I was reading a Hot Rod magazine this week, and one of the writers said something that struck a chord. Basically, he said a guy building a street rod from a 1970 model in 1984 had an old car on his hands to start with. But if a guy started this summer to build a 2000 model, we'd say that car is too new.
© NHRA Museum
That's if it was from one of the so-called Big Three, of course.
Just think: the car that so many people point to as the start of the custom craze was Bob Hirohata's '51 Mercury. This classic lead sled was designed and executed by Sam and George Barris, and the styling cues they hammered into the steel - the chopped top, reworked beltlines, deleted window pillars, and so much more - have defined what makes a custom for more than 50 years.
That car was built in 1952. Bob Hirohata bought a slightly used, low-mileage coupe off a lot, drove it to Barris Customs and had them go at it.
It would be the equivalent of picking up last year's Cruze (for, like, $18,000, mind you) and taking it out to some local shop that specializes in radical alterations (good luck finding one) and cutting them loose.
But that just doesn't happen.
It can't be because car folks resist change. That same Hot Rod (September issue) was a great this-is-your-life survey of the car hobby, and it has done nothing if not change over the years. Engine choices, paint schemes, induction systems. Blowers, turbos, EFI - it has all been adopted, championed, abandoned.
About the only thing that has remained consistent since, say, 1971, is the choice of cars to hop up. All the old steel is OK - Henry's Models T and A (minds out of the gutter, here, kiddies), the '32, all the '40s. The '50s focus on the Tri-Five Chevies for the performance guys, the earlier Mercs for the customizers.
Later, they went for the later T-Birds, and Ford's Galaxie. Road-going vessels made for luxury cruising. Then, nothing. It's like someone drew a line on the calendar and said you shall not pass.
Now, just about anyone will admit modern car design is alternately too refined to mess with or too bland to be inspiring, but that just can't be it. I'm sure, somewhere, someone is taking new cars and sculpting them into their own vision of beauty. Of strength. Of speed, or power.
That's a garage I'd like to see.
Ken Simmons, The Telegram's new media editor, breathes exhaust and exhales clean, fresh air. Twitter @Ken_Simmons_NL/Tumblr