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Hot Rods: American Tradition at its Best

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American Hotrodding comes with a history as rich as the sound of V8’s cranking on salt flats. What started as a scrap-metal hobby for enthusiasts who couldn’t afford new cars in the midst of the economic crisis soon made its way into a nationwide tradition, as Americans cranked out the first unique, mostly junk-yard-assembled cars during the the 1930’s.

A passion for hot rodding carries on today, in a much different form than the original junkers that started the craze.

The Beginning of Legend
Imagine yourself as a single young man during those hard times, when struggling to survive the day-to-day economic crisis has forced you out of work. Sure, you pick up odd jobs here and there, but it’s barely enough to help you put food on your table, much less pay to keep a roof over your head or provide for a family.

It’s not long before you hear word of some excitement just outside of town and you hitch a ride with some friends up to the dry lakes to see what all the commotion is about. What you witness on those salt flats just North of Los Angeles is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before: stripped down cars, what looks like old junkers that are rebuilt with mismatched pieces and scraps from the junk yards, all of them running with bigger, louder engines than what they come out of the factories with. The engines rev, the races begin and you are forever lost in the need for speed, the awe-inspiring world of what comes to be called hot rodding.

Hot Rods and American Hotrodding History
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You and some friends conspire to join the action, putting your heads and nearly-empty wallets together to build your own hot rod. You follow suit with many of the other early racers and latch onto the first old Model A you can find at the junkyard, and begin to assemble a hodge podge creation on top of the old Ford chassis. Pretty soon, you’re out there running the mile stretch against other daredevils like yourself. You’re not in it just to win, you’re in it for the excitement, the distraction from everyday life, feeling free and easy in a time when not many are able to do more than scrape by.

DO YOU KNOW? No one is quite sure where the term “hot rod” comes from. Some believe it is a shortened version of “Hot Roadster,” and other historians say the term more likely refers to the camshaft or pushrods inside the engines of these mod cars.

Post-War Innovations
Those early years of hot rodding are some of the most exciting of your life, especially once you have to face the reality of the draft in ‘42. The sport nearly ceases during the war, leaving behind only those who are physically unable to serve. You and your buddies are shipped all over the world, with a hope of reuniting when the conflict ends.

When you do return home, perhaps to California, you’re older, wiser and ready to do something substantial with your life, something other than close calls on the salt flats. Over the next few years, you continue to tinker with hot rods, using the mechanical skills you gain in the war as a platform to run your own auto shop out of your garage. You earn a decent living in the booming postwar economy, start a family and have some distant dreams of what your life was like before the war.

As the 40’s come to a close, hot rodding is handed a nasty reputation as the sport of juvenile delinquents and suffers a rising toll of deaths and injuries due to its extreme nature. Much to your excitement, talk of organizing begins, and by 1951 the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) is formed.

The shining hope of hot rodders everywhere, the NHRA promises to bring stability and national acclaim to the sport, giving enthusiasts a way to join together and celebrate the custom cars that are loved so well. They brand huge campaigns to promote the new-found safety of the sport, ensuring fans and critics alike that stadiums and tracks and a few guidelines will give what the salt flats are unable to provide: supervision and safety.

As one of the earliest participants in hot rodding, you are asked to come and help kick off the beginning of an American tradition, one that now spans the entire country, plays host to over 40,000 licensed hot rod motorists, facilitates 130 different member tracks and has thrived for over 60 years.

One of Your Favorites
This graphic is one of our most popular and illustrates the history of Hot Rods and different models through the generations:

Hot Rods and American Hotrodding History


Current Trends
Today, hot rodding is no longer about pinching pennies and scrounging up old car parts to put together a speed machine. The speed is still the need for modern day enthusiasts, and hot rodders are now custom design engineers, creating intricate metal work, piecing together parts to create gorgeous, one-of-a-kind roadsters that are not only built for speed, they are some of the most beautiful creations you’ll ever see. Take a look at the current projects from American Hot Rods to see what we’re talking about.

The beauty of hot rods is that they can become whatever you want them to be. With no one standard, creators are free to use whatever is at their disposal, searching the world over for custom or rare parts to design a high-end roadster of your choice.

One of the most enduring aspects of hot-rodding is that it’s where many car enthusiasts begin their journey, as it can be an inexpensive introduction to classic car restoration. Because building a hot rod can be whatever you want it to be, we say to each his own, and happy building! Thanks for riding along with us through this brief history of one of our favorite sports.

Check out this video from the American Hot Rod Foundation on what is arguably the most popular body-style for American hot rodding, and what continues to be a coveted early model among avid fans:
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