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October 5, 2023

High School Teenagers Riding Around in a Hot Rod, Des Moines, Iowa, 1947

Americans have long associated their social status with their cars. Perhaps that attitude began with the hot rod, a modified version of the roadster. The hot rod was the creation of young men with more time than money that hoped to compete with their wealthier counterparts. Ultimately, it was a hobby that captivated the heart of a generation. Here are some funny photographs of high school teenagers riding around in a jalopy in Des Moines, Iowa, 1947:

Hot rods got their start in the 1930s and 1940s. During the Depression that gripped the nation, young car enthusiasts who had little money, but lots of time, began tinkering with their cars in the hopes of making them faster. It became a social statement and a visible display of a mechanic's automotive engineering prowess.

The earliest hot rods were built in California. Often, these vehicles were loaded with parts scrounged from junkyards and built in tiny garages near Pasadena, Burbank, and Glendale. The desert salt flats of southern California provided excellent raceways for the new hobby.  

Most of the early hot rods were souped up Model T’s or Model A’s. These inexpensive vehicles were cheap to purchase, and parts were plentiful. Further, their simple construction made them easy to work on. But, most importantly, their lightweight frames and V8 engines made them fast. Extra parts such as fenders, running boards, and even the windshields could be removed to make the vehicle even lighter and more streamlined.

As World War II swept the world, the era of hot rodding paused. Following the war, the hobby saw a resurgence. Returning GI’s, armed with money and skills from Uncle Sam, pulled the tarps off their toys, and took their hobby to the next level. In fact, hot rodding exploded across Southern California as young veterans sought to make their vehicles faster and flashier. The hobby’s popularity soared and it was not uncommon for hot rodding exhibitions to see tens of thousands of spectators in attendance.

Seeing this explosion in the popularity of hot rods, Robert Petersen started Hot Rod magazine which helped the hobby spread across the country. In 1951 the National Hot Rod Association was founded, legitimizing the hobby and making it mainstream. Until this time, the street races and quarry dashes had given the hobby a bad reputation.

Today, the NHRA organizes racing events around the country. NHRA members are also provided information on the hobby that ranges from design ideas to a who's who of the best builders in the country.


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