The American hot rod is under attack and there’s nothing we can do about it. A provocative statement and one that needs proof (or maybe you are hoping there isn’t). You ask, how is the American hot rod coming under attack?
For starters, there are four major points of attack. We begin with the most highly visible and most frequently spoken: registration and emission standards. Next up the noise issue: mufflers and the use of dragstrips. Then there’s the use of an alternate fuel: ethanol has a known adverse effect on older fuel systems (vintage engines). And, lastly and possibly the least understood or publicized: tire aging.
The hot rod registration and pending emission standards are well documented and if I have to talk on this subject one more time I am a candidate for the Betty Ford Clinic! But all of us know (hopefully!) and have learned how to cope with this aspect.
Local municipalities are making and enforcing laws (or ordinances) that are closing dragstrips in many of the more highly populated areas. Here in Southern California we have lost seven major quarter-mile dragstrips over the past decade and at the time of this writing another major dragstrip was closed. There is (or was) a popular dragstrip that is (or was) part of the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The latest closure has come about on behalf of approximately 20 homeowners who have homes within 600 feet of the facility and have complained about the weekend noise. It should also be noted that the area is a heavy commerce location with an incredible number of 18-wheelers truckin’ up and down the roads in question.
Another attack is coming from alternate fuels. With respect to our hobby it’s the use of ethanol-based fuels to lessen the use of traditional gasoline. Ethyl alcohol (aka ethanol) is nothing new as the Model T was powered by ethanol until gasoline was readily accessible and improved.
Ethanol does have a plus with its inherent resistance to “knock.” Ethanol-powered engines can run high compression and gain power. But there are downsides to ethanol that “remove” the plus for vintage car owners. Ethanol requires more energy to produce than it replaces. In the United States we use ethanol, corn-based fuel that’s considered by many to be energy-negative by the time it comes out of a pump.
The real drawback for vintage car owners or the users of vintage engines (hot rodders) is the fact that ethanol is a powerful solvent. Without the use of additives it will attack many fuel system components, including zinc and galvanized materials, brass, copper, aluminum, seals and hoses, cork, polyurethane, and epoxy resins. In other words, almost everything used in a vehicle made more than about 20 years ago. It’s also hydrophilic, and this attraction of water causes the additional downfall of corrosion.
Granted, many of us don’t have to rely on our hot rods as daily drivers but they still consume gasoline and a rate much higher than the average daily driver. What does all this mean? Our hot rods typically cost more to drive and with the price of gasoline going up (almost daily) we are becoming more aware of the dollars we “pour” into the gas tank. I don’t believe we have reached a price per gallon that will stop any of us from driving our car but I, for one, am much more aware.
One of the great joys of my youth was to walk the wrecking yards that were all around when I was growing up and look for really cool V-8s. These were generally nestled within the engine compartments of muscle cars that had displayed a bit too much muscle on a Friday evening. There were also the occasional Model A or Deuce. Nowadays these wrecking yards (now called “ecology” something) are few and far between and various laws now say you can’t drop that vintage V-8 into just any piece of tin. In fact, many of these vintage motors have a “hammer” taken to them, destroying the block so that they cannot be recycled. It’s a shame, a real shame.