Last Reviewed: July 20, 2024
History Index

The history of the American hot rod coincides with the history of the American automobile industry and is the result of customizing production cars to be more exciting to drive. And if you remove the top from a hot rod you have a roadster.

1923 Ford T Bucket

1923 Ford T-Bucket Roadster *

Vehicles built in the 1940s and 1950s have been particular favorites among hot-rodders and as car bodies were "Chopped", "lowered", "sloped", "raked" and "channeled" the "roadster" evolved as a favorite hot rod style. Big-block engines, loud headers and big rear tires are hallmarks of a classic hot rod and the more chrome the better. Sun, surf, drive-ins, rock-n-roll and music from the Beach Boys are all part of the hot road scene and many therefore feel Southern California was the birthplace of this now worldwide craze that has produced hot rod art in the form of posters, watercolors, and wallpaper. Today, a hot rod could be any vehicle from the Antique, Vintage or Classic Car Era that has been modified for appearance and performance.

After World War II there were many small abandoned or in-frequently used airports that invited hot-rodders to race on marked tracks. In the 1950s hot-rodding was becoming so popular, hot rod magazines and racing associations evolved. Soon thereafter safety became a major issue and an enthusiast named Wally Parks decided to solve the problem by forming the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), which established rules based on entertainment and safety. He now hosts the NHRA Motorsports Museum to celebrate the history.

1929 Ford Hot Rod

1929 Ford Hot Rod *

In the 1950s auto manufactures began increasing the performance of their vehicles and the resulting muscle cars took over because they were more readily available to the average speed freak. There are still a large number of hot rod enthusiasts today but they are divided into two main groups: hot rod and street rod. Hot rodder's build their cars following the styles that were most popular in the 1940s through the 1960s using mostly original or old parts. A Street Rod is made primarily of new parts and is either built by the owner or a professional.

1940 Ford Hot Rod

1940 Ford Hot Rod *

Hot rods are vehicles that have been modified to look and go fast and hot rod trucks follow that same trend. Trucks with independent steel fenders and other body components are generally preferred because they are the easiest to remove to save weight. The classic hot rod truck will be as light as possible with the biggest affordable engine. In earlier times that meant reducing the body and bed to the minimal size and removing the fenders to get the best horsepower to weight ratio. However today, with almost unlimited horsepower available, many hot rod trucks have full bodies over beefed up suspension and drive trains.

For pictures of some of the best hot rods and roadsters advertised on, visit our Hot Rods & Roadsters Photo Gallery.