The Golden Era Of Hot Rods

The end of World War II may have put an end to early hot rodding but it certainly did not diminish the passion for them. In fact, the golden era of hot rods was just beginning to take roots.

With time on their hands and money in their pockets, California servicemen had a burning new desire to build dream cars. With the mechanical and metalworking skills gained in the military, hundreds of hot rodders and fans flocked to the dry lakes races in southern California. Allover the state and even across the country, street racing caught on, which could be dangerous and even fatal sometimes. Hot Rods did attract a lot of negative publicity for themselves showing the darker side of American youth.

The new postwar America saw a golden time for hot rods which became a hot craze with the young people. In an effort to present the hot Rods in the right light, in January 1948, the first Hot Rod Exhibition was held in Los Angeles. Some 10,000 spectators attended the exhibition, and viewed the positive qualities like craftsmanship, engineering and safety of the hot rods. Robert E. Petersen‘s newly-formed Hot Rod magazine, boasted a circulation of 300,000. This clearly marked the soaring popularity of hot rods.

Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), founded in 1938, and the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), founded in 1951, helped a lot in reversing the negative image of hot rods. Civic-mindedness and cooperation between hot rodders and police developed on a positive note. The result was organized straight-line courses instead of the clandestine street racing. This golden age for hot rods saw many enthusiasts turned to building cars exclusively for racing while others were modifying cars primarily for looks rather than performance.

Customizing laid stress on the bodywork while hot rodding sole stress was the engine performance. Severe top-chopping, lowering, or channeling, the entire frame to within inches of the ground was some of the favorite techniques involved. As the golden era of hot rods progressed, details like pin striping, scallops and flames were brought to the level of high art. Custom cars became striking, with strong expressions of individuality. By the end of 1950s, the competition between hot rodding and customizing had grown very fierce.

The 1960s saw the advent of muscle cars, the simple automobiles driven with huge-displacement engines like the Chevy 396, 409 and 427; the Ford 390 and 427. Mustangs and Camaros arrived later in the decade came as smaller pony cars to face the challenges of the early 70s gas shortages. With the rising prices of fuel, the golden age of hot rodding and customizing was over. But was it really over?