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Hot Rod Classifications


A breakdown of hot rod classifications would depend on whom you asked.

The broad range of old cars falls into several commonly accepted categories.
Within those, categories may be vastly different, depending upon involvement  
and perspective.

Hot Rods themselves may be perceived differently, by those interested in
high performance in different eras.

1947 Cadillac

Consider this beautiful 1947 Cadillac 
displayed at the Seattle Hot Rod Show. 



First, let's define basic old cars

  • Antique Cars - By most laws and convention, vehicles over 25 years old.

  • Vintage Cars -- All vehicles within the era from 1919 to about 1930, give or take.

  • Hot Rods -- Vehicles with engines and parts modified for greater acceleration. Often modified or embellished to enhance their appearance. Within the culture, generally considered to be older vehicles. The 1932 Ford (Deuce Coupe) is the quintessential hot rod.

  • Classic Cars -- High end cars manufactured within the next couple of decades after the Vintage cars. The 1949-51 Mercury coupes might be the definitive classic car.

  • Muscle Cars -- Medium weight, affordable, high performance vehicles manufactured in the 1960s and early 1970s.

  • Dragsters and Race Cars -- Vehicles of any era, modified to increase performance and efficiency for speed competitions.

  • Other Fun Hot-Rodded Vehicles
    • Volksrods -- Volkswagon beetles, modified as an
      alternative to traditional hot rods, for which are
      cheaper and easier to find bodies and parts than
      old Ford Model T's and Model A's.
    • Buggies -- Variety a vehicles with large wheels,
      wide tires, and modified engine mounted on an
      open chassis, used mostly for off-road recreation. 
      Gaining in popularity, designs include dune buggies,
      sandrails, air buggies, tube-framed buggies, and
      those used by the military.  


Hot Rod Classifications

Most hot rodders enjoy all high performance vehicles, admiring the well preserved (and valuable) muscle cars and other souped up vehicles which are displayed at many local hot rod shows.

Dragsters and muscle cars are hot rods by many standards. Some of the newer innovations such as Volkrods and high-performance dune buggies are fun, exciting, and limited only by imagination. Eventually, we'll discuss all of these classes of vehicle in depth. Our primary focus here, however, is vehicles that fall within the pre-1949 hot rot category.

In popular usage, in the general public so to speak, a hot rod is now often thought of as a classic and classy show car that emulates the early hot rods in style...but sports flashy paint, high-quality upholstery and generally sees little in the way of road time. Who doesn't love seeing dozens, or hundreds, of these classy old cars on the highway, heading to a show or rally?

Within the hot rod community, definitions are much more (vaguely) specific. Let's break it down a little farther.

Traditional Rod

"Period Correct." Built by its owner using as many original, authentic parts as possible to re-create the original hot rod, keeping true to the vehicle's period.


Rat Rod

Rat rods have become popular as a reaction to the professionally built, billet encrusted, high dollar street rods at car shows. The rat rod concept reverses this trend with an unfinished, jalopy-like appearance. Rat rods might have expensive, smoothly functioning mechanical parts, but make a "kustom kultur" statement with their decor and appearance. The old "beater" is a predecessor to the rat rod concept.


Street Rod

A Street Rod is an original or replica of a vehicle built in 1948 or earlier. These vehicles are meant to be driven on the streets, not raced on the drag strip. Street rods may be constructed with new parts and modern creature comforts. Their high-performance engines are built according to modern safety standards - many are powered by a Chevrolet small block engine and automatic transmissions. Street rods cost upward of $50,000 to build, and then only if the owner assembles the car and does a lot of the work.


Show Car or Trailer Queen

Technically Street Rods, some of these cars are never actually driven but exist purely for display. Under NSRA rules, all vehicles must enter the showgrounds under their own power. Thus, Trailer Queens are trailered from show to show and only driven a short distance before being displayed. As one proud owner beamed “this car is meant for polishing, not driving!”


At hot rod shows and within the community, you'll hear terms such as Highboy, Leadsled, Raked, Hot Licks, Suede and dozens of others. For a short definition of prevailing connotations, you might want to read through the Hot Rod Terms.