The term hot rod became popular in the s. But the first examples—called gow jobs or soup-ups—were built during the Depression by young enthusiasts, usually with little or no money, who were eager to tinker with what then was still a novel piece of machinery. So, despite its emphasis on power and performance, a hot rod has also always been a social statement, having to do with self-reliance, ingenuity and ultimately independence. It is this added emotional resonance that separates hot rods from mere homebuilt racers, and gives them a deeper definition not addressed by dictionaries. How it all began California, especially the dry lakes region in the southern part of the state, generally is regarded as the birthplace of hot rods. There a cult of backyard mechanics, working with junkyard parts, created streamlined, no-nonsense racing cars for competition against each other over straight-line courses laid out on the nearby desert salt flats. In those days nothing but open country lay between the flats and such small towns as Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank where hot rodding began; and since few rodders had more than one vehicle, it was essential that the cars used for racing could also be driven to the sites, as well as back and forth from home to work during the week. Most early hot rods were Ford Model T or Model A roadsters—cheap, plentiful, and lightweight, having no top and only a single seat.
Anytime we feature a professionally built car in HOT ROD, we get the inevitable letters from folks saying they love the high-zoot stuff, but they also want to see real-world cars they can afford. We hear ya, so back in the July '07 issue we put out the call for readers to submit their hot rods, with the stipulation that they had to be mostly built at home, not by a pro. We picked 24 categories, and the best Homebuilt Hot Rod in each category was promised a spot in the magazine and a cool prize from our sponsors, with one overall winner gracing the cover. Our suspicions were confirmed by the colossal quantity of primo rides that flooded in: Our readers build badass cars! Actually, if it weren't for the required buildup photos, we'd have never believed some of them were built in standard one- and two-car garages. Needless to say, you made our jobs difficult. It took days of wading waist-deep through envelopes and boxes just to separate the thousands of entries into appropriate categories, then several more days of arguing, name-calling, and poo-slinging to settle on the best cars.
According to Rodster.com,
The hot rod is a staple of American history. Often called a street rod, a hot rod is a classic American car with an oversized engine modified for speed. It is this powerful engine that gave the hot rod its name. The term "rod" comes from the connecting rods in the high-power, or "hot," engine.
The street rod is a production-based vehicle that is stylized and modified to increase performance. While not originally designed for sanctioned racing, the street rod was one of the original types of drag race car. Street rod owners vied for victory and glory in informal races on rural roads and city streets. Street Rods can be characterized as production vehicles modified with artistic body alterations and performance enhancing parts.