Taking Back Someday, a Trend at a Time
GETTING ALL EDITORIAL
The Round Six Gearheads had no more than finished recording episode eight of the podcast, when it was clear that we needed to throw down a little editorial content to flesh-out some thoughts shared earlier that night. Each of us had a lot more to say. Some of it just didn’t fit in the moments behind the mic.
What’s fun about this idea is that, opinion-wise, there is a lot of educated experience in the room. Not to toot our own horns, but we’ve all been involved in the industry for over twenty-five years each. A few of us make our livings doing so. One of the gang has even designed and been involved with Street Machine of the Year (SMOTY) winners, top-five finishers and major trendsetting cars. We’re equipped to talk about the subject. Let us know if you like the whole “point/counterpoint/expanded editorial content” for the episode. Perhaps this can become a regular thing.
Again, this is simply an airing of opinions and thoughts, and is in no way to be taken as the final word. Rather, we’d like to think of this as only getting that ball rolling, and welcome your thoughts, opinion and feedback in the comments below. Please feel free to join in the discussion!
I’ve been a car fanatic since I was a kid. Since that time, I’ve seen dozens and dozens of trends come and go. Some of those trends were timeless, and many of them were not. The introduction of each of these “new” trends always grew out of a few common elements that always seems to have poisoned the trend that was current at the time. Car guys always have a tendency to one-up each other. And that usually ends badly when the style “jumps the shark”. I can specifically name a few examples of shark-jumping trend-killers. Instead of trashing on them, I’d rather compliment them instead.
In my opinion, Rick Dobbertin’s J-2000 absolutely killed Pro Street. It did it because it took the style to a place that couldn’t be trumped. The car was over-the-top amazing. But it was like throwing down a DRAW 100 card on Grandma during the family UNO game and then flipping over the table as you walk out of the room. Game. Set. Match. Cue up the next trend.
Ingenuity trumps cash
To me, hot rodding is all about ingenuity, planning, effort, and style. Not money. A better hot rod does NOT mean that it’s superior only because more money was spent on it than the next guy’s car. In a true hot rodding sense, the exact opposite should be true. Honestly, I’m turned off by any car that looks like it built out of a catalog. I’m not rich, and never plan to be. I don’t spend much time in the catalogs unless I have no other option. And then I agonize about spending my hard earned money. I still enjoy crawling through wrecking yards, scouring Craigslist and OfferUp ads, and going to swap meets. To me, that’s what hot rodding was built on.
Today, I’m seeing a trend that’s disheartening. I’m seeing trendsters getting involved in the car hobby solely for the reason of because it’s currently hip. Social media has vaulted these same trendsters into the limelight and has anointed them as movers and shakers of the hobby. Suddenly, we have guys who probably have never changed their own sparkplugs are now driving the hobby and determining what’s cool and not cool.
I’m a truck-guy, and this culture has completely invaded the truck scene. We need to get back to core of what hot rodding all is all about. It’s not about how much money you spend, it’s about how much thought and ingenuity you use. When I was a kid growing up in Louisville, the “rich” kids all had new Schwinn Krate bikes. I had a purple hand-me-down Stingray Jr. that my Grandfather rescued from a junk pile. It had mismatched rims, the banana seat was gone, and the handlebars were off of a girl’s bike.
A year later, my Stingray was looking good. I fed it parts that I bought using my grass cutting money, and the rich kids had trashed their Krates because they didn’t know the value of money or have the skills to maintain them. These same kids were now asking me if they could ride my “cool” Stingray, which I refused to let them. It’s like these same kids have invaded the car hobby.
What’s the next direction for the hobby?
I’d like to see quality-constructed home built cars get some exposure again. Coil spring/leaf spring suspensions, rear tires with some sidewall, engines with some horsepower, nicely done wiring and tubing, and a strict attention to detail. Don’t let the trendsters try to tell you what’s in or out. Take back YOUR hobby. You were here long before they were, and your opinion matters.
I think we’re at a point in the car hobby where it’s time to flip over the card table. I’d love to hear your opinions on this, good or bad.
Oh, the acronyms I could come up with. But to stay on topic, the “SMOTY” began as something to encourage quality, useful builds. Sadly, it’s become more of WHTMCD. Who Has The Most Cubic Dollars.
“Street Machine” (which is a term I’m not particularly fond of) invokes visions of a pissed off looking 60’s or early 70’s American car that will stomp ANYTHING in it’s way, but does so with fit, finish and finesse. Of course the era is way beyond that narrow timeline, but that’s what my sick little mind conjures up. Door slammers. Pissed off, tastefully built DOOR SLAMMERS with full interior. Street cars built to compete on the track.
Whatever happened to usable cars? Why aren’t we seeing entries anymore where function follows form? No doubt, we’ve seen some amazing cars come from high dollar shops over the past two decades. But that’s not a SMOTY contender in my book. That’s a group of rich guys bragging about how much they spent. Not what they and a few select friends built in a two car garage. “Street Machine” is not Concour d’ Elegance and we don’t want it to be.
Throwing a checkbook at a builder is nothing to brag about. Well, among most hot rodders, at least. Who gives a damn how much you paid so-and-so? Show me what YOU built. Or how YOU solved a problem. Show me what YOU designed.
There comes a time when, with anything, it runs the risk of becoming a satire of itself. Or on an even grander scale, its entire movement. Worse yet, it falls into a destructive pattern of following the worst behaviors of whatever preceding trend committed Hari Kari the year before. Consider what became of Pro Street in the early 1990’s. It became far less about emulating the Pro Stock look on the street and simply about one-upping the next guy. Whether it was adding another layer to the already tunnel-rammed with two blower casings stacked atop one another atop an intercooler and eight Predator carbs set-up, or gold plating the seamless stainless, thrice funny car-caged chassis, it turned some great cars into fairgrounds-limited (at best) circus wagons.
There is a method of crafting a satire and leaving it at that… Occasionally, it becomes an instant classic. Dobberton’s J-2000 was just that sort of a thing. It explored what was deemed to be the outer limits of Pro Street, and did so in grand scale.
Being a bit of a geek, bear with me here. The comic book series Watchmen took the satire route, and criticized the heck out of the superhero genre. Yet, there are people who just never “got” that. They viewed the movie, walking away with the impression that it was simply a celebration of a bunch of damaged, costumed douchebags who abuse their power. When Pro-Touring began to grow from the weirdness that Pro Street had become, some people (read as “the major print magazines”) misread the satirical, tubbed builds, and jumped at the chance to usher in a new trend that could sell ad space for new parts. Could you blame them at the time? No, but today you most certainly could. You witnessed the selling-out of hot rodding by the Ad department. And so many played along.
I’ll come out and say it:
The TRENDY Pro-Touring style wasn’t and certainly still isn’t as universally loved as you had been led to believe. If it was, wouldn’t Popular Hot Rodding Magazine, who dedicated their entire editorial content to Pro-Touring, not only have survived, but thrived? Yet, this editorial and feature overload of “g-machines” turned out to be the very thing that killed it. Entire issues of magazines loaded with “Pro-Fairgrounds” cars. There was either a gross misunderstanding of how much a magazine could lead a trend, or some blatant ego-tripping. Perhaps they felt themselves immune to the very death spell they had cast just a few years earlier on anything that wasn’t a Pro-Touring car.
There’s an odd feeling that we’re being led along. The magazines made it their mission to promote just6 certain trends, builders and build styles. If you’re going to tell me that you can’t, without some degree of near pin-point accuracy pick put the cars that will be at the top of any show before the gates even open, then you’re either lying to yourself, or you’re holding onto that childhood innocence and hoping to be inspired again. Perhaps the Pearl Paint Fairy will leave an airbrushed monster shirt under your pillow tonight, too. Innocence is lost. And it ain’t going to be found in the direction we’re headed.
And this is where we find ourselves with the present “Street Machine of the Year” award. If it isn’t Pro-Touring, it isn’t getting a top five. It’s a lot like redefining the word “literally” to mean “figuratively.”
Simply redefining “Street Machine” to mean “Pro-Touring” hasn’t made it so, but rather ushered in an age of excess, with each build aiming to simply out-do the last guy by adding another bank of turbos onto their already squeezed LS engine and making a carbon fiber version of the same aftermarket chassis sitting on 335’s.
Hey, this all sounds terribly familiar.
Hot Rod, Street Machine, Pro Street, Pro Touring, Pro Trailer, Pro Fairground, Pro Platinum Card, etc… These are just some of the different names that build styles within our hobby have acquired over the years. What started out as something where guys (and girls) got together after digging around wrecking yards for hours to find parts that would make your car both cooler and faster. That has now grown into a gazillion dollar business where doing the “wrecking yard crawl” is no longer needed. Even though the crawl is not needed, maybe that’s exactly what’s needed again to bring the purity back to our hobby.
This is not to take anything away from the parts suppliers who can and will build anything your heart desires. But sometimes building stuff yourself is just what’s needed to set you apart from the rest. This very same thing also applies to car builds. Does everyone really need to have the same everything when they build their own “different” car? With all the amazing high tech parts that can be found in wrecked new cars, the ability to build something both “low buck and high tech” has never been easier.
Car style and builds…
This is one that honestly is sorta confusing. Since when did copying what everyone else is doing become original? Does adding more vents or carbon fiber really make your car that much different? There are so many wheel companies out there who can design and build whatever your heart desires. And some even have cool “blems” that can be found for a song. Yet most builders just copy what the other guy is using.
This Pro Touring thing started off by mimicking a certain car that came about in the 80’s (yes, it’s been in the making for that long). Because that car was rediculously cool and fast, and nobody had seen anything like it. The world famous car that has become the focus of of every pro touring builder out there is none other than BIG RED. This iconic 1969 Camaro was the start of the whole movement because the Gottliebs wanted something cool but different than what everyone else was building. Did they succeed? When a Camaro that still “looks” like a Camaro but has the ability to go 200+mph on a regular basis, I’d say it was a huge success! Again, this was a 1980’s build that was done to be different but yet it’s STILL copied relentlessly. So c’mon guys it’s time for a new trend.
Water cooled checkbooks vs. Low buck…
I’m not sure where things went sideways here, but we definitely need to get back to our roots. The days of scrounging around wrecking or tow yards looking for donor cars and parts have thinned way down and I find it kind of disheartening because that stuff is fun! Sure, looking through catalogs, ordering parts and then waiting impatiently for brown Santa (UPS!) to show up is exciting but in the same breath it’s pretty boring. It’s easy but it lacks the “heart” of doing it on your own.
I think the idea of easy has surpassed heart in building cars anymore which is actually sad. Use your imagination instead of your Visa card when building your ride. Do you really need billet hood hinges like everyone else when a drill press, grinder, and a subtle use of chrome and paint can make something nobody else has? Try something new and have fun. As far as “pro” builds go, there’s definitely no lack of talent! The detail, fit and finish of these works of art is completely off the chart. Is a million dollar plus trailer queen a “true street car” when it gets rolled out of a trailer? Sure it is a work of art and I love the detail.
But when you can measure fender and door gaps with the same tool you use to check spark plugs, we’ve lost sight of our hobby. Build it to drive. If you’re calling your car a “driver” but when the only time it’s covering real estate is either in a parking lot or on the trailer going down the freeway, you’ve kinda missed the mark.
Let’s see some rock chips, bug splatters, spilled cokes and enjoy driving it instead of just cleaning it next to your lawn chair…