What is the meaning of Hot Rod?

What’s a hot rod? To me, it’s a blanket term covering anything that’s been modified from factory to look good or go fast. In most cases both.

If you’ve read the magazine, you know Canadian Hot Rods treats it that way. We cover everything from pre-1948 street rods to customs, muscle cars, pro touring, nostalgia drag cars and more. A few days ago a reader called to ask if I could offer any advice on how to set up trophy classes for a local show & shine. The more we talked the more I realized how convoluted and complicated this business of classifying cars has become in the last 20 years or so.

When it came to deciding if the term Hot Rod could be applied to a 1970s car with non-stock engine and aftermarket wheels, we couldn’t reach agreement. We both felt it was a hot rod but input from some purists had him leaning away from the blanket term.

In the strictest traditional sense, a fenderless roadster manufactured before 1940 is a hot rod. Likely the same traditionalists would argue a car can’t be labelled custom if built after the mid-1960s or before the 1930s. In the early 1970s, the term Street Rod began to gain steam and until recently the NSRA (National Street Rod Association) deemed only pre-1948 modified vehicles worthy of being called a Street Rod.

These classifications all have merit and are perhaps necessary when it comes to creating trophy classes for the show & shine trophy hounds. (That’s a completely different column for another time). When it comes to enjoying the hobby who cares?

At Canadian Hot Rods, we don’t. We love traditional hot rods but this hobby has grown exponentially in the last 60 years and the definition of hot rod has long ago outgrown the narrow definition of its infancy.

Cut the guys responsible for the trophy classes a break if they lump your modified ’78 Camaro together with Deuce roadster and a big block ’63 Nova. They are not trying to offend you. All three are very cool and all three are fully capable of representing the term hot rod.

This hobby shouldn’t be about how many trophies you can collect or what category your car fits into. It’s about horsepower and flash. It’s about the visceral thrill you get when you hear the lope of a high lift cam or the whine of a supercharger when you punch the throttle. It’s about the bling of 18-inch wheels and the sweet simplicity of painted steelies wrapped in wide whites.

It’s about flame jobs and pearl. The smell of nitro or burning rubber. It’s about hanging out with your buddies and bench racing on a warm summer evening with the garage door open and a few cold ones. If we get wrapped up in categories, we diminish the hobby.

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