"The more things change, the more they stay the same," is a saying that has always fascinated me. I recently documented that it appears no less than 2,540,000 times in recorded history. (We can now add one more, and yes, I checked.) Credit for the saying is attributed to the French novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-90). It was Karr's way of saying that, "Nothing changes too much." (If you wish to check my recollection of history you can find this fact in the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, which was authored by Gregory Y. Titelman and published in 1996.)
For starters, the hot rods that win the yearly "AttaBoy" awards at various high profile car shows and rod runs may change from year to year but the names of their builders often appear again and again. If you were to ask me, "Who are the prolific builders of our time?" I would answer with a short list. This isn't to say that there aren't new builders every year, 'cause there are. However, the proven builders consistently show up with their latest-greatest effort and every year their effort rises to the top of the proverbial heap.
I have seen the best our hobby has to offer over the past 33 years. And, though each car is distinctive in its presentation, there does seem to be some "family resemblance." I've seen incredible craftsmanship, awe-inspiring fit and finish, and concepts that rival high-design cars from around the world, but I find myself still wanting.
What do I want? Somewhere there is a street rod yet to be built, maybe it's already under construction in someone's garage, or on a "table" being attended to oh so carefully, but when will it appear?
If you were to name the five hot rods that have influenced you over the years, what would they be? (In fact, e-mail me your list.) Some people believe that Tex Smith's XR-6 of the early-'60s was both revolutionary and evolutionary. I didn't find anything exciting about a Slant Six, but that's me. In all fairness, though, it was cutting edge in the design and powerplant arenas and has remained vivid in the minds of rodders ever since its debut. Then there was the Deucari built by Magoo in the '70s--a Deuce highboy with a Ferrari engine, which is still a hot rod that has the miles to back up its well-deserved credibility. Okay, that's a kool car, but wire wheels and a Ferrari engine in an American hot rod leave me kold. Call me old-fashion but I need eight cylinders and carburetion that leaks just enough to "soil" the intake but not enough to start a fire. (Been there!) I am sure some of you are laughing 'cause right now you are saying, "Aren't you the one that had a Buick V-6-powered Model A highboy on Deuce rails?" Yes, but it was a youthful experiment prompted by the impending times of rising gas prices.
I must admit that the most awe-inspiring cars I can recall are from the stable of Lil' John Buttera. There was his Model T sedan, his first white highboy featuring homemade rails (and everything else), and his least remembered, but greatest (in my humble opinion), effort, a lil' Deuce coupe with an overhead-cam conversion Mopar-powered V-8. I will never forget one particular night during the construction of the Deuce. I was staring at the engine when it dawned on me that the valve covers and accessory brackets were made from single blocks of aluminum. Today billet is either revered or disdained but the reality is, no one knew how to chisel out a hot rod part the way Lil' John did then and now. (How's that for laying it on the line. I am sure I will hear back on this.) I remember asking John how he did it and he matter-of-factly stated, "I took the block of aluminum and cut away everything that wasn't a valve cover with a bracket attached." It might have been a common task for him, but for us mere mortals it'd be a magnum opus.
I would have to say that John has built at least three of my all-time favorite rides while Magoo has built two and Tex one. I've always been partial to Tex's Walter P. Chrysler, a '48 Chrysler limo he resurrected from the fields of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Rods that I have enjoyed logging a mile or two in would include Neal East's Deuce highboy that many recall as the Doane Spencer roadster, the late-Jim Ewing's Super Bell coupe, and, well, my lakes modified. Damn this car is fun to drive. Although, it isn't going to win any ergonomic awards--the later versions built by Zipper are infinitely more comfortable. With its 350 hp and at a svelte 1,981 pounds it makes for a rocket in the truest sense. You literally strap this car to your backside and hold on. It's an incredible car to maneuver over winding roads but it's even more fun to drive as you see traffic signals vanishing from your rearview mirror. You can see by the photo that I have the proper eyewear protection to accommodate the retina-detaching acceleration this hot rod produces.
So, while I may say that, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." The fact is, things do change, and rodding has taken some tremendous strides. And though some think "nothing changes too much," this rodder believes our cars are evolving just nicely. In my time I have seen trendsetting, mind-numbing rods, but I am anxiously awaiting the next great expression of what makes street rodding fun with cars.