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Hot-rodders in the 50s were innovators.


They had limited financial resources and the available horsepower was a fraction of today’s choices, so a car project in the 50s was designed to make the most of the power to weight ratio.


The most popular monthly information source for car guys who wanted more power was Hot Rod magazine because they were a how-to-build-a faster-ride tutorial for hot-rodders in the 1950s.



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The magazine also featured rides built by the fast car hobbyists and they are worth a second look in 2015. We found a November 1958 edition of Hot Rod and were able to see what the young wrenchers from the Elvis era managed to build at the time.


A 1934 Ford three window coupe was popular then and now in the car hobby. The early 30s Fords embodied everything that was cool about hot rods, plus there were plenty of them still around in the 50s.


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A young builder named Jerry Berg was blessed with a lot of talent at an early age, enough to build a classic 34 Ford hot rod into a tough quarter mile and street car.


Jerry used a mildly-tricked 1953 Desoto Firedome Hemi as his base engine in the Ford hot rod and managed to hit 13- second/104 mph in the quarter.


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Jerry was only 21 years old at the time and the car was already his 6th project. The lines of his custom Ford would still turn heads at any car show in 2015 and would likely win a few awards along the way.


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The wide whitewall tires were a cool touch on the ’34 and the 1956 Lincoln Premier wheel discs added to the overall look of the car. The Ford had a 4-inch chop and featured a rear nerf bar to enhance the custom style on the hot rod.


Another stunning example of 1958 custom rod culture was called a “sports-rod-race-car-whatever-you- want-to-use-it-for-machine” by the Hot Rod writer.


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The body was hand-built by owner Willy Hall and friends at the time. They were clearly influenced by MG sports cars while the power train is pure brute force from Detroit.


The V-8 engine choices in the 50s were limited by comparison to today’s options because the lion’s share of the bigger engines were in the early years of mass production in North American cars.


Even the iconic Corvette had to graduate from a six cylinder-only car to a small block V-8 in the 50s and this multi-purpose custom ride had a 1957 Corvette eight cylinder under its custom hood.


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The tricked-out small block sported two four barrels, custom exhaust headers, competition cam and milled heads to hurtle this ride down the road or track, depending upon the circumstances.


The Vintage Speedster had been re-purposed with the Chevy V-8 and every indication pointed toward a serious boost in performance with the swap.


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Far-fetched notion: maybe Carroll Shelby spotted this story in Hot Rod and was inspired enough to build the first Cobra, a famous marriage of British sports car style and American brute force horsepower.


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Not so far-fetched fact: many current hot rod builders built their rides with a future descendent of the small block Chevy used in this build.


Final fact: the roots of today’s car hobby can easily be found on the pages of a magazine like this Hot Rod magazine from 1958.

Jim Sutherland

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