A hot rod is a distinctive style of American roadster car with a heavily tuned engine. Originally built purely for speed, the hot rod is today prized almost equally between appearance and engine power.
The origins of the term ‘hot rod’ are unclear. It is commonly believed to have surfaced in Southern and Eastern California in the 1930’s. Some believe ‘hot rod’ to be a shortened version of ‘hot roadster’, meaning a fast road vehicle, often with an engine power not natural in the car’s original state. Designed primarily with racing in mind, Los Angeles’ dry-season riverbeds became prime drag racing territory for hot rod racers from 1940 onwards. Hot rods also found a use as fast, legal road cars for gangsters in the era of Prohibition. Despite becoming a term of insult for unusual cars in the Sixties, the hot rod is considered iconic in American car history.
Hot rods are typically defined by their large, tuned and often on-display engines.
For a car to be considered a hot rod, the car must be tuned. This involves auto tuning and engine tuning. Auto tuning is the method of renovating, restoring and upgrading features of the car such as the chassis, the wheels or the engine. Engine tuning is the method of increasing or boosting a car’s engine to increase performance. Examples of this include putting a new engine in an old car, or utilising methods of increasing an engines horsepower.
The primary focus of owning a hot rod is to modify the engine for high performance. For example, it was common in the 1930’s to transplant engines between cars. The weight of the car was also very important, with any erroneous materials such as back seats or fenders being removed.
In more recent history, a lot of focus is put upon decals, stickers, paint-jobs and other accessories. This can be attributed to the high availability of powerful car engines on the market, pushing the impetus onto style over speed.
The modern day hot rod followers are loosely split into two different types:
- Hot rodders imitate original styles when building their cars. The aim is to faithfully replicate old styles using parts and techniques that would have been used originally.
- Street rodders design their cars in a variety of styles but mostly with newer parts and more modern techniques.
Hot rods are undoubtably one of the most distinctive styles of car in American and international vehicle history. A rich heritage, practical use and inimitable style have ensured the hot rod remains a classic to this day.