06/30/2014 06:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hot Rods - Extreme Expressions of Speed and Death


America is all about life, liberty and the pursuit of one's personal version of happiness and in today's politically correct world, few places express the founders' original ideals like Hot Rod shows.

The Central Coast of California has become a stomping ground for Hot Rod enthusiasts and every year Hot Rodders descend upon small towns and turn them into a walk on the wild side. If one asks what makes a Hot Rod Show so hot, the word "extreme" is the first superlative that comes to mind.

Hot Rods are mostly low rider, "souped-up" American cars from the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's. However, they are not just ultra fast, restored antique cars with their exterior panels removed. In fact, they are carefully designed to show off their chromed mechanical components, thus, their outer likeness to the original vehicles becomes somewhat superficial.

Interiors are often stripped to the bare minimum, exposing the steel frame and bodywork and Hot Rods then effectively become a caricature of the original automobile they were made to resemble. Safety in the context of Hot Rods is an oxymoron, since Hot Rods have no airbags or interior padding, no crash zone and only the most rudimentary and symbolic bumpers.

What they lack in safety they make up for in power. Exposed engine blocks, with chrome plated manifolds and exhaust pipes popping out in the most unusual places.

And how about that paint job? Since decoration is such a big part of the Hot Rod looks, flames, skulls, cowboy graphics and American icons are plastered all over their luminescent bodies, to make them stand out in a crowd.

Assembly quality is not standard, with large tolerances and gaps that seem devoted to the inch system rather than to the standard automotive metric system. Seams and parts do not necessarily line up, just as in the old days before the Japanese Total Quality wave swept through US car manufacturing. Door hinges are exposed and accessories have a distinctly disconnected and bolted on quality to them. Somehow though, it all seems to come together in one holistic statement of "built tough."

Hot Rods are definitely head turners and can bring a nostalgic smile to anyone's face. When seen humming along on the freeway, they express a relaxed, casual joy of life. A special dress code seems to go along with the Hot Rod look, with men and women dressed in black, wearing black sunglasses and shorts or short dresses, with their arms covered in gothic tattoos.

Heavily modified by their owners, these highly expressive objects of art stand in stark contrast to mass manufactured, environmentally responsible, foreign imports. Do they express a nostalgic longing for past American glory, as in "rebels without a cause?" Or, are Hot Rods simply expensive toys and the American version of an Italian Ferrari? If you have yet to attend a Hot Rod show, this can be your official invitation and passport to California's Central Coast in the summertime.