When things evolve slowly it’s easy to overlook the distance that’s been covered. For example, you might not notice the changes in the mirror every morning, but your high school friends at your reunion will. In the same respect, sometimes to be able to appreciate just how amazingly advanced hot rodding has become in the past several years it requires taking a step back and looking with fresh eyes.

Much like the tech industry at large, revelations, discoveries, and applications of technologies to create new and improved products and custom cars come so steadily nowadays that overall most of us remain largely unimpressed by the latest news. It’s just another hot rod with high-end parts, right? That ennui is unfortunate because the people working to advance the hot rodding industry do it out of passion, and that really shouldn’t be taken for granted. These guys just want to help us all build better cars.

The result of that pursuit has created a shift in the hot rodding hobby over the past few years; the scope and refinement of the products, parts, and services has become exponentially more sophisticated. That’s why we say the greatest and most capable hot rods are being built now. And since you can’t stop the forward march of progress, we can only see it getting better. In more than one way, the future really is now.

1. More Shops, Better Shops

The best and most innovative hot rod shops that have ever existed aren’t lost to the past, they’re out there right now continuing to push the limits. And they’re not few and far between any longer. SoCal may have been the cradle, but hot rod shops capable of turning out incredible cars have cropped up everywhere. These days, the next great car that sets the hot rodding community on fire is just as likely to come out of any given geographic region. That makes our job harder, but it also makes them better and the cars more diverse.

On top of that, in the not-so-distant past even the biggest hot rod shops were mostly modest in size and made use of traditional machines that had been around for decades. In today’s modern shops, both the scale and the technology are on the upswing. There’s a large push toward embracing the latest and most advanced technologies to refine builds because while humans are great artists and designers, computers are much more precise. Even the most old-school builders who still hate email are now often directly or indirectly enlisting digital aid during some phase of their projects.

Check out the production floor for The Roadster Shop (our lead image) where many of their custom chassis for hot rods and muscle cars are made. The scale and scope of their operation is impressive by any standards, and the floor is bristling with precision machinery like the CNC Plasma Table, which can quickly and repeatedly cut accurate parts. Once a rarity or purely an outsourced item, state-of-the-art CNC machines are becoming common in-house equipment. Someone has to operate all that stuff, which brings us to another important trend.

2. Staying In School

It wasn’t long ago that hot rodders tended to be along the lines of the self-taught type. But in the same way a toolbox and some driveway experience turning wrenches won’t get you a job servicing new cars today, if you want to work with the best shops you need to come armed with more than a love for cool cars.

Learning by doing certainly isn’t going away, but to rise in the hot rodding industry now requires coming in armed with much less learning to do. Believe it or not, hot rodding is becoming a destination for highly educated and experienced gearheads, and degrees in engineering and related fields are common. The hot rod industry is actually attracting some of the country’s brightest minds.