Hot rodding is a hobby and pastime that dates back several decades. No one can say for sure when or where people first put big engines into cars to make them go faster, but there are a couple of ideas. During the era of prohibition, bootleggers needed to outrun the police. The fast cars used in the south for this purpose are given the distinction of inspiring NASCAR. For hot rodding, a purely recreational activity, the origins may belong to fun-loving young people in southern California.
In the 1930s, with the Great Depression, young people made do with what they had to tinker with their vehicles. In the ‘40s, young men coming back from the war had mechanical training and the ability to create more sophisticated cars for hot rodding. A lot of this happened in central California, in the part of the state that is flat and wide. With their souped-up cars, the young hot rodders would race the flats for a good time and to show off their creations.
This early hot rodding was all about doing the most possible with few resources. The cars of choice were often Ford’s roadsters, the Model As and Ts. They were inexpensive. There were plenty of them around, and they were lightweight, making these roadsters the ideal hot rodding vehicles. Those working on them would strip off all the parts not needed to make the even lighter, more aerodynamic, and of course, faster.
The late 1940s and early ‘50s are considered by many to be the golden age of hot rodding in the U.S. The activity spread out of California and across the country and organizations devoted to hot rodding popped up as well. The first Hot Rod Exhibition was held in California in 1948 and the National Hot Rod Association, which sanctioned racing, was founded in 1951. The racing groups, magazines, and clubs that formed at this time helped to make hot rodding a serious pastime that would last for decades.