There is much debate on how the name “Hot Rod” actually originated. One theory is that the term “hot” comes from the fact that cars may have been stolen. Another idea is that the term “hot rod” is really referring to the fact that the engines “rod”, the camshaft is replaced by a bigger more powerful version. The term “hot” could have originated by the fact that people were improving the performance of their cars, making the cars “hotter”, as in more powerful and more impressive. Thus, a hot rod is a more impressive car than an ordinary unmodified version. Certainly a hot rod uses more powerful engines with greater horsepower than conventional cars.
The term “rod” may have originated from the word roadster. A roadster was a two-door car that was often used to make a hot rod; at least this was the case in the early days when the hot rods were first being created. The term “hot rod” implies performance and certainly the speed and power of the cars is not in question. The focus before the 1950s was on altering or swapping out the engine and making the car a lot more lightweight. The focus was not really on the external outward appearance so much. By the 1950s this had changed. The engines were still being replaced with more powerful ones and they were being modified so as to increase the performance of the car. Hydraulic brakes largely replaced mechanical brakes as well. Later, the car owners started to focus more attention on the outward appearance of the car, and a lot more attention was given over to having a custom paint job done on the car. Hot rods were often painted in bright colors, and some had flames painted on the sides of the car or hood of the car.
In the beginning the engines that were used were the Ford V8 but later on the engines were replaced with the small block Chevy V6 engine. Wheels and tires were also often modified. Since the cars were being used for racing, the tread of the tires became more important to ensure that the tires would grip the road well.
People who own modern day hot rods have placed even more of an emphasis on the look and appearance of the car than the speed and power of the car. Movies such as the “Fast and the Furious” have reignited interest in hot rods and the association is still going strong. People today are more in the habit of making hot rods to show off than to race.
How the term “Hot Rod” originated is not known for sure. It is unlikely to be from cars being stolen. It could very well refer to the change that took place in the engine, with the engine becoming more powerful, thus “hotter”. The term “rod” could also have come from the term roadster which was used on the early cars that were first used and modified to be hot rods.