Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hot Rods, 'Souping-up' and Wes Jones

During the Great Depression, young car enthusiasts wanted to show that money was not the only means to gain automotive status and they began customizing cars, known as ‘glow jobs’ or ‘soup-ups’. It was in the 1940s that the term ‘hot rod’ became popularized. The automobiles were known for their power and performance, but were also a social statement of self-reliance, ingenuity and independence. 
Hot rods were born in the dry lake region of Southern California. A cult of backyard mechanics working with junkyard parts created streamlined, no non-sense racing cars for competitions. The hot rods not only had to be well equipped to compete on the courses laid out on nearby desert sand flats, but also had to be functional for everyday transport.  Most early hot rods were Ford Model T or Model A roadsters as they were cheap, lightweight and readily available. These basic automobiles were stripped of all non-essential parts, including fenders, running boards, ornaments and even their windshields. This editing process allowed for maximum weight reductions and aerodynamics. Coupes and Sedans were eventually used, but needed further surgery as they were generally much heavier in weight. Hot rods were fitted with large front tires in order to achieve a higher gear ratio, and consequently higher available speeds. In contrast, the front tires were standard size or smaller, decreasing wind resistance. Louvres —rows of slots —were cut into the hood, body and rear deck lid to aid in engine cooling and the release of trapped air. If the enthusiast decided to go further, flat aluminum discs could be placed on tires for additional streamlining. 

In 1932, the Ford flathead V8 engines were introduced and became the most popular choice for use in hot rods. These engines were mass produced in the millions, therefore they were inexpensive and plentiful. The design of the V8 engine also allowed for easy and varied enhancements. Common adjustments included the removal of the muffler, straightening of the exhaust pipes, and the addition of multiple carburetors. 

World War II marked the end of early hot rodding. However, in 1945, as the war came to a close, hot rodding exploded in America and emerged as one of the most dominant post-war fads. Young men were returning home with money as well as mechanical and metal working knowledge gained from their time in the army. Young car enthusiast now found themselves with the resources to build their dream cars. Hot rodders and fans gathered in dry lakes in California, while dangerous street racing became prevalent in other parts of the country. These illegal races, coupled with late night gatherings of young hot rodders, led to a negative public view of the subculture. Hot rods, along with rock and roll, became symbolic of the darker side of American youth. 

To reverse negative connotations, the first hot rod exhibition was held during January of 1948. The event was held at the National Guard Armory in Los Angeles and attracted 10 000 spectators. The first issues of the successful Hot Rod Magazine, established by Robert E. Peterson, were sold at the exhibition. The establishment of the ‘Southern California Timing Association’ (SCTA), as well as the ‘National Hot Rod Association’ (NHRA) worked to further diffuse the unfavourable image, and led to a civic-mindedness and cooperative relationship with the police authorities. Racing was now limited to organized, straight-line courses, known as drag strips. Enthusiasts became increasingly serious and began building vehicles meant solely for racing, and ‘street rods’ as well as customs emerged as sub-sets of the automobile culture. By the end of the 1950s, competition was fierce and top cars were only taken out for races or exhibitions. The junkyard parts used during the movement’s infancy were no longer adequate, and as a consequence demographics of hot rodding adjusted to an older, wealthier population. 

The 1960s marked a rebellion against elegant hot rods and the emergence of ‘muscle cars’—plain automobiles with huge amounts of power. The gas shortage of the 1970s resulted in the smaller ‘pony cars’. However, hot rods reemerged once again in the 1980s. There were two dominant groups keeping the hot rod culture alive, those driven by nostalgia and the young, primarily latino, car enthusiasts. The hot rod culture has evolved dramatically from its birth in the junkyards or Southern California, but hot rodding remains popular today. 
Warde, John. "A Short History of Hot Rods ." MSN Autos. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. <http://editorial.autos.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=435974>.

The concept of “souping-up”, prevalent in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, has served as a central inspiration for Wes Jones in his approach to architecture. The primitive huts by Wes Jones and Peter Pfau are clear reflections of the deconstructive and additive processes present during the ‘souping-up’ of a basic car body (such as the Ford Model T). In the following clip Jones describes how his strategy in constructing the Stieglitz Residence is comparable to that of ‘souping-up’ an automobile. 


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