This month’s issue celebrates the average guy who builds his hot rod at home—which is the way the vast majority of you get your projects on the road. Most of the cars in our “26 Readers’ Rides” story were partially or entirely constructed at home, which means you will see a lot of familiar stuff. There is a time and a place to be inspired by high-end cars built with the highest skill and the best parts, but it’s also instructive to see how our gearhead brothers cope with the challenges imposed by a limited skill set, a restricted budget, or a little amount of time.
Thumbing through the pages of readers’ rides, it’s clear that there are a ton of different approaches to building a hot rod. And in spite of what some purist snobs may say, there is no right, wrong, or better way to build one. It’s true that there might be a more efficient way to do it, but that mindset really ignores the idea that your destination is rarely as important as the journey you took to get there.
It’s been said that gearheads are wired differently than your average bear. As kids, we gravitated toward shop class instead of the debate team. We built model cars in the solitude of a bedroom while our peers hung out at the playground. We’re better with the English wheel than English class. Later in life, some gearheads become artisans, building or repairing stuff that their lawyer/teacher/doctor peers can only dream of. Others end up working with their hands for a living, making things or servicing infrastructure that is the backbone of this country. They’re doers, not cubicle workers.
A few gearheads end up with superhuman car-building skills, and get known by a single name like Chip, Troy, or Boyd. They first started out as do-it-yourself guys—DIY for short. The one thing you will notice about all the best car builders is that while they are all hands-on, they are not do it alone—or DIA. The difference is that a DIY hot rodder understands the importance of reaching out to others for their unique skill sets, while a DIA guy never ups his game.
While the rich rodder will just open up his checkbook, the DIY rodder uses the social currency of his associations and friendships. "
I get the whole antisocial, bad boy, juvenile delinquent roots of hot rodding. Part of that is in all of us to some degree—the tendency to go it alone. The DIA path is certainly one way to build a street machine. Many have been built this way, and like I said, there is no wrong way to build a car. But the benefits of having some help—or at least some regular outside influence—are huge.
Take crate engines as an example. A regular guy can reap the benefits of someone else’s decades of engine-building experience without having to first build a half-dozen motors the wrong way. For those guys who prefer to concentrate on other aspects of the build, a crate engine may just be the way to go. (Check out our “Click & Buy” story with our 15 fave crate motors on p. 48.) On the other hand, a guy who knows his way around a machine shop and a torque wrench may want to take the opposite approach, letting a knowledgeable friend take the reins on the body and paintwork. I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve heard the story of an engine builder trading labor with a body shop with the net effect being no cash changing hands—and two cars being built!
What sets a magazine-quality street machine apart from a run-of-the-mill hot rod? Strong powertrain? Check. Decent paint? Yep. Presentable interior? It’s in there. Great handling? Roger that. But the most common denominator for a DIY feature car is that the owner/builder inevitably tells us about one or two significant friends or relatives who worked on the car with them. While the rich rodder will just open up his checkbook, the DIY rodder uses the social currency of his associations and friendships. Without having any more cash than the DIA guy, the DIY guy has a huge advantage—and he’ll also have friendships that last a lifetime.