Hot Rodding Back in the Day

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Back in the day when I was young it was still the golden age of hot rodding even if Detroit kept pushing out all show and no go aesthetic failures. My first car was a 1967 Ford Mustang convertible. I was just some kid working as a bagger in a small family owned grocery store down at the beach who saved every dime he could until he could plop down the $600 it took to drive that 10 year old car home. Not bad for a first car huh? Metallic forest green against black interior. You dream of owning that car don’t you. I guarantee you that at some point I’ve owned a car or truck or motorcycle you’ve dreamed of owning. I got bored easily.

Back in the day the kind of cars that sell today for what, half a million some of them, could be had for a few hundred bucks and even a Corvette out of the box was $8-10K.

Me and my gang of delinquents didn’t have rich parents to buy us exactly what we wanted so to compete with clowns like for available pussy we built our own rides. Often dragging a car or truck out of a boneyard someone else threw it away in. I once dragged a 1963 Chevy puckup out of a junkyard and the heads were laying in the bed of the truck (they are supposed to be bolted on the engine). Two weeks later I had it up on the road with a fresh brush coat of fire engine red paint. About the only thing you couldn’t buy at the junkyard was a paint-job and many a fine running rod never saw more than primer gray on its skin. That was actually a pretty common look back in the day.

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There was a simple process to turning just about any 2 door car (driving a 4 door was just brutal humiliations galore) into a hot rod. First stop is to the used tire garage where you could pick up an entire set of used rims for $60-100 depending on the brand and type and if there was any tread on them. Shit you were gonna burn em off anyway. Fourteen by 70 up front and 15 inch 60’s in the rear with the air shocks in the rear maxed so your tires wouldn’t rub … too much. This look is called a California rake job. Well it was in South Florida perhaps other regions call it something else. The front of your car looked very low to the ground and the back pretty high like a drag car and it would make the car look much more aggressive and… meaner.

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No hot rod is complete without being able to lift your hood and have something appealing looking back at you. Chrome air cleaner, aluminum valve covers (Micky Thompson or Edelbrock) and yellow or blue spark plug wires and you too could lift your hood down on The Strip with pride. Many of those old cars had enough room under the hood that you could paint your motor while still in the car. A bit of tape and newspapers and most of the visible engine block could be painted. Some guys would even paint their intake manifold with aluminum colored paint to make their engines look more custom to the unknowing eye (girls).

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Two of the things I always did to a car from the 50’s or 60’s and even a few early 70’s cars was to cut off the power steering belt and paint my brake drums. Back in the day having a car and being a young man was about drag racing on the street. No one cared about how well your car cornered and tackled the slalom it was how quickly you could accelerate from either a dead stop or a slow crawl. Power steering belts take away engine power on those old motors and power steering was very sloppy anyway and was prone to over and under steer. Important factors when you are doing 80 mph in a 45 mph zone. And why not paint the drums. Drum breaks were so massive that after painting them a bright color like red, orange or yellow, you could see them easily from behind your mag wheels. and looks especially good with aluminum slots a popular rim style of the day. Sadly drum brakes don’t work very well and many a young man learned the ultimate lesson because of that.

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The longer you owned the car the more stuff you would put on it like a fancy radio, custom shifter and tires with big white letters on the outside were an absolute must. All that effort just to drive all the way to Ft. Lauderdale, deal with snail traffic, and hope your buddies saved you a parking spot on the beach so you could back in, raise the hood, and try to pick up chick and maybe take a ride over to Neba Roast Beef and park and the impromptu car show that popped up every weekend and often during the week as well.

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And if all else failed you and your crew of 4-10 other guys in their cars with or without girlfriends would head on out to the rock pits with some beer and weed and sometimes more. Those were good times and I learned a lot about how vehicles work and how to diagnose problems.

Think of how much fun this was. You creep up to the stop light and you’re first in line. The car next to you is sporting that look that says peddle to the metal. You can barely see the glow of the amber light coming on as a warning to drivers you might t-bone and a sign to rev that big old Detroit engine. If your car/truck is an automatic you lock them brakes and hope the rear wheels break free and heat up a bit before you let go of the brake and launch and if you’re driving a stick you dump the clutch and you’re off. About 35 hundred pounds of pure steel and iron jump off that line, tires spinning both cars screaming smoke filling the air as you accelerate like a space shuttle hoping your breaks coupled with some radical down shifting will slow you down enough not to rear-end the traffic at the next light several blocks away. And you pray, you pray like your life depends on it that this time won’t be the time a rod makes a hole in your hood as if it was shot by a 45.

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When people say to me that it is wrong to want things the way they used to be I think of my hot rodding days and how todays young people will never know the joy of being drunk off your ass elbow deep in grease trying to keep your jalopy running just one more day. Or smoking pot down by the rock pits which is now some sort of family amusement park. They get real mad if I shoot off my gun down there now. Dam snowbirds ruin everything. But I digress.

 

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