I'm convinced that when
the cave man invented the wheel, the guy in the cave next door immediately
started to think about ways to change it and make it better. It's
It's the same way with
cars and Americans. When Henry Ford started rolling those black Model
T Fords off the assembly line in Dearborn, Mich., boys started figuring
out how to make them go faster and look different.
Things began to take off
in the 1930's. That's when aspiring hot rodders figured out they could
put that "new" Ford V8 engine in the Model A, which had
been fitted with only a four-cylinder engine. They weren't "hot
rodders" back then; both the people and the cars were called
According to Wally Parks,
one of the original Southern California hot rodders and now chairman
of the board of the National Hot Rod Association, "Somehow, the
name 'hop up' got changed to 'hot rod' during (World War II)."
hot rodders and their loud, sinister-looking cars with fenders and hoods
removed were viewed as outlaws, people to be avoided. The early hot
rods were fast - probably too fast for the early mechanical brakes -
and the skinny tires were not terribly reliable.
In the early
days, hot rods started as $10 or $25 used Model T or Model A Fords.
While some were turned into beautiful hot rods, others were just noise
beaters that gave the sport a bad name.
Today hot rods are sophisticated
and they are expensive. A hand-built Boyd Coddington masterpiece car
can cost $500,000 or more. Even a plain Jane hot rod built in your
garage will cost more than $25,000.
Still, hot rodding is enjoying
a new respect and a surge in popularity. I recently visited with Johnnie
Cate, who runs Mo & Curley's Rod Shop, in Knoxville, Tenn., and
asked him about it.
"Hot rodding is now
a family sport," he explains. "Rod runs are really family-style
picnics. Nobody gets rowdy; the cars are worth too much money."
Pointing to a beautiful
1946 Ford sedan he was working on for a customer, Cate says, "This
car has a new, dependable V-8 engine, automatic transmission, air
conditioning, heater, and even electric windows and door locks. And
look at that back seat area; there is room enough for the entire family."
Modern hot rods can handle
stop-and-go city traffic or highway speeds and still look great. I
once had a hot rod that would overheat in city traffic and had a strange
wobble at 65 miles per hour. We've come a long way.
Another form of hot rodding
gaining in popularity is the kit car.
Most really expensive hot
rods are built from scratch - nearly every part of the car from the
frame to the floorboards is either handmade or hand-finished. Assembling
a kit car involves installing a swoopy-looking hot rod or sports car
body on a more mundane auto chassis. Purists don't like it, but they
do admit the kit cars are significantly less expensive and easier
One such kit car is the
new Rodster®, designed by Henry Caroselli of Caroselli
Design in El Segundo, Calif. He has designed a fiberglass body with
the classic lines of a hot rod. The body fits on - get this - the
chassis of a 1982-1994 Chevy Blazer or GMC Jimmy sport utility vehicle.
The Rodster® is a two-seat open roadster with the styling
cues of hot rods built in the 1940s and 1950s.
"The beauty of this,"
Caroselli says, "is that underneath you have a car that can be
repaired and maintained anywhere."
Caroselli's design uses
the hefty frame of the Blazer, the doors, and even the entire interior
of the Blazer. "It makes the work involved to assemble the Rodster®
a lot easier."
He estimates the typical
customer will take 100 hours of labor to get it up and running. The
basic kit costs about $6,000 and a deluxe kit costs about $7,200.
Of course, you have to factor in the cost of a used Blazer, unless
you already own one.
For those aspiring hot
rodders or aging baby boomers who don't like getting their hands dirty
anymore, Caroselli will build a complete car - what is known in the
kit car industry as a turnkey car - for about $20,000 depending on
the price of the used Blazer or Jimmy.
and I took a quick trip on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles in the prototype
car. (I have to check these things out - it's my job.) The first thing
I noticed was that everyone who noticed the car smiled.
"To me, that says
it all," Caroselli says.
The Blazer, with its 4.3
liter V-6 engine and automatic transmission wouldn't seem to be the
ideal drivetrain for a hot rod, but it was surprisingly fast and nimble.
However, Caroselli, as
a hot rodder himself, knows that some Rodster® buyers will
want a V8 engine. "I designed it so that a V8 will fit,"
Over the twisting road
that separates Hollywood from the San Fernando Valley, I put the Rodster®
through its paces. Unlike many hot rods I have built, everything on
this car worked. It had turn signals and a horn. The seats could be
adjusted. The speedometer worked. These are all items that may or
may not work on a hand-built hot rod.
dependable hot rod you could drive every day. It boggles the mind.