What will future hold for the hot rod and all those who love them so dearly?
The car has been long an emblem or icon of freedom. With the invention of automobile and later the mass production of the car, the lifestyle for the average American definitely changed. No longer was anyone tethered to the location in which they were raised. People were now free to explore, in comfort, the world at large. It didn’t take long at all for the car to become integrated with all facets of popular culture. However, various subcultures also developed right along with the automobile. One of these subcultures also found another form of freedom — freedom of expression.
After WWII, the United States developed a strong middle class. In fact, this was arguably the strongest middle class in all of history. As a result of this development there were literally millions of Americans with a significant amount of disposable income available to them. One trend that developed among a certain subculture was to customize, tweak, and reengineer their cars. Some did it to personalize their automobiles while others were seeking to increase performance; mainly speed. Members of this subculture ranged from the hobbyist to the full-blown fanatic and everything in between.
This trend has continued and most likely even expanded in the present day. The and service industry have exploded and contribute significantly to the U.S. economy. Car customization has grown into a $31 billion-a-year industry, according to the California-based Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (Zaragoza). Though the industry suffered as a result of the recession, consumers have increased their discretionary spending, and the industry is regaining traction (IBIS World). There are amateur racing organizations spread out all around the country where people race their modified production cars. Others hold rallies where they show off their personalized and customized cars which many consider as much of an art as it is a science. However, as with most subcultures, these individuals are often misunderstood. An image has developed which stereotypes this subculture as somehow ill-intentioned or criminal in nature.
One consequence of being negatively stereotyped is that the group is facing increased regulations from local, state, and national governments. Although many members of these groups may not care to admit it, but hot rodding has a long history of running afoul of the law; making a car go faster or radically altering its appearance is generally at odds with law enforcement officials as well as many other public officials (Hardin). Therefore in many areas of the U.S. one might find a set of local regulations that prohibit or regulate such things as muffler noise, engine noise, window tinting, stereo noise, or any other of a number of specific targets related to a vehicle.
These regulations are generally geared at number of other related issues on the surface. For example, a noisy muffler may be regulated on the grounds of pollution standards and environmental concerns. Other restrictions may also be geared at certain safety concerns such as the having the proper safety restraint equipment in place or barring certain performance enhancements that are legal to use on the street, such as tires for example. Older customized vehicles may also not pass a state required inspection if some of the vehicles features are not modernized to meet standards introduced after the cars production.
Although many of these regulations and restrictions are arguably well intentioned, many others are not. Some are clearly driven by contempt for the emerging countercultures’ that are centered around the aesthetic and performance enhancements of automobiles. Furthermore, this contempt is based upon a stereotype that is one actual reality. While some members of such counter-cultures are undoubtedly of a criminal nature, the vast majority are completely law abiding. This is actually the same within any cultural group that you can imagine whether it be based on religion, national identity, hobbies, ext. However, given the formation of the stereotypes is already in existence, instances of indiscretions by any of the members are quick to be picked up by the media which only acts to further perpetuate the stereotype.
There is some evidence of groups fighting back against both the stereotype in general as well as the unfounded instances of restrictions and regulations. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) has formed an action network known as SAN (SEMA Action Network) (SAN). While the action network is focused mainly on legislative issues regarding the specialty equipment modifications performed on cars, the broader organization also works to mitigate the negative stereotype by holding car rallies and other events for charitable causes through another branch of the organization known as SEMA cares (SEMA). As a result of this groups efforts, as well as the efforts of individuals all over the nation, it is unlikely that legislative measures will ever be able to break the collective spirit of automotive enthusiast in this country and the spirit of the hot rod will live on indefinitely.
Hardin, D. “Can They ?” 10 December 2010. . Web. 1 May 2012.
IBIS World. “Auto Customization Shops in the U.S. – Industry Market Research Report.” 1 February 2012. Market Research. Web. 1 May 2012.
SAN. “Promoting Legislative Solutions for the Automotive Hobby.” 2012. SEMA Action Network. Web. 1 May 2012.
SEMA. “Leading Manufactures Pitch in Parts for Charity Mustang GT.” 2010. SEMA. Web. 1 May 2012.
Zaragoza, S. “Alta Mere reaping benefits of car customization boom.” 1 January 2006. Dallas Business Journal. Web. 1 May 2012.