... and hot stuff on cool cars
Cool stuff on hot cars
Hot rods and custom cars, by their very nature, are cool. Whether built by professional shops, or by the owner himself in his garage, they incorporate all sorts of details that change them from cookie-cutter to individual machines. We’ve put together a checklist of some of the things that make these vehicles so neat.
In the eyes of many hot rodders, stock vehicles are just too tall, and “chopping” the top fixes that. To do it, the builder takes out all of the glass, cuts off the roof, cuts out a section of each pillar, and then puts the roof back on and welds it in place.
There’s a real art to it even on 1920s cars, which tend to have a boxy design, but it’s even more of an art on a car like this 1937 Chevrolet, where some of the pillars are slanted. And then you have to find someone skilled enough to cut the windshield and make it fit.
Most hot rods and customs are also much closer to the ground than when they left the factory. There are a variety of ways to achieve this, including lowering the suspension, and channelling, where the suspension remains at stock height and the body is mounted lower on the frame. No matter how it’s done, watching for potholes immediately becomes a way of life for the driver.
These tires, with their extra-wide ring of white rubber, were all the rage starting back around the 1930s. The whitewall got much thinner in the 1960s, when wider ones didn’t suit the styling direction cars took, and finally died out, leaving the blackwalls that are almost exclusively used today.
On the right hot rod, wide whites can look stunning. Especially if you’re not the one who has to keep them clean.
Many hot rodders go for relatively sane engines, especially in cars that are driven a lot—the Chevrolet 350-cid (5.7-litre) small-block V8 is probably the most popular of all—but there’s something way-cool about having so much engine, it hardly even fits. And if it’s an oddball mill, that’s even better, like the Chrysler marine engine shoehorned between the rails of this 1930 Ford.
Paint styles come and go, but flames have never really gone out of style. Hot rods pretty much date back to servicemen returning from the Second World War, who had seen so much action and who weren’t really content to sit back and relax anymore.
They dropped performance engines into their Model Ts and 1932 Fords, and took them out to the salt flats to race. Several of them painted flames on the front, as if the engine had caught fire, and a new craze was born.
Older cars often have a tendency to run hot, especially if they have a large engine but not enough room for a big radiator. Louvres cut into the hood help to dissipate the heat, and from there, they evolved into a custom car styling feature. It takes a real expert to stamp them out in perfect rows…and a lot of time to polish each edge when it’s time to wash the car.
Popular with many fans, the “rat rod” is made of various parts and often left rusty. The trick to making a rat rod really cool is to use items that aren’t necessarily automotive, but to make them look like they belong. This crest looks like it once might have graced the grille of a Detroit special, but in actuality, it came off an old refrigerator.
Cars of the past usually came with a lot of chrome, especially in the 1950s, and much of it would be on the front end. Many customizers take off the hood ornaments and crests to give it a smooth appearance, as on this 1953 Dodge. The car is then said to have been “nosed.”
If chrome is taken off the trunk, the term is “decked.” If the door handles are removed—a hidden switch handles the task of opening the doors—the car’s said to be “shaved.”
You can buy decals of pinstripe designs, but the best work is still done by hand, using special pointed brushes. They’re popularly called camel hair brushes, but no camels are involved (it was originally a brand name), and most natural bristles are from squirrels. Almost all artists paint freehand, creating designs that pay homage to traditional striping while remaining one-of-a-kind.
There’s a wide range here, from a conservative system that raises a lowered car up enough that it can clear driveways, to the far-out variety that will actually hop the car up several feet. Hydraulic systems used to be the norm, and a few builders still use them, but airbag systems are now far more common.
As close as you can get to a race car, and still drive it on the street. Pro-street vehicles feature oversized rear tires, which require the builder to narrow the rear end and cut out the wheel wells so they’ll fit. Throw in a high-performance engine and the loudest exhaust you can find, and you’re ready to roll.
Most hot rods are of the usual Ford/Chevy/Dodge variety, but some owners seek out unusual models, such as this Hudson pickup truck. Such vehicles generally elicit scorn from antique-car purists, but in reality, a great many hot rodders start with vehicles that are in such rough shape that hot rodding is about all you can do with them. Finding the right parts and restoring the vehicle back to its original condition would cost far more than the car could ever be worth.
Coupes came two ways: with small rear windows, known as a five-window, or as here without them, called the three-window. They’re called that—and were right from when they were new—because the number includes the rear window (but not the windshield). In hot rod circles, five-windows are cool, but three-windows are cooler.
Yes, they’re illegal for the street just about everywhere, which is probably what makes them so cool. You drill a hole in the exhaust pipe and fit a spark plug inside, hook that up to an ignition coil, and flip a switch to get the plug sparking.
You can buy complete kits today that make it dead-nuts simple, but the original rodders just used a coil off a Model T, and then choked the carburetor to send raw gas out the pipes and powered the coil at the right moment … hot and cool at the very same time.