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Hot rod

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Hot rod

Hot rods are typically old, classic American cars with large engines modified for linear speed. The origin of the term "hot rod" is unclear. A possible origin includes replacement of the camshaft with a new ("hotter") version, sometimes known as a hot stick or hot rod. Roadsters were the cars of choice because they were light, easy to modify, and available inexpensively. The term became commonplace in the 1930s or 1940s as the name of a car that had been "hopped up" by modifying the engine in various ways to achieve higher performance. A term that was common in the early days to refer to a hot rod was a "gow job". This has fallen into total disuse except with historians.

The term has broadened to apply to other items that are modified for a particular purpose, such as "hot-rodded amplifier".


  • History 1
    • Late 1930s–1950s 1.1
    • Post WWII origins of organized rodding 1.2
    • 1960s rise of the street rod 1.3
    • Modern rodding 1.4
  • In modern culture 2
    • Lifestyle 2.1
    • In the media 2.2
    • In Sweden and Finland 2.3
  • Language 3
    • Common terms 3.1
  • Gallery 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Late 1930s–1950s

The term seems first to have appeared in the late 1930s in southern California, where people would race their modified cars on the vast, empty dry lake beds northeast of Los Angeles under the rules of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), among other groups. The activity increased in popularity after World War II, particularly in California, because many returning soldiers had been given technical training in the service. Many cars were prepared by bootleggers in response to Prohibition to enable them to avoid revenue agents ("Revenooers"); some police vehicles were also modified in response.[2]

The first hot rods were old cars (most often Fords, typically Model Ts, 1928–31 Model As, or 1932-34 Model Bs), modified to reduce weight. Typical modifications were removal of convertible tops, hoods, bumpers, windshields, and/or fenders; channeling the body; and modifying the engine by tuning and/or replacing with a more powerful type. Speedster was a common name for the modified car. Wheels and tires were changed for improved traction and handling. "Hot rod" was sometimes a term used in the 1950s as a derogatory term for any car that did not fit into the mainstream. Hot rodders' modifications were considered to improve the appearance as well, leading to show cars in the 1960s replicating these same modifications along with a distinctive paint job.

Engine swaps often involved fitting the Ford flathead engine, or "flatty", in a different chassis; the "60 horse" in a Jeep was a popular choice in the '40s. After the appearance of the 255 cu in (4.2 l) V8, because of interchangeability, installing the longer-stroke Mercury crank in the 239 was a popular upgrade among hot rodders, much as the 400 cu in (6.6 l) crank in small-blocks would later become. In fact, in the 1950s, the flathead block was often fitted with crankshafts of up to 4.125 in (104.8 mm) stroke, sometimes more.[3] In addition, rodders in the 1950s routinely bored them out by 0.1875 in (4.76 mm) (to 3.375 in (85.7 mm));[3] due to the tendency of blocks to crack as a result of overheating, a perennial problem, this is no longer recommended.[4] In the '50s and '60s, the flatty was supplanted by the early hemi. By the 1970s, the small-block Chevy was the most common option, and since the '80s, the 350 cu in (5.7 l) Chevy has been almost ubiquitous.[5]

Post WWII origins of organized rodding

Hot-rodded prewar British Rover 10

After Wally Parks created the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to bring racing off the streets and onto the tracks. They created rules based on safety and entertainment, and allowed Hot Rodders of any caliber the ability to race. The annual California Hot Rod Reunion and National Hot Rod Reunion are held to honor pioneers in the sport. The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum houses the roots of hot rodding.

1960s rise of the street rod

As automobiles offered by the major automakers began increasing performance, the lure of hot rods began to wane. It was no longer necessary to put a Cadillac engine in a Ford roadster to be fast. It was now possible to buy a muscle car that outperformed just about any hot rod, with more passenger room, and without having to expend the effort of building and tuning the car oneself. After the 1973 Oil Crisis, the public called on automakers to offer safety and fuel efficiency over performance. The resulting decrease in an average car's performance led to a resurgence of hot rodding, although the focus was on driving hot rods over racing so the term 'street rod' was coined to denote a vehicle manufactured prior to 1949, often with a more reliable late model drivetrain. Street rodding as it was now known was a different phenomenon than hot rodding, as street rodding was mainly family oriented. National events were hosted by the National Street Rod Association (NSRA), which also stressed safety as the NHRA did 20 years before, but this was safety for the street as opposed to on the race track. Each NSRA event has a 'Safety Inspection Team' that performs a 23-point inspection process that goes beyond what normal State Safety Inspections Require.

In the mid-1980s, as stock engine sizes fell, rodders discovered the all-aluminum 5 liter Rover block and crank, a maximum displacement of 317.8 cu in (5,208 cc) is theoretically possible.[7]

Modern rodding

1936 Chevrolet street rod

There is still a vibrant hot rod culture worldwide, especially in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Sweden. The hot rod community has now been subdivided into two main groups: street rodders and hot rodders.

In modern culture


There is a contemporary movement of traditional hot rod builders, car clubs and artists who have returned to the roots of hot rodding as a lifestyle. This includes a new breed of traditional hot rod builders, artists, and styles, as well as classic style car clubs. Events like GreaseOrama feature traditional hot rods and the greaser lifestyle. Magazines like Ol' Skool Rodz, Gears and Gals, and Rat-Rods and Rust Queens cover events and people.

In the media

Author Tom Wolfe was one of the first to recognize the importance of hot rodding in popular culture and brought it to mainstream attention in his book The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.

There are magazines that feature traditional hot rods, including Hot Rod, Car Craft, Rod and Custom, and Popular Hot Rodding. There are also television shows such as My Classic Car, Horsepower TV, American Hot Rod, and Chop Cut Rebuild.

In Sweden and Finland

Swedish hot rodders with 1960s American car at Power Big Meet

The culture is vibrant in Sweden and Finland where enthusiasts gather at meetings such as Power Big Meet and clubs like Wheels and Wings in Varberg, Sweden have established themselves in Hot Rod culture. Since there is very little "vintage tin" the hot rods in Sweden are generally made with a home made chassis (usually a Model T or A replica), with a Jaguar (or Volvo 240) rear axle, a small block V8, and fiberglass tub, but some have been built using for instance a Volvo Duett chassis. Because the Swedish regulations required a crash test even for custom-built passenger cars between 1969 and 1982, the Duett option was preferred, since it was considered a rebodied Duett rather than a new vehicle.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Some 1950s and 1960s cars are also hot rodded, like Morris Minor, Ford Anglia, Volvo Amazon, Ford Cortina, '57 Chevy, to name but a few. These are known as custom cars (sometimes spelled Kustom).


Certain linguistic conventions are followed among rodders and customizers:

  • The model year is rarely given in full,[8] except when it might be confused, so a 1934 model is a '34, while a 2005 might be an '05 or not.
    • A '32 is usually a Deuce and most often a roadster, unless coupé is specified, and almost always a Ford.
  • A 3- or 5-window is usually a Ford, unless specified.
  • A flatty is a flathead V8[9] (always Ford, unless specified); a late (or late model) flatty is probably a Merc.
  • A hemi ("hem ee") is always a 426, unless displacement (331, 354, or 392) is specified;[10] a 426 is a hemi, unless Wedge is specified.
  • A 392 is an early hemi.
    • A 331 or 354 is known to be an (early) hemi, but rarely referred to as such
  • Units are routinely dropped, unless they are unclear, so a 426 cubic inch (in³) engine is simply referred to as a 426, a 5 liter engine is a 5.0 ("five point oh"), and a 600 cubic feet per minute (cfm) carburetor is a 600. Engine displacement can be described in cubic inches or liters (for example, a 5.7 liter engine is also known as a 350 {"three fifty"}); this frequently depends on which units the user is most comfortable or familiar with.

Common terms

  • 3/4-race — high-performance flatty cam, suitable for street and strip use
  • 3 deuces — arrangement of three 2-barrel (twin-choke) carburetors; distinct from Six Pak and Pontiac and Olds[11] Tri-Power[12] (also 3x2 arrangements)
  • 3-window — 2-door coupé; so named for one door window on each side plus the rear window[13]
  • 5-window — 2-door coupé; so named for one door window and one quarter window on each side plus the rear window[14]
  • 97s (“ninety-sevens”) — reference to the model number of Stromberg carburetors[15]
  • A-bone — Model A coupé[16]
  • Alky — alcohol (methanol) racing fuel
  • Altered — AA/FA ("double A" Fuel Altered) drag racing car.
  • Anglebox - British slang for a '59 to '68 Anglia[17]
  • Awful Awful (mainly North American) — AA/FA ("double A" Fuel Altered) racing car.
  • Bagged - the use of air suspension to raise and lower the car
  • Blower — mechanically driven supercharger; excludes turbochargers. Commonly a Roots.
  • Blown —
    • An engine equipped with a supercharger (a "blown hemi"); rarely used in reference to turbocharged engines
    • A vehicle equipped with a supercharged engine (a "blown higboy")
    • A wrecked engine or transmission
  • Blue oval — Ford product (for the Ford badge)
  • Bondo — brand name for a body filler putty, often used as a generic term for any such product
  • Bored — increased the diameter of the cylinders in order to increase engine displacement ("He bored the engine"); having had the diameter increased ("the engine was bored")
  • Bottle — nitrous tank
  • Bowtie — Chevrolet product (for the badge)[18]
  • Bugcatcher (or bugcatcher intake) — large scoop intake protruding through hood opening, or on cars with no hood.
  • Bumpstick — camshaft (for the lobes)
  • Cam — camshaft
  • Cammer —
    • most commonly, the SOHC (single overhead camshaft) version of the 427 Ford V8.[19]
    • sometimes, the Ford Racing Power Parts 5 liter.[20]
    • rarely, any engine with overhead camshaft(s).
  • Channelled — a car lowered by having the floor removed and reattached; also, to have done so
  • Channeling — removing the floor and reattaching it to the body at a higher point, thus lowering the car without suspension modifications. Sometimes known as a "body drop".
  • Cheater slicks (also "cheaters") — soft compound tires with just enough grooves to make them street legal (not usually in singular)
  • Cherry — like new[21]
  • Chop — removing a section of the roof pillars and windows to lower the roofline
  • Chopped — also "chopped top"; to have top chopped
  • Chopping — executing a roof chop
  • C.I.D. (sometimes Cubic Inches or Inches) — cubic inches displacement
  • Crank — crankshaft
  • Cubes — CID
  • Cubic inches — CID
  • Cutout - a short leg of the exhaust system that exits to the side of the car and typically in front of the driver. The cutout can be operated manually or remotely from the drivers seat. Hot rodders typically use cutouts on hot rods that are used on the street and the strip. The cutout is closed for street use and open for drag racing on the strip.
  • Deuce —
  • Digger — dragster: only applied to rails, slingshots, or fuel cars
  • Dual quads — two four-barrel carburetors
  • Dragster
    • broadly, any vehicle modified or purpose-built for use on strips.
    • specifically, specialized racers (early or recent types, in gas, alky, or fuel varieties)
  • Elephant — Chrysler hemi[25]
  • Fabricate - create a part no longer be available;[26] create any part from scratch
  • Fat-fender — 1934-48 (U.S.) car[27] (Most common usage is to refer to '41-'48 inclusive, with '35-'41s called "pontoon fenders".)
  • Flamed — painted with a flame job
  • Flatty — flathead engine[28] (usually refers to a Ford; when specified, the Mercury-built model)
    • 3/8s by 3/8s — lengthening the stroke and increasing the cylinder bore 3/8 inch. A term only applied to flattys.
  • French — to install headlight or taillight slightly sunken into fender
  • Frenched — headlight or tallight slightly sunken into fender;[29] to install as such ("she frenched the taillights")
  • Fuel —
    • most commonly, nitro (or a mixture of nitro and alky);
    • the top drag racing class (which runs on nitro)
    • broadly, gasoline (petrol)
  • Full-race — high-performance flatty cam, suitable only for strip use
  • Gasser — car used in gasoline-only drag racing classes in the 1960s (as opposed to alcohol or nitromethane fuels), where the front end of the car is raised along with the motor. Characterized by a body that sits well above the front wheels. Distinct from hiboy.
  • Gennie — genuine[30]
  • Goat — GTO (not the Ferrari or the Mitsubishi)
  • Hair dryer — turbocharger (for the shape of the intake and exhaust casings)
  • Hairpins — radius rods on axle suspension systems[31]
  • Header - the origination point of the tubular exhaust system as the exhaust exits the cylinder head. Hot rodders typically use steel or stainless steel as header materials. A variety of exhaust manifold.
  • Hopped up (also "hopped") — stock engine modified to increase performance
  • Huffer — supercharger,[32] especially of the Roots type.
  • Inches — CID
  • Indian (also "Tin Indian") — Pontiac (for the grille badge)
  • Jimmy
  • Jimmy Six — GMC straight 6
  • Lakes pipes — exhaust pipes running beneath the rocker panels, after use by lakes racers
  • Lope — exhaust note produced by of a high-duration cam
  • Louvers —cuts in the sheet metal of the body with a narrow raised section on one side of the cuts to create a small window. Used to release air from engine compartments, or often merely for esthetics
  • Lowering — reducing the ride height (or ground clearance)
  • Lunched — wrecked; caused to be wrecked ("lunched the transmission")
  • Mag —
    • magnesium wheel, or steel or aluminum copy resembling one such
    • magneto
  • Merc — Mercury
  • Mill - any internal combustion engine
  • Moons (or Moon discs; incorrectly, moon discs) — plain flat chrome or aluminum disc hubcaps, originally adopted by land speed racers. Smaller examples are "baby Moons". Named for Dean Moon.
  • Mouse — small-block Chevy[33]
  • Mountain motor — large-displacement engine. Named for their size, and for being constructed in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.[34] In organized automotive competition, the term commonly references a V8 engine displacing more than 500 cubic inches; informally, a V8 engine displacing more than 560 cubic inches
  • Nail - any car used as a daily driver
  • Nailhead — Early Buick V8, named for relatively small diameter valves
  • Nerf bar - a small tubular or solid T-shaped or decorative bar that acts as a bumper.
  • Nitro — Nitromethane, used as a fuel additive in some drag cars
  • Nitrous — nitrous oxide
  • NOS
    • New Old Stock, stockpiled parts of models no longer produced, not previously available for retail purchase. (More common among customizers than rodders.)
    • Nitrous Oxide System (a.k.a. laughing gas, liquid supercharger, N
      , nitrous, "the bottle"): apparatus for introducing nitrous oxide into the air intake of an engine prior to the fuel entering the cylinder.
  • Nosed — as in "nosed & decked": removal of any hood (bonnet) or trunk (boot) ornaments, the filling of holes, and painting as a smooth clean surface.
  • Pickoupe — car-based light-duty pickup, from "pickup" & "coupé"
  • Pinched — narrowed and lengthened body, usually at the nose
  • Pop —
    • a mixture of nitro & alky.
    • British slang for a sit-up and beg Ford Popular.
  • Plod —
    • (British) body filler.
    • (British) traffic police (after PC Plod in Enid Blyton's Noddy series)
  • Ported and polished - enlarging and smoothing of the intake and exhaust port surfaces of performance engine cylinder heads to facilitate the ease of movement and increased volume of the engine gasses.
  • Portmatching - the lining up of the intake manifold, cylinder head ports and exhaust headers as to create one continuous smooth course of travel for engine gasses with no ledges or obstructions.
  • Pro Street — street legal car resembling a Pro Stock car. Some are very thinly disguised racers.
  • QJ — Quadrajet (Rochester 4-barrel carburetor)[35]
  • Q-jet — Quadrajet[36]
  • Rail
    • dragster with exposed front frame. Usually refers to early short-wheelbase cars, and not usually to Altereds.
    • (drag racing) guardrail
  • Rail job
    • dragster with exposed front frame. Usually refers to early short-wheelbase cars, and not usually to Altereds.
  • Rat
  • Redline — maximum safe rev limit; to operate an engine at that limit ("redline it", "redlined it")
  • Rockcrusher — Muncie M22 4-speed transmission[38] so called because of the audible differences in operation between the model M-22 and its lower strength but quieter cousin, the M-21
  • Rocket — Oldsmobile, in particular their early V8s
  • Rolled pan — Contured sheet of metal covering the space where the bumper used to be
  • SB — small-block V8 (Chevy)
  • Sectioned — having sectioning ("the '49 was sectioned"); having performed a sectioning ("he sectioned the Merc")
  • Sectioning — removing of a horizontal center section of the body and reattaching the upper and lower parts
  • Shoebox — '49-'54 Ford (for the slab-sided appearance)
  • SkyJackers - airshocks used in the rear to jack up the backend to clear wider tires/wheels.
  • Slammed — lowering the car very close to the ground. Frequently accomplished with the use of air suspension.
  • Slick — soft compound tire with no grooves, designed just for drag racing. Usually much wider than normal street tires.
  • Slingshot — later variety of early digger, named for the driver's position behind the rear wheels (not its speed)
  • Souped (or "souped up") — hopped up, performance improved (more common in '40s and '50s)
  • Steelies — stock steel rims[39]
  • Stovebolt — Chevy straight 6[40]
  • Street legal — dual-purpose car, capable of performing routine duties as well as weekend racing. Some cars described as such, such as Pro Street cars, are very thinly disguised racers.
  • Street-strip — dual-purpose car, capable of performing routine duties as well as weekend racing. Some cars described as such have very marginal off-track utility.
  • Strip —
    • drag strip.
    • More broadly, cars or parts used or intended for racing only. Thus "street-strip" is a dual-purpose car.
  • Stroke — Engine stroke; to increase the engine stroke ("stroke it")
  • Stroked — increased stroke, to increase displacement, usually by adding a longer-stroke crankshaft
  • Suicided — door changed from front- to rear-hinged ("suicide") type
  • Tin Indian — Pontiac (for the grille badge)
  • Toploader — Ford 4-speed manual transmission,[41] so named because access to the transmission internal was made via an access panel located on the top of the transmission housing [42]
  • Track T — Model T roadster built in the style of a dirt track race car[43]
  • Traction bars - Usually a set of square tubes attached to the back axle via 2 U bolts before and after the axle housing leading forward with a rubber snubber at the top end allowing as the car takes off to limit axle wrap on leaf springs.
  • Tunneled — deeply sunken into fender[44]
  • Wombat — General Motors W series engine[45]
  • Wrinkle walls — drag racing slicks[46]
  • Zoomie pipes (or zoomies) — short exhaust pipes with no mufflers, used for racing, or just for show (not street legal)[47]

Some terms have an additional, different meaning among customizers than among rodders: NOS, for instance, is a reference to new old stock, rather than nitrous oxide.


See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Street Rodder, 1/85, p. 72.
  4. ^ Street Rodder, 1/85, p.72.
  5. ^ See any issue of Street Rodder, for instance.
  6. ^ Davis, Marlan. "Affordable Aluminum V8's [sic]", in Hot Rod Magazine, March 1985, pp.84-9 & 121.
  7. ^ Davis, p.87.
  8. ^ For instance, Street Rodder, 8/99, passim; Rod Action, 2/78, passim.
  9. ^ American Rodder, 6/94, pp.45 & 93.
  10. ^ Geisert, Eric. "Tom's Fun Run", in Street Rodder, 8/99, p.149cap.
  11. ^ Street Rod Builder, 7/03, p.126.
  12. ^ PHR, 7/06, pp.22-3.
  13. ^ Fortier, p.53cap.
  14. ^ Fortier, p.54cap.
  15. ^ Fetherston, David, "Track Terror", in Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.35; Emmons, Don, "Long-term Hybrid", in Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.52; & Baskerville, Gray, "Tom Brown's '60s Sweetheart", in Rod & Custom, 9/00, p.162.
  16. ^ Bianco, Johnny, "Leadfest" in Rod & Custom, 9/00, p.86.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Hot Rod, 12/86, p.85 caption.
  19. ^ Scale Auto, 6/06, p.15 sidebar.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Ganahl, Pat, "Swap 'til you Drop", in Rod & Custom, 7/95, pp.68 & 70.
  22. ^ Geisert, Eric. "The California Spyder", in Street Rodder, 8/99, p.34; Mayall, Joe. "Driving Impression: Reproduction Deuce Hiboy", in Rod Action, 2/78, p.26; letters, Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.10.
  23. ^ Fortier, Rob. ""A Little Pinch Here, A Little Tuck There", in Street Rodder, 8/99, p.136.
  24. ^ Hot Rod, 2/87, p.38.
  25. ^ Hot Rod, 12/86, p.52 caption.
  26. ^
  27. ^ Burhnam, Bill. "In Bill's Eye", Custom Rodder 1/97, p.17; reprinted from Goodguys Gazette.
  28. ^ "Mr. 32", in Street Rodder, 2/78, p.40.
  29. ^ Fortier, p.51cap; Bianco, p.82.
  30. ^ Ganahl, p.70 & "Coupla Cool Coupes", p.74.
  31. ^ Mayall, Joe. "Joe Mayall's Driving Impression: Reproduction Deuce Hiboy", in Rod Action, 2/78, pp.28 & 29; Hot Rod Magazine, 11/84, p.6.
  32. ^ Hot Rod Magazine's Street Machines and Bracket Racing #3 (Los Angeles: Petersen Publishing, 1979), p.65.
  33. ^ Hot Rod, 2/87, p.43.
  34. ^ According to IHRA Executive VP Ted Jones, in Car Craft, 1/91, p.16.
  35. ^ Popular Cars, 12/85, p.51.
  36. ^ Hot Rod Magazine, 11/84, pp.46 & 50.
  37. ^ Hot Rod Magazine, 11/84, p.7.
  38. ^ Hot Rod Magazine's Street Machines and Bracket Racing #3 (Los Angeles: Petersen Publishing, 1979), p.33.
  39. ^ Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.143cap.
  40. ^ Yunick, Henry. Best Damn Garage in Town: The World According to Smokey.
  41. ^ Street Rodder, 12/98, p.292.
  42. ^ Toploader history
  43. ^ Rod & Custom, 7/95, pp.26-7 & 33.
  44. ^ Street Rodder, 2/78, p.43.
  45. ^ Chevrolet Chassis Service Manual, 1963 edition, sec 0-4
  46. ^ Street Rodder, 7/94, p.145.
  47. ^ Hot Rod, 2/87, p.47, & 12/86, p.33 caption.
  48. ^ owner of the car
  49. ^ Street Rodder, 12/98, p.47; Rod & Custom, 7/95, p.29.

External links

  • National Hot Rod Association
  • National Street Rod Association (NSRA)
  • Hot Rod Magazine
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