What Is Hot Rodding?

The debate surrounding the definition of a “hot rod” has been raging for as long as people have been into cars. We asked a group of Hot Rod Industry Alliance (HRIA) friends to help us define hot rodding in their own words. From the legends of our industry to the next generation, it is clear that hot rodding has less to do with the vehicle and more to do with an attitude and lifestyle.
George Barris, King of Kustomizers

Hot rodding is a combination of various cars, in which owners can be collectors, builders, racers and street drivers and are made with many different designs and power. The basic hot rod could be a Model T, a Model A or a ’32 Deuce. Like many hot rodders, my story in hot rodding started young, and I was self-taught at 15 years of age. In the beginning, the car world called my cars hot rods and, in later years, “customs.” My first show was for race cars, but my Buick Kustom and Deuce Hot Rod drew more interest, and the world of hot rodding grew from there.

Chris Sondles, Owner, Woodys Hot Rodz
A true hot rod is very obvious when you’re a kid and you are into cars, no matter if you grew up in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s or are growing up now. It is what you can afford to buy, modify and enjoy while working on making it better, faster, nicer every chance you get. It isn’t a Ford, Mopar or Chevy; it is the car or truck that ignites a lifelong passion.

Brian Brennen, Editor, Street Rodder Magazine

To me, hot rodding is the building of a “bridge” to a place I haven’t been. In the early days, it was about the “need for speed.” Today, hot rodding is more encompassing, as technology has allowed us to deliver speed in expertly crafted shapes. We achieve overall performance through retina-detaching acceleration, wrapping around corners as smoothly and aggressively as the finest of sports cars, all the while riding in luxurious comfort resting in a cockpit offering amenities befitting the OEM’s finest futuristic technology. Oh, did I mention that the appearance of my hot rod speaks to the dreams of a teenager reading his favorite car magazine neatly tucked between the pages of his history notes?

Rich Evans, Owner, Rich Evans Designs
At first glance, a hot rod is an early car with no fenders, lowered in the front, with a great stance and a high-performance motor with three carbs lined up. But in today’s view of a hot rod, the sky is the limit, from early street rods to modern customs. A hot rod is any car that is modified to be its own. Usually, it’s been lowered in the front with a tough stance, with a built motor and transmission with floor shifter, loud exhaust that you can see, a standout paint job, cool rims with fat tires in the rear and finishing with a cool interior to go with them!

John McLeod, Owner, Classic Instruments

Hot rodding is a way to express yourself through creativity and design. Our canvas is whatever vehicle made an impact on us. The best part of hot rodding is that, after you are done, you get to be with your best friends and travel with your creation to hang out, meet and be with others who live and breathe the same desires. This is why they call us “gear heads.” It also includes the passing of the torch; we have been taught years of creativity and design from gear heads before us.

Alan Mayes, Editor, Car Kulture Deluxe

A hot rod is the simplest of cars—a stripped-down, basic automobile made to go faster, handle better and stop quicker than the car it was based on. All of its parts will serve one of those three purposes. Real hot rods are based on pre-World War II American cars. They have no fenders, no air conditioning, no electronic fuel injection, no billet, no plastic engine parts. Old cars with modern amenities and modern-looking parts are “street rods,” not hot rods. Hot rods are not for the faint of heart.

Dave Lane, Owner, Fast Lane Rod Shop

Hot rods have graduated to an art form—a vehicle modified not just for increased performance but also for refined looks. Everything from correct proportions and proper stance to consistency in theme of the build and materials used adds up to a what it takes to be a hot rod. It needs to function well—acceleration, braking and handling along with a fit and finish correct to the theme of the build.

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