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Hot Rods

Too hot to handle Published: 9th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Hot Rods
The engine of this rod has serious attitude with a multiple carburation set-up The engine of this rod has serious attitude with a multiple carburation set-up
Ultra smooth and refined state of the art rods like this don’t come cheap Ultra smooth and refined state of the art rods like this don’t come cheap
Not all rods have all that shiny paintwork and chrome fixtures and fittings. Rat look is also popular Not all rods have all that shiny paintwork and chrome fixtures and fittings. Rat look is also popular
A fine example of a fully fendered coupe A fine example of a fully fendered coupe

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Individuality is the name of the game here, but ostensibly these cars are much modified creations mostly based upon cheap to purchase 1920’s and 1930’s American two-seater roadsters and coupes.

What is a Hot Rod?

With a build strategy that nearly always figures fairly large tuned engines, bodies are made as light as possible to increase power to weight ratio, so very often rods feature roof chops, channelled bodies, no running boards or wings, sometimes not even any window glass, and pinched chassis. Interiors can be pretty spartan depending on the rod builders’ budgets, though nowadays some owners do splash out on bespoke tuck ‘n’ roll leather trim. That’s the beauty and appeal of the hot rod, it’s all about variety and personal taste and being different, and having a unique bespoke vehicle that’s huge fun to drive with running gear that’s as simple as you care to build it.


The home of hot rodding is southern California, USA, and it all started not long after American GI’s returned home from combat after a long conflict during the Second World War. These young Americans had dollars to spend and wanted to have some motoring fun after spending years away from home. There was no shortage of cheap secondhand cars and soon a whole new culture and movement sprung up where rodders fitted huge flathead V8 engines to a variety of marques, though the Ford Model A and B proved to be the mainstay of the movement at the time. The dry climate of southern California meant that hot rods could be built outside on the driveway whatever time of year and then they were driven to be tested on the dry salt lakes to the east of Los Angeles, where a new generation of speed freaks got their kicks! The very first rods were pretty basic in their build quality, no flash paint jobs, leather trim or chrome, simply bodywork painted in primer and a multi-carburettor tuned engine, which equated to raw speed and fun at its best. Dress code de rigueur for the guys and girls was jeans, T-shirt, leather jacket and engineers boots and period music was all part of the rodding scene.With speeding hot rods along came drag racing which took place on salt flats and disused airfield runways. The quarter mile culture had arrived, the simple aim to drag race this distance in the fastest possible time. Ingenuity sparked off some fairly bizarre creations, which included modifying the bullet-shaped belly fuel tanks from Second World War bomber aircraft into single-seater specials. These drop tank roadsters with their slippery drag coefficient simply flew in a straight line! Most hot rods featured large tyres on the rear and small on the front which created a raked stance to in order to combat wind resistance, and wheels were fitted with aluminium discs for better streamlining and speed, which by now was over 100mph terminal speed on the quarter mile strip. Gradually the noble art of hot rodding started to include customising too, with the ubiquitous application of flames painted on to the bodywork, a profusion of pin striping, scallops and more refined leather interiors and custom dashboards, though individuality still ruled what was created. The rodding movement in its birthplace the USA remains incredibly popular today and here in the UK there’s a huge following with a good number of clubs, but the two main largest are the National Association of Street Clubs (NASC) and the National Street Rod Association (NSRA).

Choosing a Hot Rod

Rods are quite unlike any other type of vehicle, every single one has been individually created by its builder, though a good many of them share the basic principle of a separate chassis, body, front beam axle, live rear axle, V8 engine and either manual or automatic transmission. Other variations can also include an independent suspension arrangement, or even a swanky air suspension as virtually anything goes. One of the main decisions to make is whether you desire a roadster or a coupe, and with the amount of rainfall here in the UK, the latter maybe a tad more practical if you want to stay dry – the choice is yours! Another is how much you want to spend. You don’t necessarily have to fork out big bucks and some rods are built on a very tight budget and not all have huge V8 engines. Some are fitted with the popular 2-litre Ford Pinto engine which can still offer peppy performance on a rod that doesn’t weight very much at all. Keeping the cost down can include fitting steel wheels and having simple cloth interiors. However if you want serious speed, handling, leather interior and exterior ‘bling’ there’s no real substitute for tuned V8 power while any other desirable features will all add to the cost.


Depending on what rod you choose to purchase, handling can range from skittish to slightly scary! GFRP bodied cars can be prone to rattles and creaks. Many rods feature disc brakes all round, so retardation qualities are fine although ride comfort depends upon the suspension set-up. Some owners like to run their cars with lower tyre pressures to enhance shock absorbing. Being very light and with lots of horsepower, rods make for very quick cars indeed.


A simply built rod with not too many frills will get you on the road from £4000. A rod with a tuned V8 engine, leather interior and lots of ‘bling’ will be nearer to £8000- £15,000, and for concours show cars you will have to budget nearer to £15,000-£30,000 and even higher for the best there is.

What To Look For

  • As every rod will be different the main thing to look for is structural integrity and simple good basic engineering. If you are in doubt then have the car inspected by an association or engineer - this may be required anyway to obtain motor insurance.
  • Clearly a smoking and rattley V8 engine is not good news and obviously all is not well, and as with all engines fitted with an automatic transmission, check the colour of the fluid and ensure its not brown and doesn’t smell burnt.
  • As a rule of thumb the more carburettors fitted to an engine can sometimes mean they can be trickier to balance and fine tune, and is something to bear in mind with this kind of set-up. A single two or four barrel carburettor could be a simpler option but for many enthusiasts not as interesting as a multi period set-up.
  • One important aspect of any pre-purchase inspection is to check the chassis for accident damage, twists and cracks, and also the mounting points for the engine, gearbox and suspension.
  • A poor or bodged electrical wiring installation could lead to hours of rectification work and headaches if you have a problem, so check carefully it’s not a tangled mess.
  • The proof of the quality of pudding is in the eating and this adage is never more appropriate than for a hot rod. It’s absolutely essentia to have a good test drive and not a quick spin around the block. Satisfy yourself that the rod drives, steers and brakes efficiently, though bear in mind it won’t handle like a normal classic.
  • There’s no substitute for experience and with a vehicle like a hot rod, if you are in doubt, sometimes getting a knowledgeable rodder to inspect a car with you is sound advice, they are a specialist vehicle, so obtaining some expert advice can be a prudent move. Joining your local hot rod club will also be a wise move for obvious reasons.


It’s the sheer individuality of the hot rod that is the main attraction for most enthusiasts. Whether its body is original steel or maybe a reproduction GFRP that won’t rust, running a vintage flathead V8 with tri or quad period carburettor setup, or maybe modern Corvette V8 engine with fuel injection and air ride suspension… the choice is yours. You can make further modifications if you so desire, the limit is only your imagination and you’ll certainly be driving a vehicle that represents a huge fun factor and as different from a Moggie Minor, TR, MG or Triumph Herald classic as it’s possible to get!

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