According to Smith, 1320 is the first in a series of books, each addressing another facet of the hot rod hobby (according to the proposed title, the next book, The Long Black Line, ostensibly explores land speed racing). It’s a literary tradition pioneered by youth author Henry Gregor Felsen, who used popular themes as a literary device to draw in and subsequently direct kids. But I know enough about Smith to understand that he sees us all—himself included—as kids at heart. At the very least 1320 will take you back to a time when we were all just a little more kid-like.
1320: Maybe Not What You Think
How to Build Period Correct Hot Rods: Select the Correct Components for a Faithful Vintage Hot Rod
Sometimes moving forward requires taking a big step back. It certainly felt that way in the late ’90s: the high-buck build prevailed, making it ever harder for average enthusiasts to make a car stand out from the crowd. So rather than fight many switched, and the backlash inspired probably one of the strongest movements of recent history: nostalgia.
It was only a matter of time that someone wrote a proper book that explains just why certain parts matter or how to use them in a way that looks convincing. Of course it took at least a decade for someone to do so but long-time editorial contributor Gerry Burger filled that yawning void with the aptly titled How to Build Period Correct Hot Rods: Select the Correct Components for a Faithful Vintage Hot Rod.
To be fair Burger’s book isn’t the first retrospective-themed how-to title. Mike Bishop and Vern Tardel’s How to Build a Traditional Ford Hot Rod owns that distinction. But Burger’s book is decidedly different, specifically in its breadth. Whereas Bishop and Tardel reveal piece by piece the way to build a Flathead-powered Model A roadster to reflect late-’40s/early-’50s practice, Burger explains the philosophy behind building just about any car to reflect just about any era.
In a nutshell Burger broaches the idea that an inspiring car isn’t so much a pile of old parts but a group of parts—not always old in some cases—matched to capture the look and feel of a particular era. He conditions readers to think about how a car’s parts help it fit into a particular space in time. He also reveals a few proven ways to combine old parts, not all of which have been done to death.
Burger dedicates six of the book’s nine chapters to general subjects like power, rolling stock, chassis, interior, body, and paint. He divides each one of those chapters into multiple subsets. For example, he reveals the history of a dozen popular engines and in doing so sort of establishes the reason why one would make a particular selection. He treats each component similarly, defining its place and significance in hot rod culture, and no stone goes unturned. In the paint chapter, for example, he makes the observation that paint composition and pigmentation may not seamlessly merge with an intended era.
What emerges is a sort of template of logical choices—or more specifically, a sort of sieve that filters out bad combinations like flake-painted, Flathead-powered, ’50s cars with fender skirts and whitewall tires mounted on Ansen Sprints (our apologies if we just described your car). Burger urges builders to not only pay attention to the details but how to match them to achieve a certain objective. The type of patience (it’s tedious to build a car to adequately reflect any style) and restraint (it’s equally easy to overdo anything) Burger emphasizes is reason enough to consider this book.
At first I was inclined to say that most seasoned enthusiasts and professional builders are beyond the scope of this book. But I’ve seen what often passes as traditional or period correct and in light of that I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially to those who’ve convinced themselves that they know it all.
How to Build Period Correct Hot Rods; Select the Correct Components for a Faithful Vintage Hot Rod