If you could revisit a typical street rod show 20 years ago, you'd be greeted by vastly different sights and sounds than what we see at a Goodguys show in 2010. Cabbage Patch Kids cleverly mounted to grilles, over-the-hill gals in poodle dresses, old men loafing in folding chairs, and doo-wop songs pouring syrup-like from loudspeakers were the stock and trade of rodding events until just a few years ago. If you were lucky, some octogenarian might pour some high-octane juice into his fairgrounds motor and get his blown, chromed-out highboy to do a burnout on his way out the gate-provided he remembered to take his Geritol that morning. Yes, for many years, performance slept quietly, living only in faded vintage magazines sold in the swap meet area.
Peter White, the owner of...
Peter White, the owner of this '68 AMX, is possessed by a vision of outright track domination. Built by Xtreme Restorations of Slatersville, Rhode Island, the AMX has a race-inspired one-off suspension, a 451ci all-aluminum Indy AMC mill, a Richmond five-speed trans, Wilwood 14-inch brakes, and a completely hand-fabricated interior. By the time this hits, White will have already had it on several road courses to sort it out. To the incredulity of most of the pro builders we spoke to at Columbus, White's AMX did not make the Top 5 in the SMOY competition. Look for more on White's ultimate AMX in a future issue of PHR.
Meanwhile, muscle cars played the part of whipping boy. While street rods received all the lavish fabrication and craftsmanship, muscle cars were doomed to one of two lives: either become restored to like-new condition and wind up in a collection, or be unceremoniously hacked up into a bracket racer. Yet a few cars remained on the road, serving as reminders of our greatest automotive days. These survivors often found themselves in the hands of those who we now think of as visionary. Hot rodders who saw the light got involved with fast street car racing, fast appearing stock tire racing, open-road racing, autocrossing, road racing, and the nascent Pro Touring movement. These guys weren't content with restoring and garaging; they wanted to live life on the edge.
Those intrepid muscle car men learned much, and got faster. Engines, suspensions, brakes, chassis, and fabrication methods improved, much of that know-how ironically coming from the top echelon of the street rod biz. Now, construction quality and style-paint-mattered. Street rod insiders watched in disbelief (and magazine readers with cynicism) as muscle cars became "street rodified." Fortunately, we'd been down that road before. When R&B music morphed into disco in the early '70s, smart listeners recognized the error, and the "disco sucks" movement arrived in the nick of time to squash the errant style. Within a few years, the genetic defect known as "disco" was extinct. (Can we get an "amen?") Like disco, rodified Pro Touring cars are getting a righteous beat down from the real McCoys. And those real McCoys have one primary destination on their calendar: the Street Machine of the Year (SMOY) competition in Columbus, Ohio.
Enigmatically, the Goodguys' SMOY competition places seemingly opposite values on car building. A SMOY contestant must be possessed of award-winning style and build quality, while being capable of very real performance. Every SMOY entry must complete a thorough flogging on the autocross, regardless of pristine paint or sparkling undercarriage. At least that's what's supposed to happen-when it doesn't rain, as it did for the '10 competition. Be that as it may, prior years have seen fierce autocross competition at SMOY, and that's exactly what this year's competitors signed up for.
The SMOY competition notwithstanding, the entire field of cars at this year's Goodguys Nationals-street rods included-are light-years ahead in terms of real performance. The theme has almost unanimously become, "Let's all build cars we can drive regularly without worry." We can thank both the forward-thinking group of enthusiasts at the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association for that, along with some very influential muscle car builders who place a premium on driving their dreams.