What Makes a Hot Rod a Hot Rod?

Learn what makes a hot rod different from other cars - from its origin story to its modern day uses.

What Makes a Hot Rod a Hot Rod?

The National Street Rod Association defines a hot rod as a “car from 1948 or earlier that has undergone some modernization in the engine, transmission, interior, or anything else.

Hot Rod

magazine defined the term as one of the first American cars to be modified to improve its appearance and performance. In the early days, the term applied almost exclusively to disassembled roadsters built for acceleration. The definition has been expanded to cover almost any type of motor vehicle so modified for the street or for racing.

Similar to the street rod, the hot rod is a car from 1948 or earlier that has undergone some modernization in the engine, transmission, interior, or anything else. A hot rod has a more “improved” engine because it's designed for racing. At some point, the term “Street Rod” originated. Although sometimes used interchangeably with hot rods, it really is different from hot rods.

Street rod is a more street-friendly car for everyday use and it has to be functional and safe. It's not so built just for speed and racing. In addition, they can be modified as much as the owner wants. They also have to be functional and safe.

Nowadays, street bars have further evolved to become cars built more for a show. Most of them are only driven occasionally or not driven at all. They only leave the garage to be transported to a show or competition in a closed car trailer. Owners are sometimes so obsessed with keeping their “show car” spotless, that driving the car on the street is not seen favorable to them, as they want the car to arrive at the show in “showroom conditions”.

There are magazines that feature traditional hot rods, including Hot Rod, Car Craft, Rod and Custom, and Popular Hot Rodding. In an effort to present hot rods in the right light, in January 1948, the first Hot Rod Exhibition was held in Los Angeles. Sometimes used incorrectly and critically to refer to rods built strictly for appearance and comfort. Hot rod music would turn out to be the second phase of a progression known as California Sound, which would mature into more complex themes as the decade passed.

By the 1970s, the 350 cubic foot (5.7 L) small-block Chevy V8 was the most common engine choice for hot rods. Like many hot rodders, my story at Hot Rodding started young, and I was self-taught at 15 years of age. The new post-war United States saw a golden age for hot rods, which became a hot madness among young people. Around 10,000 spectators attended the exhibition and saw the positive qualities, such as craftsmanship, engineering and safety of hot rods.

The end of World War II may have put an end to the first “hot rodding”, but it certainly didn't diminish the passion for them. We'll come back later to talk about body modification and paint terms, engine and suspension jargon, and slang words that have made their way into common use and some that have worked but need to come back. The period between the end of the war in 1945 and the beginning of the 1950s saw a series of factors that came together, mainly in one place, Southern California, creating a unique environment for the hot rod and its culture to be born. With hot rodding gaining popularity, many magazines and associations serving Hot Rodders began along with the need for an organization to promote Hot Rodders images.

The common theme is that heat is related to heating a car, which means modifying it for greater performance. Locals from these countries, influenced by American culture, have created a local hot rod culture that is vibrant in Sweden and Finland, where enthusiasts gather at gatherings such as Power Big Meet and clubs like Wheels and Wings in Varberg, Sweden have established themselves in Hot Rod culture.