There are many theories on the origins of the name “Hot-Rod” and it has fueled many heated discussions around braais and family dining room tables. This American term became commonplace in the 1930s or 1940s as the name of a car that had been “hopped up” by modifying the engine in various ways to achieve higher performance. A term that was common in the early days to refer to a hot rod was a “gow job”. This has fallen into total disuse except with historians. Out of curiosity we have decided to share a couple of the stories out there.
Some might argue that the term simply was born due to the replacement of the camshaft with a new (“hotter”) version, sometimes known as a hot stick or hot rod, when manufacturing these beautiful machines.
Another quick explanation is that the term is a contraction of “hot roadster,” meaning a roadster modified for speed. This seems logical and believable. But we leave it for you to decide.
Other myths take a more personal route to the birth of this widely used term, like the theory by Hotrodsonline.com. They say it was a police term used first to describe a firearm, later a ‘souped up’ car, but it had its origins in the early age of the firearm. When muskets were loaded and the powder was loaded with a ram rod. If the battle was fierce, the rod would become red hot to the touch. The person in battle was a called ‘hotrodder’. As time went on and guns changed, it still was called a rod along with other names, but primarily called a rod. This is where the police part comes in. Police began to call the piece used in the commission of a crime, a hot rod. So it was a police terminology, or slang, for a hot gun or hot rod used quickly at the drop of a hat. Then the problems of car racing came into play and soon the term took on a new meaning. This time referring to a modified vehicle that was used for illegal street racing. They provide proof of the theory in the form of an old movie made in the early forties, call “the devil hitches a ride”, and in that movie a cop involved in a car chase, said over the radio that he was following a suspect and the guy was “packing a hot rod”.
Some history books suggest that the term seems to have first appeared in the late 1930s in southern California, where people would race their modified cars on the vast, empty dry lake beds northeast of Los Angeles under the rules of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), among other groups. The activity increased in popularity after World War II, particularly in California, because many returning soldiers had been given technical training in the service. Many cars were prepared by bootleggers in response to Prohibition to enable them to avoid revenue agents (“Revenooers”).
There is a contemporary movement of traditional hot rod builders, car clubs and artists who have returned to the roots of hot rodding as a lifestyle. This includes a new breed of traditional hot rod builders, artists, and styles, as well as classic style car clubs. Hot Rodding is still a vibrant culture worldwide. The hot rod community has now been subdivided into two main groups, street rodders and hot rodders, but this is a topic for another day.