What happened to cool?
By the mid 1990s true Hot Rods and '50s & '60s culture had became a distant memory. Hot Rods had evolved into Street Rods. The teenagers that had once worked on and lived the Hot Rodding life were middle aged and sought out refinement and comfort in their "other" cars. Straight axle front suspensions had been replaced with Mustang 2 IFS units and disk brakes. Street Rodders called this progress. As far as safety goes they were right, disk brakes and third brake lights were a sign of progress in safety. But the world of the Street Rod had become bland and conformists. It was safe and by definition uncool.
The bland was setting in. Photo from: A family album
Street Rods had become predictable too. Row after row of pastel colored, billet aluminum adorned, cars driven by the same people, with the same old stories. The awards ceremonies at shows had become a rotation of cars owned by the same people. With only those with the deepest pockets, that had paid the right builders, getting awards. Stagnation had set in.
A traditional Hot Rod cruising down the street, Photo by: One of my family members,
Then, like a distant engine revving in the night, a true Hot Rod would be seen. Driven by a guy who wasn't even alive in the '50s or '60s (1980s now?). They would appear out of the mist at a show, creeping down the midway, with imperfect paint and rust holes. Then they would be gone before you could get a good look at them. The Street Rodders would call them "Rat Rods". The owners would call them "Hot Rods".
Beatersville, Louisville, KY in 2008. Photo by: Me
Seemingly overnight the "Rat Rod" craze gripped my little corner of the world. Yes, some had plastic rats glued to them, but most were just cars built without a five or six figure budget. Cars built by the people who drove them. No billet, no gray tweed interiors, no creepy stuffed babies hiding on fenders. These were cars born in defiance of everything bad the Street Rodding establishment had put into place. The Hot Rod attitude had returned.
Since we now live in a time when no one does anything small or part way, those Custom or Hot Rodders took the revival of the '50s and '60s counter culture to the extreme. They brought back the clothes, the music, even the campers. They drove their cars every where they went. Trailer queens need not show up in the Custom Culture scene.
The RedNeck Rumble in 2008. Photo by: Me
These new Rodders would still meet in parking lots and fields for car shows like the Street Rodders, but the feel would be different. No one was casting a critical eye over their rides and judging them. Their wasn't row after row of pristine '34 Ford coupes either. Anything with wheels was welcomed into this new world. As long as it met the year cut offs, which seem to be about 1963. I guess they aren't fans of Mustangs.
Ink-N-Iron Nashville, 2015. Photo by: Me
The rise of a new car culture
Call them Rat Rods,, Beaters, Hot Rods, Customs or even Traditional builds if you like, but the one thing they all share is the goal of making something different. Different is cool in their world. The ordinary, the predictable are both shunned. Also, not doing a majority of the work on your own car is frowned upon as well. It's probably safe to say zero AAA memberships are held in this group.
Do you all have a scene like this where you live? What is it like? Do you think its cool or crazy? Let me know in the comments below! Now take it easy and Keep on Cruisin'!
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