Post World War II saw the hot rod enjoy tremendous favor across this country. Come the mid-1960s, the musclecar was emerging as king, and the hot rod began falling from favor in lieu of these factory produced and warranted horsepower machines. We could purchase on Friday, cruise on Saturday, and race on Sunday.
For starters, by the end of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, we saw the advent of stricter emissions standards, safety regulations, and the beginnings of a "consciousness" toward clean air and fuel economy.
Thank goodness for American Graffiti, released in 1973, which depicted a "coming of age" for a generation in 1962. It snapped us out of our funk and got us back on track with our first true love (sorry, ladies)-the American hot rod. This movie jump-started the street rod movement that is still in force today, and while Detroit did respond, it was slow to get up to speed, but today it is apparent factory musclecars are back and so is the government.
What was happening in 1975? Congress enacted the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations. Since 1983, manufacturers have paid more than $500 million in penalties for failure of their production cars and light trucks to meet CAFE standards. A number of manufacturers have elected to pay penalties rather than attempt to comply with these regulations. As of model year 2006, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, Ferrari, Porsche, and Maserati have continually failed to meet CAFE requirements. Can you even begin to imagine the uproar from groups within our political structure here in this U.S. if Detroit opted to take the same position? For the record, the Asian and domestic manufacturers have never paid a civil penalty. Frankly, the U.S. doesn't get enough credit for what it has and is doing to improve the world's environment.
CAFE was our government's way of reacting to the '73 OPEC oil embargo. Many of us watched as gasoline prices escalated, a gallon of gasoline rising from 38 cents in May 1973 to 55 cents in June 1974. (Talk about the good ol' days.) I can remember driving around to shops gathering stories and having to pay attention to what day of the week it was. Do you remember why?
License plates ending in an odd number could purchase gasoline on odd-numbered days of the month, while even-numbered plates responded to even-numbered days. The 31st of any month was open to all cars, as was February 29, but fortunately, we never got that far since the restrictions ended by 1976. (One exemption was to have your vehicle plated with commercial tags; registration was more expensive, but you could get gas on any day.)
There was also a three-colored flag system in some states: green meant unrationed gasoline; yellow meant restricted and rationed sales; and a red flag meant no gas was available, but the station was open. Many of our parents-and grandparents, for you young'uns-can tell us about gasoline ration coupons, and the government actually had these reprinted but never used them in 1974 and 1975. Ironically, as fuel efficiency rises on our family stocker, we are driving more, creating a whole new set of problems-less gas tax for municipalities to use for infrastructure, hence higher taxes on gasoline; it's a never-ending cycle.
So, what does all this mean? The musclecar may have pushed the hot rod to the curb by the late 1960s, and while it appears the popularity of factory muscle is on the rise today, some may think history is about to repeat itself. Possibly, but I don't think so. Hot rods are embedded in the cultural fabric, and not just ours but worldwide. The term "hot rod" is more than part of the pop culture lexicon; these two words are mainstream. Commercials to movies and radio to television ads use the hot rod to stir the soul-and rightfully so. But, keep in mind, for the time being, our hot rods do not have to answer to fuel economy standards but may in the not-so-distant future have to answer to emissions standards. It's a small price to pay to keep our hobby alive and on the road.
We should pay attention as we listen to everything going on in the world, but that doesn't mean we should automatically accept the "doom and gloom" as reported. My guess is I may be driving an electric or hydrogen-powered car in the future to make my rounds, but come the weekends, the summers, and the early Saturday morning runs, my coffee and donuts will be sitting on pleated seats with my V-8 providing my background music.