History of the Hot Rod

November 4th, 2020

No points for guessing that the hot-rod movement began life in the USA. But the reasons behind its existence and even the origins of the name remain shrouded in conjecture.

Money certainly played a role. Or lack of it, more to the point. Late-1930s America was a country emerging from Depression, where new cars were beyond the reach of younger people and any vehicles they could afford were mostly old and slow.

However, Ford since 1932 had been installing low-cost V8 engines in its mainstream models and ‘speed shops’ were making multitudes of performance parts for those engines, so opportunities were available.

Working often in school ‘shop’ classes, American teens would take an old, cheap body and cut away unwanted metal while adding extra chrome and flashy paint. Then into the ancient engine bay would go a V8 with performance add-ons to deliver at minimal cost what would become the essential North American hot rod.

The term itself may refer to the modified camshafts – machined metal ‘rods’ that helped extract extra horsepower from the under-developed ‘flat-head’ Ford engines. More likely though it was derived from the Roadster bodies fitted to many of these cars – ‘hot roadster’ quickly and conveniently shortened to ‘hot rod’.

Early rod races occurred on makeshift dirt circuits or drag-strips marked out on disused airfields. These venues became commonly available after World War 2, when many military facilities were decommissioned.

By 1951 and with the rodding movement enjoying massive growth, some form of organisation became necessary and the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) was founded. While existing primarily to implement safety measures at drag race events, the NHRA also brought legitimacy to the movement that had been regarded by mainstream America as a haven for street racers and ratbags.

Today’s hot rods encompass a wide range of designs and can cost huge amounts to build. For those who don’t want to risk show-stopping creations on the drag strip, there is a well-supported programme of shows, cruises and other events and a supplementary organisation with 70,000 world-wide members.

The Good Guys Rod & Custom Association was founded in 1983 to support the needs of more ‘social’ rodders. It currently arranges some 18 annual events throughout the USA, catering to all manner of modified vehicles.

Australian rodders began to emerge during the 1950s; their passion fuelled via imported hot rodding magazines.

This country also possessed plentiful supplies of older, low-cost vehicles and cheap V8 engines. Some of these were brand new, still-crated war surplus Combat motors intended for use in bren-gun carriers and other military hardware.

By the 1960s, rodding had found a place within Australian car culture, with clubs forming a and the first car shows being held. 1964 brough the first issues of Australian Hot Rod magazine and 1974 saw the Australian Street Rod Federation established.

National and State display events attended by hundreds of vehicles are held annually, however during 2020 and for 2021 many have been cancelled due to Covid-19 precautions.

Insurance for modified vehicles such as street rods is an Enthusiast speciality. Some members of the Enthusiast Insurance team have built or owned such vehicles, so we understand the time and money involved. Rods will very often travel minimal annual distances and Enthusiast’s adaptable policies reward limited use, making them attractive to owners of modified vehicles.

Episode 1 of Enthusiast’s Sunday Driver series has one of our favourite Hot rods on show from Andy Colalillo.  Click here to see the full episode.

To check and compare Enthusiast’s rates and coverage against the policy you have now, log into www.enthusiast.com.au and select Quick Quote.

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