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Hot Rods

Buying a Hot Rod Published: 9th Sep 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Hot Rods
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A hot rod can be virtually anything you want it to be, the only limits are the builder’s imagination, and of course keeping within roadworthy legality, but ultimately it’s individuality rules supreme.

A hot rod can be virtually anything you want it to be, the only limits are the builder’s imagination, and of course keeping within roadworthy legality, but ultimately it’s individuality rules supreme. Rods can feature roof chops, channelled bodies, an absence of running boards or wings, pinched chassis and even sans any glass! It’s all about obtaining the correct stance, power to weight ratio with a tuned engine and lightened bodywork. The beauty of the hot rod is that its builder can go for a very spartan no frills theme, or lavish with tuck ‘n’ roll leather interior, mirror fi nish paintwork, and fully dressed-up Bling engine, or even the highly patinated Rat look. The appeal is to create a unique bespoke rod that’s huge fun to drive and simply to be different, the ultimate in design creativity. Hot rodding all started in southern California, USA, with American G.I.s returning home after combat and longing to have some motoring fun after spending a long time away from home. They had disposable cash available and the new culture of hot rods sprung up. Cheap secondhand cars were readily available and some of the most popular base vehicles to rod were the 1920s and ‘30s Ford Model A and B roadsters and coupes, many of which were fi tted with Flathead V8 engines.

Dry state weather in California meant rods could be built on driveways all year round, and much testing took place on the dry salt lakes to the east of Los Angeles where a new generation of speed freaks got their kicks! The fi rst rods were often spartan in appearance, many weren’t even painted, but fi nished in primer, and most were V8 powered, often fi tted with a multi-carburettor set-up for maximum performance. A new dress code for rodder guys and girls was established, with jeans, t-shirt, leather jacket and engineers boots deemed de rigueur. Speeding hot rods lead to drag racing taking place on disused airfi elds and salt fl ats, establishing the quickest time clocked up over the quarter mile was the ultimate objective. Some of the most ingenius creations included cars built from fuel belly tanks of WW2 bombers that were converted into single seaters with inherently slippery drag co-effi cient. Most hot rods adopted a characteristic nose down stance with larger wheels at the back than the front, this raked stance helped combat wind resistance and when fi tted with aluminium wheel discs, this all helped for enhanced streamlining for increased speed..

The ensuing years saw hot rods evolve from spartan and raw speed machines, into more refined customs with a profusion of different bodywork finishes that included scalloping, fl ames, pin striping, metallics, and the whole gamut of brightwork with Bling alloy wheels, chrome and highly polished aluminium. Nowadays the rodding movement is huge in the USA, with just about every creation and theme imaginable, from Rat to concours, but the appeal remains in individual creativity. Two of the largest rodding clubs in the UK are the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) and the National Association of Street Rods (NASC) both of which hold major rallies in the summer. The fi nest rods in the country are on display, and the perfect place to learn more about rod culture, and maybe even purchase a second-hand rod? The NASC Hot Rod Super Nationals takes place at Old Warden Park, near Biggleswade, Beds, Sunday 31st July, while the NSRA Street Rod Nationals is at Trinity Park, Ipswich, Suffolk, on Sunday 28th August. If you are considering a rod, it’s the place to go.

Choosing a Hot Rod

Rods are classic and modern at the same time

This will refl ect pretty much on your budget and whether your penchant is for a no frills spartan car, or something more of a top end build with better refi nements. While most rods are powered by large V8 engines that do like to consume as much petrol as possible, the Ford 2.0 litre Pinto engine or similar is also a popular budget build engine and can still offer a good performance in a light chassis/body. Most rods will either be coupes or roadsters, some with weather equipment and some without. They aren’t necessarily the most practical cars in the world, with scant thought for luggage space, so travelling light pays dividends! While most rods all feature a separate chassis (nowadays many are supplied by specialist companies) front beam axle, live rear axle, manual or automatic transmission, the main difference will be the bodywork. These comprise of original metal bodies that have been modifi ed, or reproduction GRP, which obviously will be impervious to rot and rust, but have other inherent associated problems, such as being susceptible to paintwork maladies, like micro blistering, crows feet and other related stress cracks. The choice is yours.


Lightweight GRP bodies and plenty of horsepower can make for a quick and exhilarating ride, it’s what hot rods are all about, having fun! Comfort and ride quality will depend on the type of suspension fi tted and more importantly the telescopic damper set-up, good quality dampers can pay dividends in the handling stakes. High profile tyres are often preferred to enhance shock absorbing, whereas low profi le tyres give a much harsher ride, and its worth experimenting with tyres pressures too. GRP bodied rods can be susceptible to inherent rattles and creaks, as with any GRP car.


Budget build rods can be purchased for as little as £2500 £4000 but they may well require a little refurbishment. £5000 - £7000, buys you an average car, but don’t expect too much in the way of refi nement. Top end builds with polished V8 engines, excellent shiny paintwork and leather interiors will be nearer to £8000 - £15,000 and the best available fetch much more at £15,000 - £30,000 plus.

What To Look For

  • The general rule of thumb with any rod will be establishing an overall good structural integrity, a solid and well engineered car, with a good build quality.
  • Naturally inspect the rod for any signs of previous accident damage, bent, twisted or rotten chassis, sound suspension, engine and gearbox mountings, effective braking system, and no serious fl uid leaks from the engine, gearbox or radiator.
  • Checking for a sound and healthy engine will be the same for any car, you don’t want to hear any rattles or see smokey exhausts, and check that the automatic transmission fl uid is not brown or burnt.
  • Engines with period multi-carburettor set-ups can be slightly trickier to set-up and tune, though they look impressive enough, but a single carburettor makes for a simpler system, depending on the technical specifi cation that suits you best.
  • One aspect of a rod build that is absolutely essential is to ensure the wiring and electrical system is sound and that everything works.
  • There won’t be any wiring diagrams, so for fault fi nding it’s down to you to sort out, and that can sometimes be time consuming. Finding a wiring system that may have been bodged over the years and looking a bit like spaghetti is not a good omen!
  • A hot rod may look like your dream car sitting in the driveway, but it’s essential to have a test drive to ensure you’re happy with the way it performs and handles and most importantly, how it stops! The proof of the pudding is in the driving.
  • Joining your local rod club is a smart move, where you will be able to tap into a wealth of useful information and obtain advice, the perfect place to learn more about rods and their builds.


Driving around in your own hot rod could be the best fun you’ve ever had from motoring. The sheer enjoyment from individuality takes some beating. There has been much in the way of technical advances over the years, and while many rodders prefer the old skool approach to their cars, with a multi-carburettor set-up, large V8 engine performance and stock suspension, others have built rods with more modern fuel injected engines, air ride suspension and some of the fi nest leather trimmed interiors. Of course there’s nothing to stop you from completing further modifi cations to an already fi nished car, to better suit your own personal requirements. The only limit is your imagination, and right now in the world of modern Japanese and Eurobox cars, of which you can’t really tell one marque from another, that’s the beauty of a rod, they’re all different.

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