1950’s Controversy: Hot Rods vs Sports Cars – Part 1

When You Open Up the Sports Car Hood….You Get a Tiny Little Sports Car Engine. That Was A Typical Complaint Back Then.

Hi Gang…

As you review more and more magazines from back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s you see time and time again – arguments and discussions on how to define the newly budding hobby of sports cars and hot rods.  We think of these groups today as being two separate entities.  They were much closer to one another back then.  Think about it:

Hot Rods are defined by speed, chassis height, and lightweight components – all which create a “go fast” car with a rough and tumble appearance.

Sports Cars are defined by speed, chassis height, and lightweight components – all which create a “go fast” car with a smooth and defined appearance

Damn!  Didn’t I just say the same thing twice?

Think About It…

If you think about it….how close are early postwar “sports cars” to “hot rods?”   Both have:

  • Lightweight bodies
  • Shortened chassis – usually 94″ or 99″ (that is, not the usual 112+ inch wheelbase of a typical American car from the era
  • Large engine – an unmodified Ford Flathead had 239 cubic inches – other engines were larger
  • 3 speed transmission (usually floor mounted)
  • If 39-48 Ford chassis, solid front axle and split wishbones up front
  • Souped up engine with aluminum heads/intake and multiple carbs

Interesting Look – Is this a Sports Car Guy in a Hot Rod or Vice Versa?

The difference typically is how the chassis is covered with a body – especially with the home built specials from that time period.  Was it going to be a ’32 Ford Roadster body or a Glasspar G2 – Everything could be nearly identical underneather the body.  So why are “hot rod guys” different from “sports car guys”?  Shouldn’t they be closely aligned brothers – maybe even identical twins?

We’re not the only ones with these questions.  Magazines and editors started asking questions like these as well as defining the very nature of a sports car back then.  And you see these questions surface time and time again in the magazines.  Many discussions about these key points were from famous builders/drivers/authors back in the day.

On Behalf of “Hot Rods”, Ak Miller Takes a Look at Sports Cars:

Back in September 1952 in “Auto Speed and Sport” Magazine, Ak Miller squared off against Roger Barlow – both very successful in their respective areas.   I thought I would share their article in a 2 part story starting with Ak Miller’s thoughts on Sports Cars from a “Hot Rod” perspective.

As you read the article, here are a few of the highlights – starting with background on Ak Miller:

Ak Miller

  • A.O. “Ak” Miller: Ak Miller was born in Denmark, coming to the U.S. when a small boy.  His success in handling fine machinery is exemplified by the fact he is holder of the Class “C” (250-305 cu.in) modified roadster record of 172.744 mph for the two-way run at Bonneville.  Ak is also vice-president of the National Hot Rod Association and a past president of the Southern California Timing Association.  Incidentally, Ak’s roadster has four-wheel independent suspension and is considered to be one of the finest in the U.S.
  • I became a hot rodder rather than a sports car enthusiast, as hot rods offered me the nearest thing to what I wanted at a reasonable price.
  • After the war, we witnessed an amazing influx of English sports cars……I tried out  every sports car I could lay my hands on, up hill, down hill, straights, corners, the works.  Constantly comparing them to my ’32 Ford roadster, I found that I had better brakes, about three times the acceleration, and better steering.  As a matter of fact, I began to wonder why they bothered to call many of them “sports cars.”
  • The term “sports car” belongs to a machine that is far above average in brakes and steering.  As far as power is concerned, the average family sedan will shove along at around 90 mph.  The sports car should do at least 105 mph or better.  It must be powerful enough so it can be safely said that it will take anything on the road with the possible exception of another sports car.  This is the department in which the so-called sports cars fall flat on their faces in a country as large as ours.

Ak Miller’s Most Important Thoughts Are Here:

I feel that a modified American car, such as the Fordillac (Ford chassis, Cadillac engine), will whip the Jaguar at any go.  It also has more staying power and gives less trouble to the owner at a reasonable price.   This leaves just two choices for the serious minded sports car enthusiast.  He must choose the body and chassis of something like the Allard and install a large displacement American engine with its complete reliability and ease of maintenance.  The only other way out is to build a “special” utilizing as many stock U.S. Production components as possible.

Summary:

Now for those of you who have “caught on fire” from the words of Ak Miller….remember…the next part of this story is Roger Barlow’s thoughts on Hot Rods.  His thoughts are just as focused and will not disappoint.  And remember…those of you who find this argument interesting will enjoy reading the full article below, and the article in the near future on “Hot Rods from a Sports Car Perspective” by Roger Barlow.

In the meantime, think about it…..

Do you have a Hot Rod or do you have a Sports Car?   Is one better than the other?

Or you can do as I do and believe that vintage fiberglass sports car guys are a rare breed indeed.  We have the “best” of both worlds.

Hope you enjoy and….

Glass on gang..

Geoff

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