Jim Smart
April 16, 2007
Photos By: The Mustang & Fords Archives

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Restomod has become a popular way to identify modified classic Mustangs and Fords. It's the tasteful execution of significant improvements to our classics-modifications that make them safer, better looking, and more fun to drive. Over the years, restomod has only become better, with more imagination, exciting products, and unlimited potential.

Restomod is certainly nothing new. It's been going on since right after World War II in the late '40s. In those days, they called it "hot rodding," though no one seems to know where that term originated. Urban legend tells us "hot rod" first appeared in a period magazine article addressing this newly emerging automotive phenomenon after World War II.

Hot rodding has been going strong since our freedom fighters came home from the Pacific and Europe 60 years ago. Because there was an abundance of what hot rodders called "vintage tin"-old cars in need of a new shot at life-there was a lot to work with.

When World War II broke out, Detroit stopped building new cars, instead focusing its manufacturing energy on the war effort, building tanks, airplanes, Jeeps, and a host of other things for our military. When the war ended in 1945, there was an unlimited, pent-up desire for new cars. People bought them like there was no tomorrow, creating lots of old trade-ins-vintage tin for old-car buffs looking to make a statement. Vintage Fords, primarily Model As and Ts, and prewar rattletraps from the '30s were popular canvasses on which to paint dreams. Hot rodders built Fords and Mercs using a lot of imagination and a limited budget. Just about anything that rolled was fair game.

Car enthusiasts went racing, and then they went cruising. Hot rodding has its roots in Southern California where old, abandoned airstrips, unexplored dry lakebeds, and great weather became reasons for speed venues. Racers marked out quarter-mile stretches to see who could cover that distance fastest. In time, hot rodding became official with the birth of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Records were kept, events were held, and an all-American tradition was born. From this passion to go fast and look cool came hot rods for the racetrack as well as Main Street.

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What looked bitchin' on those dry lakes and landing strips looked even cooler under the lights of suburbia, and drive-in theaters and restaurants sprang up all over the country-great cruising spots for show-offs with hot cars. Legendary cruising spots such as Van Nuys Boulevard in Southern California and Woodward Avenue in Detroit became good fodder for story telling. On any given Friday or Saturday night, you could expect the roar of hot rods along Woodward and Van Nuys and dozens of other main drags across the country. The term "main drag" came from the major thoroughfares across America that became Saturday night cruising spots. In many a small town, it became known as "cruising the drag,"a term that remains common today.

Hot rods and young people kept drive-in businesses humming. Hamburgers were cooked and sold, movies were watched from behind the wheel-and from the back seat. Lifelong friendships were made. An American tradition was born. It was a golden era rooted in youthful excitement.