Every cloud has a silver lining – and this is what happened when the US was having a bad time of it all. This is what gave birth to Hot Rods. Throughout history, Hot Rods have meant different things to different people – but they are synonymous with the car culture in the States and as homegrown as muscle or pony cars.
Unlike muscle cars or pony cars, Hot Rods are more indigenous makes and speak volumes about backyard tinkerers under the hood. These cars were and are sassy, have plenty of power under the hood and look as unique as their owners want them to. Here are ten things you may not have known about Hot Rods.
10 They Were Fueled By The Great Depression
The 1920s were a bleak time in the States and many parts of the world – the economy was shattered and left many thousands struggling to make ends meet. Nothing new could be afforded, and when old cars began to die out, some innovative people took to tools, time spent in the backyard and visits to the junkyard to build themselves a vehicle.
And so the Hot Rods were born. They were old cars with unviable engines, into which new engines were swapped. This gave them a newer, longer and faster lease of life. Necessity is the spark of innovation, and Hot Rods were the result.
9 The Term Hot Rod Is Self-Explanatory
Hot Rods were dubbed so because what people did was take stock cars, strip them off all non-essential parts to make them lighter and gas savvy and then perform an engine swap. The engine swap was done by removing the old engine, and putting in a heavier-duty once which was then connected by "rods".
The new engine was more powerful and was “hot”. Thus the term Hot Rods began to describe these old cars turned into trusty steeds by their cash-strapped but mechanically savvy owners. A Hot Rod is a classic American car carrying a larger-than-stock-engine under the hood for more power.
8 Think Of It As A Man Cave, On Wheels
While there have been some female hot rodders in the history of hot rodding, this was considered a man’s domain. So at the time, a Hot Rod was a mean, muscular machine that every man dreamed of having, especially when money was tight. A stock (old) car would be stripped of any non-essential parts, lowered and paired with fatter-tread tires, engine-and-exhaust swapped and finally painted in unique colors or artwork to show off each owner’s individuality.
There could be classy-looking Hot Rods on the street, and garishly decorated ones as well – to each their own.
7 Initially, They Were Called Soup Ups
Trading in a bigger engine over the standard stock engine came to be called “souping up the engine”. So in the early 1930s, Hot Rods would be referred to as “Soup-Ups” or even Gow Jobs. Of course, these souped-up cars could go since they were made lighter and carried a bigger / heavier engine than the stock counterpart.
After the Great Depression, the American youth needed to feel more positive and uplifted – the arrival of the Hot Rods did just that. With many of the youth busy tinkering with their backyard beauties, it was a great way to keep their young and somewhat aimless minds well occupied.
6 Hot Rods Thumbed Their Noses At The Elite
Of course, depression or not, the great divide between the haves and the have-nots existed even then. The elite still had the money and wherewithal of traveling around in the powerful and expensive cars. The hot rodders, often the poorest of the community vroomed around in their more powerful if strange-looking rides with gusto.
The weaker economic sections of the society made a statement with their backyard-constructed wheels that often threw out plumes of smoke and were driven around at less than safer speeds. Each Hot Rod could also be customized to show off the individuality of the creator – some were garishly painted while some were left rust-stricken as a statement.
5 California Is Considered To Be The Hot Rod’s Birthplace
Most hot rodders consider California as the starting of everything hot rodding. Here was where the maximum number of backyard mechanics and tinkerers played around with cheap and easily available stock cars. These innovative guys turned them into powerful race cars that even the elite could not lay their hands on.
The Hot Rods may have begun to assuage a need – that of having a powerful car with little to no money – but for many, it soon turned into a hobby, a pastime and a lifelong passion. This is the reason why the National Hot Rod Association was born – to regulate and legalize hot roads and put a semblance of order into their racing.
4 Hot Rods Began With Stripped Stock Cars
At the time of the Great Depression, Ford was mass-producing the Ford Model A and Model T Roadster – and they were sturdy, cheap but boring cars with little to no power. To make it into a Hot Rod, the car would be stripped of whatever the hot rodder considered unimportant – like wipers, fenders, footboards, ornaments.
Sometimes parts from the body of the car would be cut off and then welded back more compactly – all this was done to lighten the weight of the car. Then these amateur mechanics would search junkyards for a big engine, and swap it in to give the car a boost of power and tune it to be much faster than the stock version.
3 Speed Mattered A Lot
Very often, hot rodders would put in larger rear tires to increase the gear ratio, to further increase speed – but leave the smaller standard stock tires in the front for aerodynamics. Louvers or slots would be cut into the sides, the front and the rear of the car to add engine cooling and better air circulation to give the car a further boost.
Even in the 1930s, a souped-up hot rod could easily go 100mph top speeds – such was the passion and intention of the people who built these ugly but powerful cars to satisfy a need when there was no money.
2 Hot Rods Soared Post 1945
The Great Depression may have given rise to the Hot Rod trend, but post-1945, when WWII ended – all the army boys who had left their beloved Soup-Ups behind took up hot rodding with a vengeance. The relief of the war being over, coupled with an economy that seemed to be looking up towards a better and brighter future turned Hot-Rodding into one of the most popular and long-lasting post-WWII trends.
Of course, the hot rods of this time were often painted in stars and stripes and were seen as an ode to America, a patriotic gesture to your roots. Typically, it was frowned upon by the society's elite.
1 Hot-Rodding Still Has Its Enthusiasts
In the 1970s, Street Rods were born – an effort by some hot rodders who wanted to be taken seriously and began to create cars that were as powerful but less loud and garish to better merge with the mainstream culture. That said, hot-rodding still has its followers on domestic shores and abroad till date. Post-1940s, hot rodding was being looked down upon as being violent and disrespectful so many hot rodders moved to race on drag strips instead, especially after the NHRA was formed.
The advent of the muscle and the pony cars gave it a new lease of life because now hot rod makers had new cars to play around with and build upon.