How many times have I written about it? Weekly it seems… And yet still I don’t feel like I have put it in words appropriately. So many things about hot rods and kustoms just aren’t tangible or describeable or teachable. It’s something that just comes to folks and to further complicate things, the definition of “the look” isn’t transferable from person to person. It’s a personal thing.
Some folks find it in the colorful and cocky 1960’s. Other folks find it in the more subdued, but still experimental 1950’s. I find it in the cars built mostly in the early 1950’s and late 1940’s. Simple. Subtle. Business like.
And so in keeping with the selfish tone of this post, I will focus mostly on the early period of hot rodding/customizing in describing “the look” from my point of view. Maybe we can get some guest bloggers to describe their side of a different period sometime soon.
While the world was busy rebuilding normalcy following WWII, hot rodders and custom coach craftsmen were building the most simplistic of cars. Their objectives weren’t swerved by pre-conceived notions of show or performance pasts – they were simply building a better car for their needs than that of which they started.
Kustom guys focused completely on their vanity. The first guy that I always think about is Harry Westergard. He took the stock offerings from Detroit, continued the line first drawn by the Motor City designers, and made the cars more consistent. Subtle reverse rakes and flowing top chops made the cars look like powerful motor boats worthy of an asphalt wake. To show off these lines, paint was almost always dark and even more often a single tone. Interiors were simple, pleated, and luxurious… It was as if Henry was building a car that an assembly line never could.
Hot Rod guys shared the same sensibilities, but put them to work with a different objective – go fast. Stances were athletic. Lines were disregarded for aerodynamics (chops) and overall weight (Fuck the fenders). Most time, money, and effort went into drive-trains and experimental formulas for speed. “The look” was created as an outcome for necessity. The hot rods of the period were simple, industrial, and mechanical.
It amazes me just how much these cars define me as a person. I’m a pretty quiet and reserved guy… I’ve never been flashy and I’ve always been particularly singular in thought and ambition. It makes perfect sense that I found “the look” in the late 1940’s and early 50’s.