Street cruisers abound at both ends of the spectrum from beaters to top-shelf show cars li
“Those three words: factory stock bodies, are new in our criteria,” Harry Daviess, Goodguys vice president of event operations. “The category [Alloway] created as Street Cruiser is basically what we’re trying to encapsulate into our events for the Custom Rod of the Year award. For some people, the word ‘custom’ makes them think of a traditional ’50 Merc with lake pipes, Caddy caps, etc., and our criteria used to include major body mods on the car. What we’ve been finding is that that’s been disappearing for postwar cars. Those types of custom rods are still out there and are still eligible to win, but now we’re seeing more stock-bodied ’50s and ’60s cars with factory trim, modified suspensions, modified drivetrains, interiors, custom wheels, and paint—so we opened the award to include those.”
The Big Advantage
So why the relatively sudden popularity of these full-sizers, some of which many enthusiasts wouldn’t have touched with a 2-ton pole just a few years ago? Lots of reasons. One is expense. As with any type of car, you can spend as much as you want on a street cruiser, but unlike many cars, the raw material is still relatively cheap. “A lot of the more traditionally popular cars—I’m thinking about ’55-57 Chevys—are starting to get so expensive that guys are looking for alternative cars that aren’t as expensive,” Craig Morrison, from Art Morrison Enterprises, says. Art Morrison is where a lot of upgraded chassis and components for these cars are being built. “Plus, by starting with something that’s got a decent body and a level of patina you like, you’re saving all the money you’d otherwise spend making it look perfect.
Ron and Connie Thacker drive their ’59 Rambler as much as possible. The full custom leathe
“I look at Rivieras, Starliners, Chevrolets—a lot of those cars have great body lines to begin with,” Daviess says. “You can change them, but you don’t have to. It’s easier to keep them stock-bodied, and customize the interior, paint, and motor instead of going through the extensive work of smoothing and chopping.” The less you do to the outside the better you are, as Alloway puts it.
Daviess told us about one participant from a Goodguys event earlier this year. “He was a young guy with a stock-bodied, late-’60s Buick Electra. He lowered it, put a paintjob on it, some wheels, Flowmasters, and drove it to the event and had a great time. It was awesome! He was married with kids, and had the car seats in the car. He was looking for an inexpensive way to get into it and was having a blast with his whole family.”
These full-size rides don’t just appeal to young guns. Older enthusiasts appreciate the extra space, even if they aren’t filling it with kids. Alloway comments, “Older people—and bigger people—who drove Model A’s and ’32s before, like these cars because they’re just more comfortable.”
“I love my ’29 roadster, but I’m driving my ’58 Impala to Colorado, Indy, Des Moines, and Columbus this year,” Goodguys founder Gary Meadors says. “It’s a basic car with a 348 and a four-barrel, but it’s got a 700 transmission and dropped spindles, disc brakes, and all the good stuff for performance and handling. It’s comfortable and can carry more people and more luggage. I can take anybody anywhere at any time; you can’t do that in a ’32 coupe.”
Another advantage, to some, is that these cars are different. All custom car guys want to drive something distinctive. Street cruisers appeal to those with a super-sized appetite for out-of-the-ordinary iron, whether they are concerned about a budget or not. We’ve already seen impressive high-end street cruisers coming out of some big-name shops.
One more advantage is the fact that it is generally a lot easier to title and register a later-model factory car than a street rod built from aftermarket components.
We’re not done talking about street cruisers. In fact, we’re just getting started. You’ll be seeing more of these big boulevard bruisers within these pages, in the form of car features, event coverage, and tech stories on upgrading the ride and driveability of these jumbo jobs. The biggest is yet to come.