automobile has long inspired creativity, and Southwest Virginia has
been home to some of the nation’s finest car builders and customizers.
Along with the appeal of the mechanical work, to these men a car or
truck can be a piece of sculpture and/or a painter’s canvas.
Creative builders in the region have produced rolling showcases of
power, craftsmanship, and artistic tastes—from hard-charging
hot rods in dull primer paint to sleek-bodied custom cars bejeweled
In the pre-1960s era, before Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler began
making “muscle cars,” many hot rodders were content to
put high-performance drive trains in otherwise “stock”
automobiles. The most ambitious projects however were complete car
makeovers involving rigging (the combining of suspension components,
brakes, motors, running gears, frames, and/or bodies from different
automobiles), body-and-fender work, motor building, upholstering,
and painting. In the 1950s hot rodders typically did much of their
own work, but by the 1970s specialized artisans were commonly doing
different phases of car-building projects.
Early builders made only slight body modifications, but many of them
became artistically bolder through the 1960s. Eventually original
car parts for older automobiles grew scarce, and reproduction parts—even
complete body kits—are now available. Unlike the hot rod builders
of the early 1950s, the custom car fan today generally wants a modern
engine, an automatic transmission, air conditioning, and a stereo
system in a vintage street rod body.
The many local “cruise-in’s” and car shows are today’s
showcases for Southwest Virginia car building. The men who grew up
in the 1950s and ‘60s typically bring street machines and muscle
cars from the pre-1970 era. The under-30 drivers arrive in customized
late-model cars and trucks such as Honda’s and Chevrolet S-10’s.
Of course, after the shows have closed, the young drivers still go
out cruising through their popular hangouts just as their fathers
and grandfathers did years ago.
Chapter 2 » Pinstriping