rear windows. To complete the theme, an orange radiator grille up front.
It is important to remember that many hot rod projects start out as old rusty hulks that get a second chance at automotive life. A sub-genre of the hot rod is the rat rod, those cars that retain at least some of the look of those previously neglected cars. Original patina is a prized asset for the rat rod, and our example here, a 1934 Oldsmobile F34 Touring Coupe, has more than its share. The once regal Oldsmobile has been transformed twice over: once by time itself and again as a rat rod. There are cool details all over this car from the microphone shift knob with rebar stick to the rusty vintage rims flanking the engine bay to the vintage leather seats. This Olds comes powered by a supercharged 350 Chevy small-block V8 (Following its debut in 1955, the Chevy small-block V8 became a favorite for hot rods thanks to its compact size, power, and tunability.) For an example of a killer rat rod, or a hot rod in general, it does not get much better than this ’34 Oldsmobile F34.
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