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How to go fishing for a different type of American classic!
First off, just what is a Hot rod. Well, essentially it’s a modern custom take on small, inexpensive American twoseater roadsters of the 1920s and 1930s. Individuality is the name of the game here, with the ultimate aim of building a fast bespoke car that won’t cost a fortune to run and repair and to have as much driving fun as possible. And that’s a philosophy that still holds strue some 60 years on!
Southern California was home to the birth of Hot Rods and the rodding movement. They evolved following the second world war when returning American GIs started spending their money modifying and customising pre-war cars, literally ‘hotting’ up their engines and thus creating a whole new motoring culture. The favourable climate of southern California meant that rods could be built and worked on in the driveway all year round, and then there were the nearby dry salt lakes east of Los Angeles that became excellent testing grounds for rodding speed freaks. The general American public were eager to purchase the new post war manufactured cars, which meant there was no shortage of older second hand cars to convert into rods. The Ford Model T, Model A and Model B were three of the most popular cars chosen to customise. Their trusty and reliable fl athead V8s were ripe for tuning with modifi ed cylinder heads and multiple carburettors. A whole new rodding youth culture began with the love of freedom of the open road, creativity and speed. There was even a recognised dress code: jeans, T-shirt, leather jacket and engineers boots, the same for girls too! Period music was an important ingredient of the rodding scene as well, particularly rockabilly rock ‘n’ roll. Then came drag racing hot rods on disused airfield runways and on the salt flats. That inspired racing specials built from surplus military aircraft fuel tanks. These tiny single seat drop tank roadsters with their superb drag coeffi cient were seriously quick, but really only suited to straight line speed. Hot Rods with tuned fl athead V8 engines were capable of over 100mph. Larger tyres were fi tted on the rear and smaller on the front to rake the angle of the cars to combat wind resistance, while fl at aluminium discs were fi tted to wheels all in the quest of streamlining and extra speed. The fi rst Hot Rod show that ever took place was at the National Guard Armoury in Los Angeles which attracted around 10,000 people.
In 1950 Hot Rod magazine was launched and in 1951 the National Hot Rod Association was formed. Early rods were pretty basic in their overall appearance, many fi nished in primer and not painted. It wasn’t until much later in the late 1950s and 1960s when the customs started to appear that scallops, pin striping and fl ames started to appear on some of the most imaginative customs and specials ever built, evolving into yet another new culture. Nowadays the Hot Rod movement in its birthplaceof the USA is still huge, and indeed here in the UK there’s an extremely strong following. There are two major clubs - the National Street Rod Association and the National Association of Street Clubs – both with a large membership, and of course there are numerous smaller regional clubs organising events, noggin ‘n’ natter nights and cruises. There are usually plenty of rods around to purchase secondhand. Rodders are very creative by nature, and often sell their cars to move on to their next building project.
Choosing a Hot Rod
There’s a variety of body styles to choose from – coupes, roadsters, saloons and even vans and pick-ups; anything can be hot-rodded you see! What counts more is the quality of build and workmanship. For many enthusiasts, the real thrill is planning and putting one together rather than the driving and posing and some spend enormous amounts on the project and are prepared to sell on to just to break even or even lose out, just so they can have the capitalto do it all over again! Nobody can call a rod remotely practical and certainly not a daily driver, but hood-less roadsters may have limited appeal because the sun doesn’t always shine in the UK. And don’t expect to fi nd such civilities like wind-up windows , central locking or a heater! Still on the practical angle, bear in mind that many rods are easy prey to thieves and vandals and proper garaging is virtually a must and a good alarm may be not only an asset but also demanded by the insurance company to gain containable cover.
The Model T, which along with later Fords forms a strong base for rodding, can be a tad skittish with up to 300-400bhp up front and most roads handle a bit like a go-kart - the are not for the faint hearted and yet a good well sorted and developed one will always remain manageable and ride agreeably well. Performance depends upon the power unit fi tted but as rods are lightened, shortened old time saloons and coupes performance will always be impressive. Accommodation for two is typically quite snug and most interiors are really well kitted out, although the usual bench seat may not suit all and typically wet weather protection is minimal - or non existent! As most established rods are based on 1920-1930s hardware they don’t require seat belts ( a lap type is highly advisable though) or pay road tax.
Entry level for a Hot Rod comes in at around £4000-£6000, and you’ll need to spend in the region of £8000-£15,000 for a rod fi nished to concours standard. Some of the best in the country fetch as much as £15,000-£25,000. Of course the fi nal value really depends upon the standard of work and level of craftsmanship employed. There are some stunners out there!
What To Look For
- Because every rod will have a slightlydifferent build specifi cation with a variety of engines, tuning equipment and running gear, ensuring its been correctly engineered is an important issue. If you are in any doubt then have it professionally inspected or looked at by the club.
- Checking out the overall condition of a V8 engine may not be that difficult, but bear in mind that if it’s fitted with a multiple carburettor set-up they can sometimes prove tricky to balance and fi ne tune.
- A proper test drive is essential, although don’t expect handling like a normal classic. However, much about the car’s overall integrity can be assessed from the effi ciency of thesteering and braking.
- If there have been any modifi cations to the chassis, check out the quality of the welding work and also the drive train and suspension mounting points.
- The best advice is to join your local rod club and preferably take an experienced builder to view a car with you – it is a specialist fi eld after all. Get them to check out the handling too. Fortunately many rods are well known on the scene and often their build history and provenance can be traced, which will give you good peace of mind.
With its period looks a Hot Rod can offer the best of both worlds with either original vintage or modern day engines and tuning accessories. Rods built with reproduction GRP bodies mean no rust problems. They make a most interesting alternative classic car to own and you can also go drag racing if you so desire. Of course there’s the huge fun element of driving a rod as well, and there’s nothing to stop you from completing further modifi cations to your individual requirements and taste.
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