Doane Yawger: Hot rods still fun after all these years

November 19, 2011 

Doane Yawger, Sun-Star reporter

MERCED SUN-STAR

One of the most fun constituencies in today's vintage vehicle realm has to be hot rods. Hot rodding dates back to the 1930s when young people modified Model A Fords to go fast and maybe look a little less stodgy.

Sixty to 70 years ago, what we now call vintage tin was cheap and plentiful and a whole car could be picked up for a couple hundred bucks. In many cases a hot rod is the amalgamation of parts from many different early vehicles. As long as the parts do the job and don't look out of place, the hot rodder doesn't care.

The 1932 Ford highboy roadster, an open-air car without fenders, has to be the icon of hot rodding, the ultimate vehicle to own. If you can't find original parts, 1932 Ford reproductions are available, all at a somewhat premium price. That includes brand-new bodies, chassis and other key components.

Back to the fun element. Taking a drive in the countryside in a 1932 Ford roadster and ending up at a cruise night or hamburger joint has to be one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have behind the wheel. When I think hot rods, a smile quickly comes across my face.

Thrilling is another way to describe the experience. Comfort takes second fiddle to coolness. Many hot rodders are seasoned long-distance travelers, but I'm not sure how hardy I would be racking up thousands of miles in the 100-degree sun or in a brisk Wyoming wind. But I'm willing to try.

While winter is approaching -- with caps and jackets advised, cruising in a roadster still would be a delight. Since they are lightweight and usually powered by modern V-8 engines, hot rods are fast, noisy and borderline scary.

The Merced area has been a bastion of old car collecting for years, and the hot-rodding element figures prominently. Several local clubs cater to hot rodding and its slightly more civilized and upscale version -- street rodding. Easily a dozen hot rods show up for all the local cruise nights and even more at organized events. They turn heads wherever they go.

Hot rods sometimes border on the bedraggled. Finished paint, fenders and seat covers aren't absolutely essential to hot rodding. As long as there are a floorboard without any holes, brakes that work, a chassis that tracks a straight line and turns when it's supposed to and the shocks don't rattle the teeth, a hot rod is good.

Come to think about it, I'm not sure just what years are represented in hot rodding. The range could be pretty broad. A souped-up Camaro, Mustang or Barracuda could constitute a hot rod in my book.

While hot rods are more than 75 years old, the fun is still there.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@ mercedsun-star.com.

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