What used to be Hot Rodding

by John Niolon


I was flipping channels one weekend while eating lunch looking for something car or tool or speed related definitely nothing with a round ball, either small white or large brown. The Cheerleading finals on ESPN slowed me up for a minute or two, but I continued my search until I finally stopped at a "hot rod" show on TNN. I won't mention the name but it's one of several where two guys host a 30 minute show on horsepower or trucks or backyard garages or whatever.

I've watched "at" these shows for a few months and it finally got to be more than I could bear. I once thought the concept behind these shows was a how-to approach to our hobby, much like we in the real world have to do things ...find something that fits and make it work. Like putting a Ford 9" rear end under a '37 Chevy truck or a '86 Chrysler front clip under a '56 Ford Pickup. Norm Abrams does this on his woodworking show. He actually make things and adapt things to his purpose. He build things to suit his needs.

After watching their teleprompter led ad-libs and jokes I started thinking about the media and our hobby. One duo actually showed out-takes from their show where they had to film screwing a nut on a bolt 6 different times until they had it perfect and it seemed effortless. Someone please tell me what in this hobby is effortless and what would it be worth when you completed it.. We drop things and cut things wrong and break stuff. Of course I'm sure things are easier when you have a shop that would embarrass a NASCAR team shop , complete of course with chassis dyno and excited cascading electron microscope doo-hickey (in case you need to inspect your piston rings on a molecular level) . And, clean ??? my shop is always that clean with nary a smudge on my checkered flag floor tile, yea right. I can drop things on my garage floor sometimes and they are immediately swallowed up by the dirt and clutter. Which brings up a theory that is very hard to verify but believed to be true states:

There is a phenomenon that is a part of the automobile hobby. It's discussed in quiet voices in secret meetings behind heavy oaken doors, and is reported to be very similar to the worm hole in space. This field of negative energy attracts and holds all automotive nuts, bolts, washers, clips, springs and non replaceable hardwares that fly, fall and slip from our grip. It's an ever expanding area in the void of that other dimension upstairs and one room over from the Bermuda triangle. It is theorized that these lost parts are converted by some secret practice of alchemy into those unrecognizable modules, boxes and thing-a-ma-jigs that populate the engine compartment of modern vehicles. But anyway  Those with those pristine shop floors don't believe this theory and laugh hardily at those of us who do. But we know !

But back to the Hot Rod shows. I think the shows are much more about merchandising than our love of automobiles and other speed related equipment. They have turned into 30 minute commercials touting all the bolt-on "stuff" they can screw onto a car or truck or boat in between commercials for other screw on stuff. Think about these same guys (with different advertisers logos on their shirts) talking about new attachments for your home appliances. (it slices... it dices... Change the shop to a kitchen setting of course. Or plug in a lake setting and these guys are in khaki shirts with epaulets and gargoyle glasses and a ball cap with a gold hook on the bill talking about rubber worms and add on sonar.

I have yet to see any of the "horsepower" boys or the "shade tree" guys fabricate or modify a damn thing. I did see them splice a piece of wire once.... after talking for 15 minutes about all the features of the new wire stripper and the hoorah wire splices... "and they're available at Pep Boys, Autozone and other fine automotive parts suppliers"

There has been no burning, grinding, hammering, welding, plasma cutting, bending, gluing or screwing around with anything that wasn't CNC cut and computer designed to "fit the application"... there ain't no HOT ROD shows on the T.V. ...there are fast car shows, slick car shows, new car shows and car evaluation shows,,, but I'm sorry son, there ain't a home built hot rod in the bunch.... as Tim Wilson (my favorite redneck comedian) so eloquently says it..... "it's a sorry world "!

What I'd like to see (in my perfect world) is a show with a guy, or guys, that teach you how to plumb brake systems, how to bend and flare tubing. Or, install a home made transmission mount fabricated to "fit the application". It wouldn't be out of the question to shorten a Ford rear end and fabricate some ladder bars to hang it from over a series of shows. How about installing new floor boards in your classic Mustang including cutting and bead rolling the floor panels ??? Now... that would be of interest to a much larger audience than bolting on a new tonneau cover on your 2000 Chevy step side. Don't you think ???

I think there are a lot of hobbyist who would support a show like that and buy the how-to videos that show the details. The current guys sell videos of their shows..but who (except the guy who owned the 2000 Chevy step side with the new tonneau cover) wants to buy a video tape of a "30 minute commercial")

Maybe it's not do-able. In their defenseĊ‰  guess the blow-through from the plasma cutter removing the floor boards would reek havoc on their checkered flag flooring. And that grit and grime from a 4 inch grinder just plays the devil with a perfectly waxed and curled handlebar mustache, I'm sure. I understand that you have to have sponsorship for air time. But do the shows have to center on only the bolt-on or add-in products that the sponsors sell ? It's true that we depend on the after market manufacturers for a large portion of our engines and dress up parts and such. I buy them and so do you and they dress up our rides nicely. I also think that the alleged "hot rod" shows are doing us a disservice by not standing by and supporting the basic premise of hot rodding build what you can and drive what you built.

Maybe a write in campaign would convince the executives of these ventures that a 'build it' format would attract a large viewer base for them audience that is ready and willing to spend money but also has limited funds. Building the pieces of our cars and trucks is not only enjoyable but a necessary part of affording our hobby. I wonder if Eastwood would consider sponsoring a series of shows on metal polishing and buffing if they knew they could sell a boat load of buffing wheels and supplies. Maybe I'm mistaken, maybe most would just buy that slick polished intake from Edelbrock and bolt it on. What do you think ? I don't know ??? Maybe there is something interesting on the Discovery Channel to watch.