T-bucket with early hemi. The aluminum radiator (rather than brass), rectangular headlights, and five-spokes (rather than motorcycle wheels) mark this as a later incarnation.


3-window Deuce coupé

'34 3-window flame job

'34 3-window with a classic-style[1] flame job and Moon tank, very reminiscent of Chapouris' California Kid.

Hot rods are typically American cars with large engines modified for linear speed. The origin of the term "hot rod" is unclear. One explanation is that the term is a contraction of "hot roadster," meaning a roadster that was modified for speed. Another possible origin includes modifications to or replacement of the camshaft(s), sometimes known as a "stick" or "rod". A camshaft designed to produce more power is sometimes call a "hot stick" or, here, a "hot rod". Roadsters were the cars of choice because they were light. The term became commonplace in the 1930s or 1940s as the name of a car that had been "hopped up" by modifying the engine in various ways to achieve higher performance.

The term can also apply to other items that are "souped up" for a particular purpose, such as "hot-rodded amplifier".


Late 1930s–1950s early daysEdit

The term seems first to have appeared in the late 1930s in southern California, where people would race their modified cars on the vast, empty dry lake beds northeast of Los Angeles under the rules of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA). The activity increased in popularity after World War II, particularly in California because many returning soldiers had been given technical training in the service. The original hot rods were old cars (most often Fords, typically Model Ts, 1928–31 Model As, or 1932-34 Model Bs), modified to reduce weight. Typical modifications were removal of convertible tops, hoods, bumpers, windshields, and/or fenders; channeling the body; and modifying the engine by tuning and/or replacing with a more powerful type. Wheels and tires were changed for improved traction and handling. "Hot Rod" was sometimes a term used in the 1950s as a derogatory term for any car that did not fit into the mainstream. Hot rodder's modifications were considered to improve the appearance as well, leading to show cars in the 1960s replicating these same modifications along with a distinctive paint job.

Engine swaps often involved fitting the Ford Flathead engine, or "flatty", in a different chassis; the "60 horse" in a Jeep was a popular choice in the '40s. After the appearance of the 255 cu in (4.2 l) V8, because of interchangeability, installing the longer-stroke Mercury crank in the 239 was a popular upgrade among hot rodders, much as the 400 cu in (6.6 l) crank in small-blocks would become. In fact, in the 1950s, the flathead block was often fitted with crankshafts of up to 4.125 in (104.8 mm) stroke, sometimes more.[2] In addition, rodders in the 1950s routinely bored them out by 0.1875 in (4.76 mm) (to 3.375 in (85.7 mm));[2] due to the tendency of blocks to crack as a result of overheating, a perennial problem, this is no longer recommended.[3] In the '50s and '60s, the flatty was supplanted by the early hemi. By the 1970s, the small-block Chevy was the most common option, and since the '80s, the 350 cu in (5.7 l) Chevy has been almost ubiquitous.[4]

Post WWII origins of organized roddingEdit


A 1949 Mercury. Note that this is not considered a 'hot rod' per se; it is referred to as a 'kemp' or, less colloquially, a custom, a style associated closely with hot rods but distinctly different as it is built for style, not speed.


Ford Popular


Rodded prewar British Rover 10

After World War II there were many small military airports throughout the country that were either abandoned or very rarely used that allowed hot rodders across the country to race on marked courses. Originally drag racing had tracks as long as one mile (1.6 km) or more, and included up to four lanes of racing at the same time. As hot rodding became more popular in the 1950s, magazines and associations catering to hot rodders were started. As some hot rodders also raced on the street, a need arose for an organization to promote safety. Hot rodders including Wally Parks created the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to bring racing off the streets and onto the tracks. They created rules based on safety and entertainment, and allowed Hot Rodders of any calibre the ability to race. The annual California Hot Rod Reunion and National Hot Rod Reunion are held to honour pioneers in the sport. The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum houses the roots of hot rodding.

1970s rise of the street rodEdit

As automobiles offered from the major automakers began increasing performance, the lure of Hot Rods began to wane. It was no longer necessary to put a Cadillac engine in a Ford roadster to be fast. It was now possible to buy a muscle car that outperformed just about any hot rod, with more passenger room, and without having to expend the effort of building and tuning the car oneself. After the 1973 Oil Crisis, the public called on automakers to offer safety and fuel efficiency over performance. The resulting decrease in an average car's performance led to a resurgence of Hot Rodding, although the focus was on driving Hot Rods over racing so the term 'Street Rod' was coined to denote a vehicle manufactured prior to 1949, often with a more reliable late model drivetrain. Street Rodding as it was now known was a different phenomenon than Hot Rodding, as Street Rodding was mainly family oriented. National events were hosted by the National Street Rod Association (NSRA), which also stressed safety as the NHRA did 20 years before, but this was safety for the street as opposed to on the race track. Each NSRA event has a 'Safety Inspection Team' that performs a 23 points inspection process that goes beyond what normal State Safety Inspections Require.

In the mid-1980s, as stock engine sizes fell, rodders discovered the all-aluminum 215 (Buick or Olds) could be stretched to as much as 305 cu in (5 l), using the Buick 300 crank, new cylinder sleeves, and an assortment of non-GM parts, including VW & Mopar lifters and Carter carb.[5] It could also be fitted with high-compression cylinder heads from the Morgan +8. Using the 5 liter Rover block and crank, a maximum displacement of 317.8 cu in (5,208 cc) is theoretically possible.[6]

Modern roddingEdit

'36 Chevrolet Street Rod (Rigaud)

1936 Chevrolet street rod

There is still a vibrant hot rod culture worldwide, especially in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Sweden. The hot rod community has now been subdivided into two main groups: street rodders and hot rodders. Hod rodders build their cars using a lot of original equipment parts, whether from wrecking yards or NOS, and follow the styles that were popular from the 1940s through the 1960s. Street rodders build cars (or have them built for them) using primarily new parts.

A common factor among current owners of hot rods is to make them more noticeable. There are now many different sectors of hot rodding, some of which are:

  • Street rod: a very popular branch of hot rodding. Contrary to the implications of the term hot rod, street rods are a mix of hot rods, custom cars, and modern Detroit cars. Emphasis is on high-quality custom paint jobs, comfortable interiors, and modern engines and running gear. As specified by the NSRA (National Street Rod Association), a street rod must have been manufactured prior to 1949.
  • Pro-Street rod: a branch of street rodding featuring mildly customized sedan and coupe models not normally associated with hot rodding that have monster engines and huge rear tires inside the fender wells. They retain all the other luxury features of street rods.
  • Billet rod: street rods featuring many items being machined from billet aluminum
  • Traditional rod: built according to a particular point in time and stick to those build techniques and materials
  • Rat rod: constructed to resemble an old time jalopies, although they may require more work than a show rod
  • Show rods (created to compete in national car shows such as America's Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR), and the Detroit Autorama).

There are hundreds of local car clubs supporting the hot rod/street rod community. The National Street Rod Association (NSRA) is the largest club in the world and sponsors many local events including the Street Rod Nationals which serve as a showplaces for the majority of the hot-rodding and street-rodding world to display their cars and to find nearly any part needed to complete them. Collectively they are all referred to as Hot Rods.

Debates within the car communityEdit

Hot rods are part of American culture, although there is growing controversy within the automotive hobby over an increasing trend towards the acquisition and irreversible modification of surviving historic - some even very rare - vehicles rather than the traditional hot rodding concept of the salvage and re-use of junked parts.

New "retro inspired" steel bodiesEdit

As the supply of original steel bodies dwindles to nothing, those who reject fiberglass replicas can buy new reproduction bodies. They are not actual antiques, but often are superior in some aspects such as build quality to original equipment bodies. The best bodies can command a price of US$10,000 or more.

In modern cultureEdit


There is a contemporary movement of traditional hot rod builders, car clubs and artists who have returned to the roots of hot rodding as a lifestyle. This current traditional hot rod culture is exemplified in a whole new breed of traditional hot rod builders, artists and styles, as well as classic style car clubs like The Road Devils, The Deacons, The Shifters, and The Dragoons. Events like Viva Las Vegas, and GreaseOrama showcase this return to traditional hot rods and the greaser lifestyle. Underground magazines like Garage, Smokin Shutdown, Ol' Skool Rodz, Car Kulture Deluxe, Gearhead, Rolls & Pleats and BurnOut showcase this return to traditional hot rods by covering events and people around the world. There are number of independently released DVDs featuring this traditional hot rod revival with names such as Mad Fabricators, Hot Rod Surf, ‘All Steel All Real’, and Hot Rod Havoc.

In the mediaEdit

Author Tom Wolfe was one of the first to recognize the importance of hot rodding in popular culture and brought it to mainstream attention in his book The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.

There are many magazines that feature real hot rods, including The Rodders Journal, Hot Rod Magazine, Rod and Custom Magazine, Street Rodder, RebelRodz, Amusin' Kruisin', and Popular Hot Rodding. There are also television shows such as My Classic Car, and Horsepower TV.

Street rod builder Boyd Coddington starred in American Hot Rod, a documentary series on Discovery channel until his death in 2008.

The Discovery Channel airs several shows dealing with modern interpretations of Kustom Kulture such as Monster Garage, American Hot Rod, and Overhaulin'.

Juxtapoz Magazine, founded by the artist Robert Williams, has thrived as a recent extrapolation of Kustom Kulture art. It has also begun to garner respect as an exhibitor of contemporary artistic talent that transcends Kustom Kulture's bounds.

In SwedenEdit

60's car with lots of raggare on the roof at Power Big Meet

Swedish hot rodders with 1960s American car at Power Big Meet

The culture is vibrant in Sweden where there are many automobile enthusiasts. Meetings like Power Big Meet and clubs such as Wheels and Wings in Varberg, Sweden have established themselves in Swedish Hot Rod culture. Since there is very little "vintage tin" the hot rods in Sweden are generally made with a home made chassis (usually a Ford model T or A replica), with a Jaguar (or Volvo 240) rear axle, a small block V8, and fiberglass tub, but some have been built using for instance a Volvo Duett chassis. Because the Swedish regulations required a crash test even for custom-built passenger cars between 1969 and 1982 the Duett option was often used since it was considered a rebodied Duett rather than a new vehicle.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Some 1950s and 1960s cars are also hot rodded, like Morris Minor, Ford Anglia, Volvo Amazon, Ford Cortina, '57 Chevy, to name but a few. These are known as Custom cars (sometimes spelled Kustom).


Certain linguistic conventions are followed among rodders and customizers:

  • The model year is rarely given in full,[7] except when it might be confused, so a 1934 model is a '34, while a 2005 might be an '05 or not.
    • A '32 is usually a Deuce and most often a roadster, unless coupé is specified, and almost always a Ford.
  • A 3- or 5-window is usually a Ford, unless specified.
  • A flatty is a flathead V8[8] (always Ford, unless specified); a late (or late model) flatty is probably a Merc.
  • A hemi ("hem ee") is always a 426, unless displacement (331, 354, or 392) is specified;[9] a 426 is a hemi, unless Wedge is specified.
  • A 392 is an early hemi.
    • A 331 or 354 is known to be an (early) hemi, but rarely referred to as such
  • Units are routinely dropped, unless they are unclear, so a 426 cubic inch (in³) engine is simply referred to as a 426, a 5 liter engine is a 5.0 ("five point oh"), and a 600 cubic feet per minute (cfm) carburetor is a 600. Engine displacement can be described in cubic inches or liters (for example, a 5.7 liter engine is also known as a 350 {"three fifty"}); this frequently depends on which units the user is most comfortable or familiar with.

Some other common terms:

  • 3/4-race — high-performance flatty camshaft, suitable for street and strip use
  • 3 deuces — arrangement of three 2-barrel (twin-choke) carburetors; distinct from Six Pak and Pontiac and Olds[10] Tri-Power[11] (also 3x2 arrangements)
  • 3-window — 2-door coupé; so named for one door window on each side[12]
  • 5-window — 2-door coupé; so named for one door window and one quarter window on each side[13]
  • 97s — “ninety-sevens,” a reference to the model number of Stromberg carburetors[14]
  • A-bone — Model A coupé[15]
  • Alky — alcohol (methanol) racing fuel
  • Awful Awful (mainly North American) — AA/FA ("double A" Fuel Altered) drag racer
  • Blower — mechanically-driven supercharger; excludes turbochargers. Commonly a Roots.
  • Blown —
    • An engine equipped with a supercharger (a "blown hemi"); rarely used in reference to turbocharged engines
    • A vehicle equipped with a supercharged engine (a "blown higboy")
    • A wrecked engine or transmission
  • Blue oval — Ford product (for the Ford badge)
  • Bondo — brand name for a body filler putty, often used as a generic term for any such product
  • Bored — increasing the diameter of the cylinders in order to increase engine displacement
  • Bottle — nitrous
  • Bowtie — Chevrolet product (for the badge)[16]
  • Bugcatcher (or bugcatcher intake) — large scoop intake protruding through hood opening, or on cars with no hood.
  • Cammer — most commonly, the SOHC (single overhead camshaft) version of the 427 Ford V8.[17]
    • Sometimes, the Ford Racing Power Parts 5 liter.[18]
    • rarely, any engine with overhead camshaft(s).
  • Cherry — like new[19]
  • C.I.D. (sometimes Cubic Inches or Inches) — cubic inches displacement
  • Crank — crankshaft
  • Cubes — CID
  • Cubic inches — CID
  • Deuce —
  • Dual quads — two four-barrel carburetors
  • Dragster —
    • broadly, any vehicle modified or purpose-built for use on strips.
    • specifically, specialized racers (early or recent types, in gas, alky, or fuel varieties)
  • Elephant — Chrysler hemi[23]
  • Fat-fender — 1934-48 (U.S.) car[24]
  • Flatty — flathead engine[25] (usually refers to a Ford; when specified, the Mercury-built model)
    • 3/8s by 3/8s — lengthening the stroke and increasing the cylinder bore 3/8 inch. A term only applied to flattys.
  • Frenched — headlight slightly sunken into fender[26] or to install as such ("she frenched the taillights")
  • Full-race — high-performance flatty camshaft, suitable only for strip use
  • Gasser — car used in gasoline-only drag racing classes in the 1960s (as opposed to alcohol or nitromethane fuels), where the front end of the car is raised along with the motor. Characterized by a body that sits well above the front wheels. Distinct from hiboy.
  • Gennie — genuine[27]
  • Goat — GTO (not the Ferrari)
  • Hair dryer — turbocharger (for the shape of the casing)
  • Hairpins — radius rods[28]
  • Hopped up — stock engine modified to increase performance
  • Huffer — supercharger,[29]
  • Inches — CID
  • Indian (also "Tin Indian") — Pontiac (for the grille badge)
  • Jimmy (or Jimmy Six) — GMC straight 6
    • Any GMC product
  • Lakes pipes — exhaust pipes running beneath the rocker panels, after use by lakes racers
  • Lunched — wrecked; caused to be wrecked ("lunched" the transmission)
  • Mag —
    • magnesium wheel, or steel or aluminum copy resembling one such
    • magneto
  • Merc — Mercury
  • Mill - any internal combustion engine
  • Moons (or Moon discs; incorrectly, moon discs) — plain flat chrome or aluminum disc hubcaps, originally adopted by land speed racers. Smaller examples are "baby moons". Named for Dean Moon.
  • Mouse — small-block Chevy[30]
  • Mountain motor — large-displacement engine. Named for their size, and for being constructed in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.[31] In organized automotive competition, the term commonly references a V8 engine displacing more than 500 cubic inches; informally, a V8 engine displacing more than 560 cubic inches
  • Nailhead — Buick V8 so named because the relatively small diameter intake and exhast valves
  • Nitro — Nitromethane, used as a fuel additive in some drag cars
  • Nitrous — nitrous oxide
  • NOS — Nitrous Oxide System (a.k.a. laughing gas, liquid supercharger, N2O, nitrous, "the bottle"): apparatus for introducing nitrous oxide into the air intake of an engine prior to the fuel entering the cylinder. The substance mixes with the fuel/air mixture increasing the oxygen level thus greatly increasing combustion and the horsepower output.
  • Pro Street — street legal car resembling a Pro Stock car. Some are very thinly disguised racers.
  • QJ — Quadrajet (Rochester 4-barrel carburetor)[32]
  • Q-jet — Quadrajet[33]
  • Rail (or rail job) — dragster with exposed front frame. Usually refers to early short-wheelbase cars, and not usually to Altereds.
    • In drag racing, also refers to the guardrail
  • Rat — Chevy big block engine[34]
  • Rockcrusher — Muncie M22 4-speed transmission[35] so called because of the audible differences in operation between the model M-22 and its lower strength but quieter cousin, the M-21[citation needed]
  • Rocket — Oldsmobile, in particular their early V8s
  • SB — small-block (Chevy)
  • Shoebox — '49-'54 Ford (for the slab-sided apppearance)
  • Souped (souped up) — hopped up, performance improved (more common in '40s and '50s)
  • Steelies — stock steel rims[36]
  • Stovebolt — Chevy straight 6[37]
  • Street legal — dual-purpose car, capable of performing routine duties as well as weekend racing. Some cars described as such, such as Pro Street cars, are very thinly disguised racers.
  • Street-strip — dual-purpose car, capable of performing routine duties as well as weekend racing. Some cars described as such have very marginal off-track utility.
  • Strip —
    • drag strip.
    • More broadly, cars or parts used or intended for racing only. Thus "street-strip" is a dual-purpose car.
  • Stroked — increased stroke, to increase displacement; usually by adding a longer-stroke crankshaft
  • Suicided — changed from front- to rear-hinged ("suicide door") type
  • Tin Indian — Pontiac (for the grille badge)
  • Toploader — Ford 4-speed manual transmission[38] so named because access to the transmission internal was made via an access panel located on the top of the transmission housing [39]
  • Track T — Model T roadster built in the style of a dirt track race car[40]
  • Tuck-and-roll — upholstery technique[41]
  • Tunneled — deeply sunken into fender[42]
  • Wombat — A nickname for the General Motors W series engine 348-409 cubic inch, manufactured circa 1958-1964 [43]
  • Wrinkle walls — drag racing slicks[44]
  • Zoomie pipes (or zoomies) — short exhaust pipes with no mufflers, used for racing, or just for show (not street legal)[45]

Some terms have an additional, different meaning among customizers than among rodders: NOS, for instance, is a reference to new old stock, rather than nitrous oxide.


See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Fortier, Rob. "25th Salt Lake City Autorama", in Street Rodder, 8/99, p.51cap.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Street Rodder, 1/85, p. 72.
  3. Street Rodder, 1/85, p.72.
  4. See any issue of Street Rodder, for instance.
  5. Davis, Marlan. "Affordable Aluminum V8's [sic]", in Hot Rod Magazine, March 1985, pp.84-9 & 121.
  6. Davis, p.87.
  7. For instance, Street Rodder, 8/99, passim; Rod Action, 2/78, passim.
  8. American Rodder, 6/94, pp.45 & 93.
  9. Geisert, Eric. "Tom's Fun Run", in Street Rodder, 8/99, p.149cap.
  10. Street Rod Builder, 7/03, p.126.
  11. PHR, 7/06, pp.22-3.
  12. Fortier, p.53cap.
  13. Fortier, p.54cap.
  14. Fetherston, David, "Track Terror", in Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.35; Emmons, Don, "Long-term Hybrid", in Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.52; & Baskerville, Gray, "Tom Brown's '60s Sweetheart", in Rod & Custom, 9/00, p.162.
  15. Bianco, Johnny, "Leadfest" in Rod & Custom, 9/00, p.86.
  16. Hot Rod, 12/86, p.85 caption.
  17. Scale Auto, 6/06, p.15 sidebar.
  19. Ganahl, Pat, "Swap 'til you Drop", in Rod & Custom, 7/95, pp.68 & 70.
  20. Geisert, Eric. "The California Spyder", in Street Rodder, 8/99, p.34; Mayall, Joe. "Driving Impression: Reproduction Deuce Hiboy", in Rod Action, 2/78, p.26; letters, Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.10.
  21. Fortier, Rob. ""A Little Pinch Here, A Little Tuck There", in Street Rodder, 8/99, p.136.
  22. Hot Rod, 2/87, p.38.
  23. Hot Rod, 12/86, p.52 caption.
  24. Burhnam, Bill. "In Bill's Eye", Custom Rodder 1/97, p.17; reprinted from Goodguys Gazette.
  25. "Mr. 32", in Street Rodder, 2/78, p.40.
  26. Fortier, p.51cap; Bianco, p.82.
  27. Ganahl, p.70 & "Coupla Cool Coupes", p.74.
  28. Mayall, Joe. "Joe Mayall's Driving Impression: Reproduction Deuce Hiboy", in Rod Action, 2/78, pp.28 & 29; Hot Rod Magazine, 11/84, p.6.
  29. Hot Rod Magazine's Street Machines and Bracket Racing #3 (Los Angeles: Petersen Publishing, 1979), p.65.
  30. Hot Rod, 2/87, p.43.
  31. According to IHRA Executive VP Ted Jones, in Car Craft, 1/91, p.16.
  32. Popular Cars, 12/85, p.51.
  33. Hot Rod Magazine, 11/84, pp.46 & 50.
  34. Hot Rod Magazine, 11/84, p.7.
  35. Hot Rod Magazine's Street Machines and Bracket Racing #3 (Los Angeles: Petersen Publishing, 1979), p.33.
  36. Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.143cap.
  37. Yunick, Henry. Best Damn Garage in Town: The World According to Smokey.
  38. Street Rodder, 12/98, p.292.
  40. Rod & Custom, 7/95, pp.26-7 & 33.
  41. Tann, Jeff, "Two-Timer" in Rod & Custom, 9/00, p.58.
  42. Street Rodder, 2/78, p.43.
  43. Chevrolet Chassis Service Manual l963 edition, sec 0-4
  44. Street Rodder, 7/94, p.145.
  45. Hot Rod, 2/87, p.47, & 12/86, p.33 caption.
  46. Street Rodder, 12/98, p.47; Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.29.

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