The first automobiles bounced along American streets in the early 1900s, offering millions of people a glimpse of the motorized world to come. Immediately, speed freaks wanted more from their little engines, tweaking the motors and altering the cars in countless ways, all in an effort to make them faster. What do you really know about hot rods?
Within a few years, truly ambitious drivers were modifying their basic Model Ts in ways Henry Ford never could have imagined. They chopped off parts of the cars that they deemed unnecessary, hoping to make them lighter. Then, they dug into the engines too, altering timing, changing the cams, and even tweaking fuel mixtures. Do you know how the most devoted drivers managed to make their cars faster than before?
Hot rod culture began to blossom in the 1920s, particularly on the West Coast, where young folks zipped around looking for trouble. Often, trouble is exactly what they found. Occasional catastrophic car wrecks made headlines, and hot rodders became associated with ne’er-do-wells. What do you recall about hot rod’s reputation in pop culture?
And then, of course, there are the cars – the neck-snapping monsters streaking from red light to red light. Rev the engine and take this hot rod quiz now! We’ll find out if you’re a drag racer for the ages, or if your street nemesis will take your pink slip before you even hit the gas.
Hot rods are modified cars meant to be very fast. Traditionally, hot rods are older-style vehicles, like those built in the 1940s and 1950s, or even earlier models.
In 1973's "American Graffiti," reckless California youths race hot rods in the streets of Modesto. We see many iconic cars, such as the 1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty Coupé and the 1932 Ford Deuce Coupé.
The history is a little vague, but hot rodding probably started on the wide, flat dry lake beds of southern California. There, drivers could take their machines to top speed without fear of cops or wrecks.
Clunky? Not even close. Almost as soon as Model Ts were manufactured, speed-hungry drivers started modifying them for better performance.
Roadster versions were among the lightest early cars, so they were faster, too. Ambitious drivers would then strip out all unncessary items (like the hood and headlights) so the cars would be even lighter.
The early Ford Model T and Model As that were popular with hot rodders had 4-cylinder engines. Most hot rods were four-bangers until the 1930s -- and V-8s -- rolled around.
"Hop ups" is a phrase used to describe engine modifications, such as extra carburetors or higher compression, all meant to make the car go faster and faster.
During Prohibition, some booze smugglers ("bootleggers") wanted fast cars to evade the authorities. And hot rods were just the ticket.
Motivated car owners sometimes "chop the top" of their cars, removing parts of the roof pillars and windows to lower the car's overall profile. The idea, of course, is to increase speed.
In the late 1940s, Bill Burke stumbled upon the idea of taking a P-51 Mustang belly tank and turning it into a car. Later, he used tanks from P-38s.
The earliest hot rods were often rather ragged in appearance, tuned for speed but not for looks. "Rat rods" of today recall that rough look on purpose, emphasizing brawn over beauty.
Countless servicemen were ferried through Southern California during WWII, and many of them were intrigued by the local hot rod culture. They took that love of fast cars back to their hometowns, spreading hot rods all over the country.
In "channeling," hot rodders lower the vehicle on its frame, an act that minimizes the car's overall height. These days, most people use the phrase "body drop" in place of "channeling."
In 1950, an unused airstrip in Southern California became the country's first drag racing strip. The "Santa Ana Drags" even had concession stands to fuel thirsty spectators.
False, although the matter has been debated for decades. Custom cars might be modified simply for the sake of appearance -- hot rods, on the other hand, always feature upgrades meant to increase speed.
In 1947, the Southern California Timing Association was founded. It's the oldest racing organization in America, and it helped improve race timing and safety standards for drivers.
A "Volksrod" is a a modified Volkswagen. Some hot rodders prefer these little cars over larger and more common vehicles like the Model T.
The 1911 Indy 500 sparked a need for speed in America. Suddenly, there were a lot of buyers who wanted aftermarket speed gear, and sellers immediately moved to satisfy their speed-crazed customers.
"Sectioning" refers to the removal of horizontal areas of the car to make it lower to the ground, ultimately for the purpose of making it faster.
In 1948, less than three years after the end of WWII, "Hot Rod" magazine published its first issue. The publication spread the gospel of hot rodding, offering techincal and racing information to drivers all over the country.
No one really knows for sure why they are called "hot" rods. But some researchers think the earliest cars were stolen ("hot") and then repainted and made to go very fast.
Millions of young men learned how to work on motors during WWII. Following the war, they put those skills to good use on cars, making them faster than ever before.
In the 1960s, car makers capitalized on the power craze and began making muscle cars, vehicles that came from the factory already loaded with speed. Muscle cars signaled a major turning point for hot rod culture.
Nitromethane, or just "nitro," is often used as a fuel additive. It boosts engine power and -- you guessed it -- speed.
In 1932, Ford's V-8 engine hit production. Hod rodders eventually realized that this "flathead" engine was a perfect way to satiate their hunger for speed.
The 1949 National Speed Trials were organized at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The salt flats are smooth and wide, perfect for cars with top speeds measured in hundreds of miles per hour.
For obvious reasons drag racing on city streets is incredibly dangerous. In the early 1950s, the National Hot Rod Association helped to formalize drag racing on drag strips, making racing safer for drivers and bystanders alike.
By definition, hot rods are cars that have been modified from factory specifications. And they are always, always faster than the stock versions.
Hot rod engines take many different forms, so they're often classified by fuel type. They may use gas, alcohol, diesel, or other fuel types.
With the advent of muscle cars, drivers weren't as motivated to modify their own cars, so hot rodding declined in popularity. Instead, people invested in their muscle cars.