As the Editor of two magazines simultaneously, I find myself perpetually defending the defining lines between hot rods (and all of the many sub-categories within the genre) and muscle cars. This is a massive conversation that I will only dance around the periphery because it’ll do nothing but catch fire and become a mess of an argument that there appears to be little to no resolution.
Yet, what I will do is base my following diatribe on a conglomerated notion that while not all “muscle cars” can be considered “hot rods,” no “hot rods” were ever factory-built “muscle cars.”
Hot rods, by their nature are personalized performance machines, and by definition, totally unique to their owner, who is often the builder. Muscle cars came from their respective production lines as performance vehicles, but were, by all accounts, run-of-the-mill.
Only until the would-be owner drove their new purchase home and started tinkering with it did it become a “hot rod.” Ergo, it is safe to presume that no factory-correct restoration is a “hot rod.”
The idea of a “factory hot rod” is a misnomer, as it being the result of an assembly line cancels any claim of its personalized nature. Even cars that were specifically tailor-ordered for a purchaser were still assembled by hundreds of hands, and not by a single pair of hands in a garage.
It is this cause that gives hot rods – true hot rods, at least as judged by the do-it-yourselfer – so much more credibility in the hearts and minds of diehard enthusiasts. Not only is the hot rod’s owner praised or critiqued for their execution and creativity by their peers, but by how much of the car they did themselves. Thereby, it goes without saying that the phrase, “Yeah, he signed a check” is and has been the lowest of insults to the core hot rodder.
It means that there is no personal sweat or blood in the car, making it soulless, and completely disconnected from the owner, rightfully making the owner a phoney.
Surely certain concessions are given to those who choose to “let the professionals do their job” in the ways of sourcing out a talented bodyman or interior shop, but farming out the entirety or fair majority of the build wholesale eradicates one’s credibility in the eyes of fellow hot rodders.
I consider this akin to having a nanny or sitting service rear one’s children. Having strangers raise, instruct and cultivate your child rather than yourself not only removes any personal growth you might gain from learning how to parent, but it starves your children of the necessary example of adulthood and familiar love that a child so desperately needs.
And more often than not, the extra hours you work to pay for such services could be spent with you spending the time with them yourself.
In both examples, the person has removed themselves from any opportunity to learn and grow from the situation. In the case of building one’s own car, the experience of pawing over every inch of the car by their lonesome immediately familiarizes themselves with every nut, bolt and screw, unifying them through a rich and long term relationship gained no way otherwise.
The motivations behind this “cash for hot rod credit” theology can be traced to a few thoughts; one, the “been there, done that” sense of completion that many who have already built one or more cars beforehand feel excuses them from doing it themselves. These hot rodders, more than most, are found among our older generations, and thereby are for all intents and purposes, excused.
Second are the “time is money and I have more money to spare than I have time” would-be hot rodder, who generally knows what he wants, but lives in a world of generalities; while third are the hapless followers.
These are those who watched the opening sequence of “Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull” and thought, “Man, those kids in that ’32 roadster sure look like they’re having fun. Maybe I’ll be more fun if I had one…” If you’re one of these guys, go buy a Jet Ski.
As for myself, I have such a deep-rooted respect for the men who pioneered the hot rodding movement and eventual industry that I can’t help but associate my beliefs with this rather polarized sentiments.
The ingenuity, diligence and hard work required to re-engineer and race these machines at lightning speeds only raises the bar for you and I. While the majority of us will never attempt to build a 225mph Salt Flats racer, or a wheel-standing digger, we can take a lesson from their example.
I cannot begin to know what kind of hot rodder you are, nor is it really any of my business. Yet, what I can do is advocate how rich I am from jumping into my project cars with hungry hands and an open mind. Hot rodding, like any true art form, is all about personal expression. No painter worth his salt commissioned another artist to paint his masterpiece and then called it his own. Don’t be the same with your ‘rod. Do it yourself.