People who aren't car nuts just can't understand how powerful a hot rodding idea can be. Once you get the inspiration for a car project in your head, it just grows on its own and there's nothing you can do. We are essentially slaves to it as the tiny acorn turns into a sapling, and then into a huge oak tree. How this happens is a mystery, and it's miraculous. Over the years, I've had maybe a dozen serious muscle car projects, which I figure is about average for a gearhead my age. Some guys have a lot more, and a lucky few are fortunate enough to sustain a lifelong "relationship" with just one or two cars. In any case, once a hot rodder gets the right idea for his project, he's basically married to the idea until he either divorces it or meets his maker.

What fascinates me the most is the mechanics of how, why, and when a powerful hot rodding idea takes shape. What influences us? What creates the wonderful panoply of variation within the hobby? Even within build styles there are divisions and subdivisions of design and functionality, whether it's Pro Touring, Pro Street, gasser, nostalgia, custom, restomod, or what have you. We are drawn to a specific idea, one that resonates the strongest with us. Sometimes we know why (my daddy had a car like that!), and other times it's an enigma.

The mind of the hot rodder has a thirst for automotive ideas that cannot be slaked. We buy magazines, surf the web, go to shows, hit swap meets, and plan our vacations around events because we're constantly looking for new things, but more importantly, we're looking for affirmation of closely held beliefs. (Do other people like a certain model of car as much as me? Am I the only one with these wheels? How do different colors look on a certain car? And my favorite: Will I stumble into a really cool make and model of car that I've never heard of?) The search for something new and the desire for validation does not end, it only grows.

I will say that given the strength and conviction of our hot rodding persuasions, we are incredibly intolerant of each other. Our own hot rodding ideas are always superior, and the further someone else's idea is from ours, the less we like it. Example: I could never understand how someone could ruin their own car just to insult someone else. A moron will put a cheap decal on his rear window that alienates a million other guys with a different make of car, and it makes him feel good? It's like the guy's advertising that he's an asshole. When I see that, it's hard to see the potential for anything cool about the car—all I see is the insecure idiot behind the wheel.

It's funny how state legislators and federal agencies postulate that with the stroke of a pen they think they can simply make an entire category of ideas disappear. Unsightly cars or parts in your backyard? Poof. Wrenching on a more modern motor or car that's been arbitrarily deemed off limits? Step away from the wrench and put your hands in the air. Painting a car in your garage? Better hope your neighbor doesn't turn you in to the local air quality management district. It's getting better, but in the recent past, politicians and bureaucrats looked at car enthusiasts as hoodlums whose ranks could be easily thinned by fees, fines, levies, and taxes. It's enough to make your blood boil, but that's not my real point. A closely held hot rodding idea is sometimes the only thing in our lives that says "yes" in a 24/7 world of "no." It is so significant to us, it can't and won't be stamped out, no matter its form. It's simply naïve for state and federal agencies to think we're going to walk away from something that important just because someone at the Ministry of Silly Walks scribbled his signature on a piece of paper. (Monty Python fans laugh here.) Fortunately, some of our elected officials are starting to understand, thanks to the efforts of the SEMA Action Network.

When I'm deep into a project, it doesn't matter where I am or what I'm supposed to be doing, my imagination drifts off to my current muscle car project. (Before I got this job, I used to get in a whole lot of trouble for that.) I usually fantasize about how pissed off the motor's going to sound, how cool the wheels and stance are going to be, how deep it's going to shove me back in the seat, how hard it'll corner and stop, and what the steering wheel will feel like in my hands with some opposite lock and the rear tires breaking loose at full throttle. I could be years and many thousands of dollars away from that car being a reality, but in my head, I'm already there—it's just a matter of taking things one small step at a time.

We take confidence in all our tiny steps because we have two very important things going for us: Many others have gone before and proven it could be done, and in many cases, so have we. And then there's the strength of the idea that has taken shape. We create the car in our mind, filling in all the little details— something an old college professor of mine used to call "symbolic rehearsal." Before we actually build a muscle car, we've built it and driven it a thousand times in our head, sometimes even in our sleep. The real test is when it finally gets built. How does it measure up to the dream we've given shelter to for years? Sometimes it's dead-nuts on. Other times, it needs tweaking. Either way, it sure beats not trying!

"I could be years and many thousands of dollars away from that car being a reality, but in my head, I'm already there..."