There's an old thought experiment that goes, "If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, is there a sound?" We can butcher the words around to say, "If there's a cool hot rod in your garage that nobody can see, what's the point?" The saying may be entirely hacked at this point, but the meaning is still there. The readers who answered our photo contest call for pix and specs of their muscle cars (way back in our June issue) may have been out of their comfort zone in the role of photographer, but perhaps they felt more comfortable in the role of philosopher—clearly they got the idea that it's not a real hot rod (or a teapot for that matter) until people actually see it.

Street machines and muscle cars are all about being seen. Even the guy with the lowliest jalopy knows this. Take any mid-1970s rust-pile Camaro out on the freeway and all the cars in your neck of traffic will practically wreck themselves trying to get a glimpse of it. (We know firsthand from when we bought Project g/28, our old 1976 Camaro project car.) It's funny to think the guy with the shiny new Lexus is making $700-a-month payments, but you're getting all the looks, be that as it may, with a $700 car.

And while we're on the subject, the truth is, most guys with hot rods can't and don't spend $900,000 on a muscle car—the reality is closer when you chop a couple of zeros off the end of that number. There is arguably a disproportionate amount of attention on feature cars in the six-figure range—heck we're even seeing them seven figures. As we've pointed out before, there's a lot of amazing design and fabrication going on there by teams of extremely talented people, and it's certainly worth a closer look. Nevertheless, the real-world machines in our garages are the ones that are closest to our hearts. These don't get nearly the attention they deserve from the media, and we aim to fix that with our annual Popular Hot Rodding Photo Contest sponsored by Auto Meter.

Take for instance the winning entry sent in by Wilber Laboy of Las Vegas. It's a 1974 Ford Maverick—not exactly the go-to model you automatically reach for when contemplating your next street machine build. But here's the thing, when a car has become so woven into the fabric of your life, especially your formative years, emotions and ideas run deep, and it paints your view of the automotive world in colors that can't be seen by just anybody, unless you are, perchance, another Maverick guy. That's a special connection that just doesn't happen unless you've got a guy willing to take a picture (and a mag willing to print it). To that end, we're hoping that everybody who sent us a usable photo enjoys that cool moment when somebody comes up to you at a gas station, message board, or a car show and says, "hey, I saw that car before!" You will feel about 10 feet tall when that happens. You may not like every single car in this month's Readers' Rides story, but we're betting there are enough nice toys here to show you what is possible on a regular-guy budget. Who knows, you might even pick up a new idea or two, and that '74 Maverick for sale down the road might look just a little bit different to you now!

Auto Meter Custom Shop Gauges
Until very recently, if you wanted custom gauges for your ride, you had to pay dearly for them—if you could even find someone to do them. Only the most lavishly equipped machines on the show car circuit had one-off instrumentation. Then about three years ago, Auto Meter came up with a great idea: set up a custom shop for automotive gauges. The Auto Meter Custom Shop lets customers design their own gauges with unique color faces, ticking, pointers, cover glass, fonts, bezels, and lighting. If it's part of a gauge, the Auto Meter Custom Shop can do it for you. After logging on to the Auto Meter Custom Shop website, just download the Custom Shop configurator, and start picking out your gauges with all their features. As you build your dream gauge package, the gauges take shape right on the screen. You can try out several different designs, save them for future reference, or compare them. You can even print them out and try them in your car before ordering. And all while you're building your virtual gauges, the cost is updated and displayed with every revision. You'll also be surprised how affordable it is. Once you order them, they'll show up at your door in a beautiful handcrafted wood box.

We want to thank the crew at Auto Meter for making custom gauges within reach for the average guy, and for sponsoring our 2013 Photo Contest. The prize—$800 toward the purchase of Auto Meter Custom Shop gauges—is enough to cover all but the most elaborate gauge combinations. Congrats to reader Wilber Laboy of Las Vegas for winning this monster prize—we know his silver and purple 1974 Maverick will put the Custom Shop configurator through its paces!

  • 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix
    In this month's Hometown Hot Rodding, we check out our readers' rides including a 1955 Chevy Bel Air wagon dubbed "Las Vegas."
  • November 2012 Hometown Hot Rodding
    “Unreal!” “Very nice!” “Sick car!” Earl Blundell says it’s amazing to him to hear these things about his Firebird after working on it for so long.
  • August 2012 Hometown Hot Rodding
    Steve Travers’ first car was a ’67 Camaro, so he’d been on the hunt for a first-gen F-body when he came across this ’68 Firebird.
  • 26 Readers Rides
    Car mags are usually packed to the gills with high-dollar rides made from unobtainium, and it can be frustrating if you’re trying to wrench together your own project on a thin dime.