Hot-rodding began before World War II when young men of modest means tinkered with cars to improve their performance. Besides reworking engines, they often lowered the roof or the entire body, to reduce wind resistance. These cars became a symbol of defiant youth, and the basis for more appearance-oriented customizinggaudy paint jobs and chrome pipesin the late 1940s and 1950s. Media portrayals of youth culture in the 1950s made icons of these modified vehicles and helped to spread the popularity of customizing.
Hot rod, 1952
Myles Theberge of Portland, Oregon, and his hot rod, 1952. The car is a modified a 1932 Ford, painted reddish pink with a chartreuse and black interior. He clocked 90 miles per hour in quarter-mile drag competitions.
Drive-in on the strip
Drive-in restaurants, such as the Jim Dandy on Sandy Boulevard, became gathering places for young Portlanders, who increasingly had access to either their parents or their own cars.
Hot Rod, by Henry Gregor Felson, 1950
Mass market novels like Hot Rod made the hot-rodding phenomenon seem like a widespread form of youth rebellion. Its lurid cover glamorized speed and mobility even as the content warned of the terrible consequences of dangerous driving.
Ford Hot Rod, 1939
This hot rod is typical of many that cruised during the late 1940s and early 1950s. John Athan of Culver City, California, built the car in 1939 from an older Ford. In 1948 Athan installed a Mercury V-8 flathead engine, favored by hot-rodders for its greater power. Elvis Presley drove the car in the 1957 movie Loving You.
Indian motorcycle, 1941
Harley Davidson motorcycle, 1942
Motorcycle riding and racing were popular after World War II. New and used American models and British imports were much in demand, especially among returning veterans who had ridden motorcycles during the war. Harley-Davidson and Indian brand motorcycles dominated the market in the 1940s.