After muscle cars
How Hot Rods filled the horsepower void
IN SEARCH OF SPEED:
If you were searching for horsepower in the Malaise Era, factory produced cars were the last thought in your mind. With no factory mass produced high horsepower cars, gearheads in the United States had only one option left to them: Produce their own. The problem was that new cars had gotten so heavy that rebuilding the engines that came in them, would have almost no effect on them. The simplest solution was to find a pre World War 2 car, remove the old front suspension and install one from a newer car. This would give you a independent front suspension and disk brakes. Next you would swap out the old rear suspension and finally box the frame rails in on the old frame. This would allow you to put in as large an engine as the engine bay would take. A simple rewiring would solve any electrical problems. This was the second coming of the Hot Rod.
Article in June 1970 Rod & Custom magazine. Photo courtesy of: The Custom & Hot Rod Life vast archives.
THE BIRTH OF THE STREET ROD:
In 1970 Bud Bryan, editor of Rod & Custom magazine, began talking about an event that was to be held that August in Peoria, Illinois. It would be a joint effort between the Michigan Hot Rod Association or MHRA and the newly created National Street Rod Association or NSRA. Once the editorial about the 1st Annual Street Rod Nationals was printed in the June issue of R&C interest grew rapidly. Numerous times the magazine said they expected about 100 Street Rods to turn out. On the day of the show 300 Rods registered. Rodders came from all over the U.S. and even a few Canadians turned up. True to their promise participants mostly all behaved. Other than some shenanigans at the Fairgrounds, while taking part in NSRA sanctioned games, screaming tires and reckless driving was not heard of. After three days of comradery everyone pointed their rides toward home and headed out. Little did they know, they were present at an event that would flourish for the next five decades. This year, in August, the NSRA held the 50th Annual Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, KY. Attendance numbers were over 13,000 registered cars.
FROM THE FAIRGROUNDS IN PEORIA, TO A WAREHOUSE IN LA HABRA:
After that first meeting of the NSRA, membership would start to grow and they would reach 50,000 active members by 1995. Regional NSRA events would start to happen by 1973 and attendance numbers would skyrocket as they got older. Along with the growth of participation in the sanctioning body, coverage of the Street Rodding world would happen in numerous new magazines. Street Rod (1971-1993), Street Rodder (1972-Current), Rod Action (1972-1998), Rodders Digest (1981-2007) and The Rodders Journal (1995-Current) are just five of the most famous, Street Rod centric, magazines that were published during the early years of Street Rodding. For these magazines to have flourished right through to the early 2000's says something about their circulation. The magazine reach of Street Rodding was huge and was responsible for most of the scenes growth. Growth that would lead all the way to the small screen. When the Discovery Channel aired the first episode of Boyd Coddington's American Hot Rod in 2004, the Street Rod had finally made it into the mainstream. The show would air from 2004 to 2008 and would bring Street Rodding into the homes of people that had never even seen one before. It was an excellent show, in spite of the fake drama and impossible deadlines.
Above: some of the original Street Rod specialty manufacturers: Left to Right: Speedway Motors, Bob Drake Reproductions, Juliano's Hot Rod Parts, Fat Man Fabrications, Coker Tire, Honest Charley Speed Shop.
In order for all of those magazines to be made and all of those episodes of American Hot Rod to be aired major advertising dollars had to be spent. It is safe to say that the aftermarket automotive world exists in its current form thanks to the Street Rod. I know that's a pretty strong statement, but I will back it up with the following points. Before the increased interest in Street Rods advertisers in automotive magazines were composed mainly of engine component makers. Once people started to build cars from the ground up the demand for specialty parts arose. It wasn't an easy thing to wire a car with rolls of unmarked wire and fused terminals. The advent of aftermarket wiring harness makers, like Ron Francis, allowed the home builder to achieve something on his own in a few weekends that would have normally taken months. Plus, the finished product was a thousand times safer. In a few short years, specialty equipment manufacturers popped up making everything from wheels, windshield wiper motors, fiberglass body panels & complete fiberglass bodies, to guages and even replacement seats in any color you wanted them in. The cash followed around and set the business models for current aftermarket manufacturers. In 2016 the automotive aftermarket was estimated to be worth $335 billion in the U.S. alone, with estimates of $486 billion by 2025. I'll have a little of that, if you don't mind!
1968 Ridler award winner. 1913 Ford C-Cab delivery truck. They don't get much crazier than this! Photo courtesy of: ScottyDTV, YouTube channel.
TRULY A SORTED CAST OF CHARACTERS:
By the end of the first decade of the 21st Century Street Rods were holding their own with Resto-Mods, Beaters, Customs & Antique(Stock) cars. They were born in the waning years of the Muscle car era, came of age in the 1980's and had been enjoying a Renaissance since the 1990's. Not only had they weathered the last 40 years, but they had thrived and brought with them countless innovators, engineers, fabricators and characters along for the ride. Street Rods and the industry that had been built up around them were both set up for even greater things in the next decade. Then, seemingly out of nowhere a 2nd era of factory horsepower thundered to life. This era would be unlike the late '60's, because it would be global. Street Rods would find themselves taking a back seat to Resto-Mods and 600+ horsepower, factory built beasts (complete with a bumper-to-bumper warranty). The open road was going to get crowded.
Keep on Cruisin'!
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Art by: Chris Breeden
About the Author:
"Chris Breeden is a Social Media content creator for Custom & Hot Rod Life on DRIVETRIBE, YouTube and Facebook. After spending 5 years in Southern California, a.k.a. Hot Rod Heaven, while serving as a jet engine mechanic in the United States Marine Corps, he moved back home to Tennessee with an even greater love for Hot Rodded Vintage Tin. Since then he has worked in retail sales and the transportation and logistics industry. In 2018, seeing a gap in Hot Rod and Custom Car coverage on DRIVETRIBE, Chris began advocating for their inclusion on the platform. During the summer months, he can be found all over the Tennessee region covering car shows, meets, and cruise-ins. During the winter months, he can be found in the garage working on his custom 1949 Ford two-door sedan and 1954 F100 truck."