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The Start of It All

The Start of It All
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In the beginning, there was everything. And there was nothing. A few cared, a precious few had visions. Most had no conception, or even cared about what might be, what might become. And it was rather biblical. Desolate, severe, uncomfortable. But it was all car guys had to work with, and it had to start somewhere.

Sounds fairly dramatic, but the birth of American, and by extension, the world of hot rodding was much more mundane. I’m retelling you all this because from my perusal of contemporary missives, it is apparent that all them whut has been borned of late have little, more often no, understanding how all of this hot rodding stuff came about. I’m talking about all of hot rodding here, bucko. The assumption is more and more that the hobby/sport has always been around, and will always be. It just popped into being, and it needs no support or protection. Just remember, He who alloweth can also un-alloweth! Them being the Big Bosses of Politik.

In reality, hot rodding is just one element of competition that is rampant in the American Psyche. Hot Rodding is a mechanical manifestation of this competition, and with the introduction of the second automobile contraption in the late 1800’s, competition was born. One-upmanship took over, and those pioneers were instantly utilizing cut-and-try engineering (read: hot rodding) on everything automotive. Interestingly, formal engineering (like they teach in universities) has usually come after the fact of invention and innovation, seldom the other way around.

But, as I am often reminded from those guys and gals who labor in racing’s obscurity (the midnight garages, the pits, the test ovals, the back lots), just because something is used in racing doesn’t mean it is ideally suited for the highway. In racing, just as long as it finishes a race in the lead means much more than it being ready for re-use. A three hour five minute lifetime is good enough for a three hour gig!

I am reminded of a saying my old Air Force flight trainer said: “I am going to teach you how to get every bit of performance from your plane. I am going to help you stay alive. I don’t care how pretty your landing is, as long as you can walk away for another day!” Very wise man. If the original concept of an airplane was good, if the subsequent engineering was solid, the final test comes from ultimate use. Now, if that experience can be applied to a mass utilized product, great; but it is not the be-all cure. Racing may improve the breed from Detroit, but the user needs some improvement, as well.

If we apply this to everyday street rod use, then it would behoove each rod owner to understand his ride. Inside, outside, upside down. Nothing makes me more nervous than climbing in the cockpit of a homemade airplane, going for a spin. I don’t know that bird nearly well enough, and it is only as good as the worst weld. Same for a race car, same for a street rod.

Example: A few years back I ended up with a roadster that had been built by a recognized pro shop. Well, supposedly recognized and professional. One day I decided to pull the radiator and clean up the front end. To my dismay, I found that the front crossmember (suicide type) was within a simple hard road bump of leaving the chassis rails. There were no gussets anywhere, the metal used was substandard, and here was an accident narrowly averted. Street rodding (and racing) only improves the breed when good common sense starts the game of play.

On this subject, I am reminded of what Boyd Coddington said when he came to Australia and discovered a person driving one of his highly publicized creations---“You drive that car? We didn’t build it to be driven!”

So much for the “professional” improving the breed.