One subject I have not yet dedicated any amount of space to on this blog is hot rods. While most of what I have focused on has been historical in nature, I have tried to maintain a loose theme integrating the automobile to human culture. As I have stated before, cars tend to mirror the people that designed, built and drove them. This is true in a general sense for makes, models, and even eras, but no one make or model can accurately portray the true feelings, moods, and desires of an individual as much as a hot rod.
A little back story before I continue. The history of hot rods is a little fuzzy because it began, and continues to grow and thrive, as a largely organic and grassroots movement. Disputes will arise to no end as to the true origins of hot rodding, or even the term 'hot rod,' but a few things are certain: those who started were young and broke, the movement started in Southern California, and the primary reason for hot rodding was to show off. The former elements here are much less vague than the latter, and it is the reason I could never cover the subject in one post (enough books have been written on the subject to prove that point as well).
The term 'hot rod' is probably derived from the phrase 'hot roadster.' A roadster, of course, is a roofless car with slimmer features than a convertrible , no side window, and a rudimentary top meant for emergency purposes only. Hot rod culture began to appear in Southern California in the 1930's and really blossomed in the late 1940's and 1950's as bored G.I.'s (especially former pilots) looked for ways to add some excitement to their now unexciting lives. There have always been two main groups of hot rodders, those who built their cars for cruising around town and those who built their cars to go as fast as they could go.
Since hot rodders were predominantly young males in their teens and 20's with very little money, most hot rods were based on cheap cars. The most popular make was Ford whose Model T's were already very common and easy to work on and whose 1932 Model 18 (commonly called the Model B or Deuce), which offered a great body and a cheap flathead V8 that was easy to modify. Later, other cars became popular, especially the long and low 1949 Mercury Coupe. No matter what they were based on, however, they always represented the style, beliefs, and personality of the individual or people who built them. The fact that each hot rod was modified on its own, and not in series production, meant that each car carried with it a certain element of the person who built it; both in the time the person dedicated to building it and the way the car was designed to reflect some inner element of the builder.
For the next few posts, I'll focus on specific types of hot rods, namely, Rat Rods, dry lake racers, Beatnik rods, and more modern showcase rods. So hide the kids, shut the drapes, and prepare to be town into the [formerly] angst and rebellion ridden world of hotrods.
Pictures, clockwise from lower left, are of 1929 Essex Coach "Asreal," a Barris modified 1947 Hudson, the 1998 Foose "Shockwave, 1951 Mercury "Knight Cruiser," a 1923 Ford T-Bucket, and a 1932 Model B Hotrod.