California is considered to be the birthplace of hot rods. People were looking for cars to race across the salt flats, and many amateur mechanics looked to create streamlined vehicles for racing. They used whatever parts they could find in local junkyards. The idea was that they could build a better racer than their more affluent neighbors with sheer ingenuity.
It was important that the cars could be used both for racing and everyday driving, since very few people had more than one car. Early hot rods were created from Ford Model T and Model A roadsters. Actually, the term “hot rod” is believed to be derived from the phrase “hot roadster.” Model Ts and As were plentiful, cheap and easy to modify for racing. The absence of a top made these cars lighter than most, though sedans and coupes were soon used for racing. These would often be prepared for racing by removing the tops and giving the windshield a backwards slope to make them lighter and more aerodynamic.
The tires were usually replaced, with very large rear tires to raise the gear ratio. Small front tires were used in combination with the large rear tires in order to “rake,” or slope, the car forward. This further decreased wind resistance. Slots were cut into the body of the car to help keep the engine cool. These backyard enthusiasts made every effort to create the fastest car in the region.
After WWII, the American public became enthralled with hot rods. Many early enthusiasts came back from military service with mechanical and metalworking skills, and they were ready to put those skills into their cars. They gathered once again in southern California’s dry region and continued customizing cars and racing.
As street racing rose in popularity, so did the dangers associated with it. All across the country, kids were racing their hot rods, sometimes with fatal consequences. From cruising the streets at night to gathering at local hot spots, the youth of America became obsessed with street racing. Eventually, the American public at large looked upon hot rodding as a dangerous and delinquent pastime which, along with rock and roll, was rotting the youth of the country.
To offset this perception, the first Hot Rod Exhibition was held in Los Angeles in 1948. The exhibition emphasized the positive aspects of hot rods, such as craftsmanship and ingenuity. Hot rod associations were formed in order to develop cooperation between enthusiasts and the police, giving the entire subculture a better image in the public eye.
Many people shifted the focus from creating a racing car to creating a unique and beautiful vehicle. Custom paint jobs became all the rage, while the slope of the car changed. While early builders leaned the car forward, people started to slope the cars toward the rear. The cars were built for looks rather than racing, though their engines and performance were still held in high regard.
Hot rods are still highly popular vehicles, among both younger and older generations. Their size, appearance and performance appeal to many. Amateur mechanics still park them in their garage to tear them apart, soup them up and take them to the streets. Just like in the old days, it’s about creating a better car with a little money and a lot of determination.
Glen Francis has a passion for cars especially those high performance and small production, but Hot Rods and Custom cars are his niche.
Find out about the origins of Hot Rods and how to create these timeless machines at http://www.fixinghotrods.com