The Origins of Hot Rods

Hot rods is a term that really refers to the old classic American cars that have been modified for racing. The hot rods are cars in which the engine of the car has been altered or replaced with another engine to allow the car increased speed.  The car is also frequently modified to reduce the overall weight of it.

The First Cars

The first time that hot rods were seen was during the 1930s in southern California. The cars were modified for purposes of racing and people would race against each other out on the dry lake beds just outside of Los Angeles. The Harper, Muroc and El Mirage lake beds were often used by hot rod owners for racing. These lake beds 50 miles north of Los Angeles were perfect, they were nice and flat and so made for a great racing course. The Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) was formed in 1937. This organization was founded to make rules and regulations for hot rod racing events.

The first hot rods were mostly Ford Model T cars that were altered to make them lighter. A car that weighs less is likely to go faster, so this was the reason behind reducing the weight of the car. In addition, the engines were very often replaced with a different and more powerful one, and the engines were tuned and modified for the best possible performance. Wheels and tires were also altered to improve tread and hence improve the grip of the wheels. This was important since the cars were being driven at high speeds during a racing event. The overall idea was to make a fast and powerful car, a hot rod. Car owners frequently repainted their cars and spent a great deal of time and money on their vehicles. By the 1950s it became very common for hot rods to have custom paint jobs and decorations added.

National Association

In 1951 the National Hot Rod Association was formed in America and drag racing at abandoned military airports and other areas became increasingly popular among the young people of the time. Before the 1950s, the Ford flathead V8 engine had been the preferred hot rod engine. By the end of the 1960s, though, people were starting to prefer the Chrysler Firepower Engine. Brakes started to be changed over to hydraulic rather than mechanical and sealed beam rather than bulb type headlights were used. Hot rodding became very popular and a magazine named “Hot Rod” was even published starting in 1948.

By 1973 interest in hot rods was declining because cars were not being made with more fuel-efficient engines, so power was not as important to manufacturers. During the 1970s the small block Chevy V8 engine and Ford Windsor engine became popular among hot rod members.

The media has sparked renewed interest in hot rods. Such movies as the “Fast and the Furious”, for instance, have once again inspired an interest and enthusiasm for hot rod racing. Unfortunately, some people race on city streets which is both illegal and dangerous.

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