We can already hear it. The story you are about to read is going to upset some of our readership; but in all honesty we don't care. After all, we have taken a few risks in the past by running features of "cosmetically challenged" VWs (check out last month's ratty 1950 Split), and reporting on import races for example. As controversial as these two subjects might be, the response from our readers has been excellent, so we will continue to show cars you won't see in other Volkswagen magazines. Like it or not, our job is to present all facets of our hobby. This includes a new (or is that old?) breed of Bugs, which could have been built by inventive Hot Rodders about half a century ago. They look mean, they are loud, and they display a tough attitude. At VWTrends, we simply call them Hot Rod VWs.

What is a Hot Rod?
This first question is certainly open to heated debate. To set the tone, let's first mention that the latest cover of Hot Rod Magazine features two vehicles off of the showroom floors, a Ford Mustang Cobra and a Subaru WRX STi. Are they Hot Rods? You bet. Consider the following: They both run 13.3 on the quarter mile in stock trim! These cars don't fit in our own definition of a Hot Rod however. Instead, we will concentrate on what many consider as the original Hot Rod, vehicles oftentimes built on a budget by ingenious young lads after WWII, during the '50s and most of the '60s.

Much has been written about the early days of Hot Rodding. Plenty of books and publications will tell you more about this era, but we still feel compelled to give you some key information to clearly understand the subject. While stripped down cars already raced on a few dry lakebeds in California back in the '20s, Hot Rodding came of age during the mid- to late-'40s, thanks in part to Hot Rod Magazine the first issue was published in 1948. A typical Hot Rod back then would have been a fenderless 1923 to 1932 Ford Roadster, fitted with a hopped-up flathead Ford V8 or inline four cylinder (a.k.a. "banger"). In the Los Angeles area, many owners used their rides not only as daily transportation, but also as weekend racers especially at El Mirage Dry Lake. This dual purpose certainly influenced the look of most Hot Rods seen on the street. It was a time of "form follows function," and in truth loads of these vehicles looked rather crude. Limited finances and post war shortages (tires in particular) frequently affected their overall appearance, most builders choosing to keep the original paint or applying a coat of primer.

The standard of finish definitely evolved during the '50s, a time when many Hot Rods became inspired by drag racing. By the early '60s, cars were usually detailed to the max and quite colorful. Models built during the '70s aren't that exciting, due to their conservative (and perhaps funky!) look. By then, most Rods lacked that "bad boy" appeal.

'40s, '50s and '60s Hot Rods
Understandably, a Hot Rod built during the '40s is likely to look quite different from a '60s model for example. So if you decide to tackle a VW project inspired by these old cars, you may want to stick with a style from one of these three decades. We combined a quick summary to help you with your choice. Remember, these are simple and non-exhaustive guidelines. Rules need to be broken sometimes... But please make sure not to use any billet-style accessory (those squarish aluminum license plate frames or rearview mirrors for instance). They look way too modern for a Hot Rod VW project!

'40s Hot Rod: Extremely basic stripped down vehicle that used a bunch of scrap yard parts. It was likely to be a fenderless Ford Roadster. Stock color or primer preferred. Hopped up engine. Level ride height, with wire wheels and black bias ply tires. Basic interior with, once in a while, a pair of bucket seats pirated from a WWII plane!

'50s Hot Rod: Most cars were nicely finished and painted by then. Coupes were now part of the game. More high-performance products and more chrome. Steel rims with "big and little" whitewall tires for that California rake. Rolls and pleated upholstery, with white, black or red being the most popular colors. '60s Hot Rod: Very well finished vehicles, with wild metallic, pearls or candy apple paintjobs. Fenders had gained acceptance within the Hot Rod community. Wild high-performance engines with superchargers or fuel injection. Chrome steel wheels or aluminum five-spokes. Various tires were accepted, from blackwalls and wide whitewalls, to redlines and whitelines (actually, wide whitewalls left the scene by 1962 or so). Wild metalflake Naugahyde interior, with a chrome tach mounted on the steering column.

Today's Hot Rod scene
Old-style Hot Rods have become increasingly popular during the past few years. Surprisingly enough, these rides fascinate mainly younger enthusiasts. Their involvement brings fresh air to the Rodding scene that is made of an older crowd mostly interested in cruising with the air conditioning on behind the wheel of a vehicle that occasionally costs more than a beach house. The funny thing is, nobody seems to have found a name for this group of traditional new/old Hot Rods. Some call them "Rat Rods" (when they lack finishing touches), others "Retro Rods" or "Real Rods." They even have their own events like Mooneyes' Rat Fink Reunion last December, which gathers these cars in addition to Customs inspired by their equivalent of the '40s to '60s era--this is where we shot most of the pictures for this article.

This friendly mob has adopted various specifics of the early Hot Rods, like the primered body and the loud exhaust. Since early tin can be expensive, ingenious gearheads don't hesitate to mix and match various pieces of metal to create their own body. Now and then, modified grille shells pirated from obscure '30s vehicles take their place in front of flatheads or other early V8s.

Hot Rodders like to drive fast, and the music they listen to reflects this attitude. To many, '50s doo-wop is fine, but punk rock might be better. Actually, the scene makes for an interesting mix of rockabilly, punkabilly and garage punk factions! For more about the way they dress check out pages 68 and 69. Art has a strong influence on the scene as well, starting with the pinstripes that emulate in a way the tattoos worn by some! This crowd has embraced Hot Rod artists like Von Dutch or Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. The latter made the iron-cross popular, way before it became mainstream--think about Jesse James, who adopted it as his West Coast Choppers company logo. Interestingly enough, Roth has tinkered more than once with VWs... He drove a lowered Bug with T-bars during the '70s and built various show cars powered by our faithful flat-four, including the very first trike back in the late '60s.

Hot Rods and VWs
Some of you may wonder how VWs fit in the Hot Rod scene. Well, it seems that for years many people have considered the Beetle as a Hot Rod. Volkswagens packed the pages of Hot Rod Magazine or Rod & Custom Magazine, especially during the '60s and early '70s. The latter publication featured the EMPI Inch Pincher Gasser on the cover of its October 1966 issue for example. In the early '80s, the California Look craze had taken the West Coast by storm and Hot Rod devoted a long segment to "the look" (October 1981). Today, the Cal Look is still going strong, and with reliable cars running easily in the 12s--if not faster with a turbo--they are definitely Hot Rods in our book. As a side note and even if the California Look isn't the subject of this article, let's mention that a number of early Cal Lookers borrowed a few Hot Rod characteristics: nerf bars, louvers, flamed paint jobs, big and little tires, etc.

Now take a close look at the shape of the Beetle and study the similarities with some American cars from the mid-'30s: not a big surprise considering when the Volkswagen was designed. You may consider removing the fenders like the early Hot Rods. Fred Hidalgo, whose chopped Sedan was featured in our June 2002 issue, told us he found the inspiration for his project by looking at fenderless Fiat Topolino drag cars, built in America as early as the '50s. If you elect this option, remember to move the front end forward a few inches --we'll explain why further in this article. Hidalgo did so and the stunning result allowed him to win his class at the prestigious Grand National Roadster Show in 2002, an event where non-V8s are typically frowned upon.

Let's not forget the financial aspect of building a Hot Rod VW. A workable '32 Ford Coupe body has eclipsed the $10,000 mark, while a grille shell with a nice insert may cost $1200. In other words, for the price of a few rusty 70-plus-year-old parts, you could build a cool project car based on a derelict Bug. Juan Luevanos, the owner of the flamed Volkswagen pickup truck seen in these pages, conceded that he spent only $3500 on his killer ride. Hard to beat!

Ideas for your Hot Rod VW
Just from looking at our Hot Rod VWs featured in this issue, you may have guessed that there is more than one body style lending to the look. Our selection includes a Convertible, a pickup truck, a Roadster, a fenderless Sedan, as well as a chopped Bug with fenders! Nice variety, huh? Early Beetles are typically preferred. While most builders might understandably think twice before cutting and modifying a Split or Oval Window, nothing stops you from using a smashed and beat-up '58-'64 "Big Window" Beetle from your local junkyard. Chopping the top should definitely be an option, even though it won't always be necessary, especially if you wrench on a Split or Oval--they already come with a smaller windshield from the factory.

Removing the fenders is easy enough; but the next step consists of making the vehicle look good. As mentioned earlier, you need to extend the wheelbase by moving the front end a few inches, thus making the Bug look sleeker, less stubby. There are various ways to attain this goal. Martin Smith, the owner of the chopped Sedan with red wire wheels seen further in this issue, has adapted an early Ford axle, as did Fred Hidalgo. We have also seen a VW pickup truck in Ohio that uses a near-stock Volkswagen front end pushed forward, thanks to a machined spacer fitted between the front of the chassis and the axle beam. Last but not least, Juan Luevanos and Robert Ortiz chose to modify the stock front end on their respective Bugs, as featured in these pages. What they did is simply swap the upper and lower torsion bars from the left side to the right, and vice-versa. This approach required modification to the spindles and the bending of the tie-rods as well. Most engineers would probably scratch their head when checking out this setup... Even though both enthusiasts report no ill effect when driving, in the interest of safety, we cannot promote in our pages the method they elected to use to extend the wheelbase.

A fenderless Beetle will also require new headlights. Dune Buggy-style shells might be used, but other alternatives exist like the seven-inch So-Cal Speed Shop buckets. Then it is up to you or your local fab-shop to create a bracket to attach them to the body. If you can't find any suitable taillights at a swap meet, you can always mount a pair of traditional 1939 Ford-style teardrops or other aftermarket models from Mooneyes.

As far as the look of your engine, forget about the modern Porsche 911-style fan shroud, and stick instead to a simple 36-horse unit. A pair of Weber 48IDAs would certainly feel right at home flanking it. Remember that some of the fiercest American sports cars used them in the '60s, and Mooneyes still carries a V8 manifold for them! If you are on a limited budget, you can always fit one or two single-throat carbs, topped with a velocity stack or a louvered air cleaner as do those V8 Hot Rod guys. Many of the VWs seen in our article run a darn noisy stinger exhaust system. Cool, except that you may run into problems with Officer Friendly. Of course, a stinger baffle always remains an option... Since most mufflers found on the market won't look elegant on a fenderless Bug, an alternative would be to build your own system, maybe with a couple of single glass packs installed below the engine. Imagination is yours.

Wheels? How about some stock wide-five rims, widened in the back, painted a contrasting color (red on a black car for example), and dressed with chrome "smoothie" hubcaps plus trim rings? Mooneyes offers a variety of other custom hubcaps, in addition to traditional '60s Hot Rod wheels: American Racing Torq Thrust "D," Radir (replicas of the old Rader), ET-Mags, etc. Double and triple check their offset before maxing-out your credit card, and be aware that you will need to redrill the drums or discs--C.B. Performance advertises blank rotors to be drilled for a wide range of rims incidentally. Speaking of brakes, a set of polished aluminum drums from a Porsche 356, with fins across the edge like the popular Buick seen on numerous Hot Rods, might be an idea to look into. Coker sells a bunch of whitewall radial or bias-ply tires, while cheater slicks--dual-purpose rubber for street and strip - from Mooneyes would look killer on a VW.

Except if you go for the '60s metalflake upholstery, the cockpit should be kept very simple. Can't afford a new cover for that seat found at a swap meet? Hide it with a Mexican blanket. Once again, Mooneyes comes to the rescue with a bunch of products for that interior, from the '60s-look metalflake steering wheels, to a wide array of crazy shift knobs (8-ball, piston, tacky lighted skulls...). You'll find plenty of additional ideas in our parts guide. Before cutting your old Volkswagen to pieces, you should definitely check your local rules and regulations to make sure all modifications executed won't put you in trouble with the law. Hope to see you behind the wheel of your freshly completed Hot Rod VW !

Robert Ortiz's Scalped Bug
This cool tub started life as a derelict $500 beater, which Robert Ortiz first used as a daily commuter. With help from friends David and Joseph, the owners of a shop named Drag-N, our man later decided to transform the old 1970 Sedan into a Hot Rod. The crew cut the roof off, dramatically chopped the windshield and shaved the door handles. Robert took care of painting the shell rattle can suede black. The adjustable front beam, with its torsion bars swapped from side to side, received a pair of C.B. Performance dropped spindles. Steering is handled via a rack and pinion setup, in addition to a pair of carefully bent tie rods. The near stock 1641cc engine, bolted to the original IRS gearbox, allows Robert to cruise with ease on the streets of Whittier, his California hometown. He also drove the car all the way to the Las Vegas Bug-In, as well as to a VW show held in Ensenada, Mexico!

Juan Luevanos' Low Budget Truck
Long time Rod and Custom enthusiast Juan Luevanos of La Mirada, Calif., manufactures custom accessories for a living, and sells them to Mooneyes among others. He also owns an interesting variety of '30s to '60s American tin, but this VW project has to be the cheapest Hot Rod he has ever constructed! The chopped Bug, originally an early '70s Sedan saved from a junkyard, received the bed from a small '70s pickup truck named Chevy Luv. Juan extended the wheelbase in the same way as Robert Ortiz--by swapping the torsion bars. A stock flat four hides under the tonneau cover, while an owner-made top (bolted to the modified body) protects the minimalist interior. The stock Volkswagen seats have lost their bottom padding, thus allowing the driving crew to sit a few inches lower. Our gearhead uses the vehicle on a regular basis, rain or shine, and even drove it to the popular "Viva Las Vegas" Hot Rod show a few years ago!