The 2003 Street Rod Nationals take place in Port Elizabeth over the Easter weekend. The show draws street rods, muscle cars, low riders etc from all over the country – if it’s modified, it’ll be there.

The 2003 Street Rod Nationals take place in Port Elizabeth over the Easter weekend. The show draws street rods, muscle cars, low riders etc from all over the country – if it’s modified, it’ll be there.

The venue is the Technikon College Campus, Second Ave, Summerstrand, PE. Details from Roy Robertson (rro[email protected]) or visit the website: http://www.capetownstreetrods.co.za

It's no coincidence that many of the folks who are into classic cars and trucks today are roughly the same vintage as their vehicles. They love cars. As a culture, they love cars almost as much as they love their pets. Some of them love cars more than members of their family and value them more than their own health.

And it’s safe to say that the street rod craze began in post-World War II America, a sense of peace and prosperity steered the nation's attention toward the automobile. Adults enjoyed the mobility their cars afforded them, whether they were commuting to work or on a Sunday drive.

Across the nation, many teenagers spent their evenings working on old family cars, replacing standard parts with custom parts, often from other makes and models. Then they would cruise down town in their street rods and hot rods, which were basically souped-up reincarnations of older cars from the 1930's and '40's.

These kids knew one end of a wrench from another, and they didn't mind getting their hands dirty in the engine bay. They never took to the streets before dark. It just wasn't cool. They stopped at roadhouses for a burger and chips, then they moved on. Their social life was on the move. Their cars were status symbols – the kid who showed up in his mother’s Metropolitan Nash just couldn't compete – but mostly the cars were their tickets to fun.

In South Africa, the rod crowd knew where the big V8 powered cars gathered on a Friday night, and cars would filter into the roadhouse parking area; Fords, Chev, Dodges and Plymouths… Every few minutes somebody would start up a car, the roar of the V8 drawing others. The bonnet would be raised, and a discussion would start on merits of this mod and that conversion.

In the parking area, you’d probably see Ford represented by a red and black Fairmont GT parked next to a yellow Capri Perana (built by Basil Green at his factory in Edenvale). In the Chevrolet corner would be a Camaro and a Corvette, with maybe a Constantia and also an El Camino bakkie. Star of the evening, though, would have been a Can Am – The “Little Chevy” – with a five-litre V8 shoehorned under the bonnet of a Firenza coupé.

At that time, car shows in South Africa were few and far between. But Stateside, from the 1940s through the 1960s, they were big city affairs that showcased different types of hot rods and street rods. Local kids had little to do with these grand affairs. The need to exaggerate led to cars being built to resemble stage coaches, coffins and the like. At first the nationwide network of classic car buffs operated at a grass roots level. Most people carried out their own work on the vehicles. Parts were scarce, and hobbyists had to camnibalise other cars or salvage parts from junkyards.

With the advent of the 1980s, manufacturers began to see the market potential in the growing contingent of well-heeled vintage car enthusiasts.

Today, it's possible to build a classic car almost from scratch, using new parts made to factory specifications. But such luxury doesn't come cheap. And on any given weekend in America there are three to four classic car shows, drawing interested observers of all ages. South Africa also has its share of keen car buffs, and there are several clubs that cater for all types of old vehicle: classic, vintage, street rod, dragster… you name it.