A while back I wrote an article where I gave my opinion on exercising a little patience when it comes to buying your first hot rod. As an example, I outlined the process of buying an older/amateur restoration Model A Coupe, taking it apart and selling off the things that you, the hot rodder, doesn't need, thereby making back some of your money and being "in" the project "right" in the long run when compared to building from a bare body, or from a pile of parts. It can be read here: GET SOME PATIENCE, NOW!

Guys in the '90's really saw chrome and stainless steel and were like "Absolutely fucking not.

Recently though, I got to thinking: What about the guys that are a little further along? Maybe a little more established? The guy that is still budget-conscious but has the ability to spend a little more (or even a lot more) money in order to get what he wants. Could I make a similar case that applies to guys in the next tax bracket as well? I think so.. But the answer may make you wince a little. Ready? The answer just may be: An old Street Rod. (GASP)

Not a lot to complain about on this gorgeous '34 Roadster I sold. Total street rod but great stance and timeless look. I would change the wheels and tires and ditch the cowl lights, that's it. Would you believe this car was built in 1996? It was!

You know how people always say that the second you drive a new car off the lot, it's instantly worth a shit load less money? The same is true of old cars too, except they are only ever "worth" what you spent to build them to you, almost never to the next guy. Body and paint are EXPENSIVE. Interiors aren't cheap either. Can't fab? Also big-bucks. Anything that takes skilled labor that you can't perform is gonna cost you at least $100 an hour. And cars can take thousands of hours to build. So, what's my point? My point is, let some other MF'er spend the money and take the loss. But what about this street rod shit? Ok, read on:

1990's hot rod painters were like "You can have any color you want, as long as it's terrible." 

The 90's and early 2000's were a CRAZY time. Baby Boomers were kinda just starting to become established money-wise, a natural course just based on age, but the surging economic climate of the time also helped fuel an unprecedented level of excess and free-spending. Naturally, one of the things these guys spent freely on, was classic cars. There was a thriving resurgence in the interest in old cars unlike anything we'd seen before, at least since the original hot rod craze that started forty-fifty years before. Just one problem: What a fucked up era when it comes to taste...

This sums it right up.... 

Let's face it. Some of the shit these guys were doing to these cars was terrible: Shaved door handles, billet everything, easter egg paint colors, painted bumpers, tweed interior, tilt columns. FUCK. Yeah, some nasty stuff alright. What was fashionable then was anything but timeless. To be frank, I don't think there was ever a worse era when it comes to classic car aesthetics. And this is coming from a guy that was a kid in the 90's! 

Of course, there is an exception to every rule! No one can deny how incredible The Eliminator was and is. Built about a decade before the time-frame I'm focusing on here, it's easy to see how many people this car impacted. 

But they weren't ALL BAD and there are some redeeming qualities to these thirty-ish year old builds. One of which is, a LOT of these cars were actually very, very well-built. IF you can look past some of their obvious short comings in the looks-department. (and have the eye to be able to correct it.)

Don't get me wrong, there is no un-fucking this Boydster shit.. 

Now, if we're talking about a car that's teal with a pink heartbeat stripe down the side of it and Dodge Neon headlights grafted into it, this may not exactly apply.. But, the fact is, a lot of the "fugly" on most of these cars can (thankfully) be unbolted and thrown away. In fact, just the proper set of wheels and tires can right a lot of wrongs on a dated old street rod. And if you're willing to go a step or two further, you can end up with an extremely bitchin car, for a reasonable price, far less than you'd have spent building it from scratch. 

Early-2000's street rod. Decent looking car. The right wheels would change everything. Don't believe me? Keep scrolling.. 

Paint: This is the biggest hurdle to overcome. Far too many street rods built during this era got sprayed with absolutely terrible colors.. Teals, pinks, two-tones, terribly done flames, awful graphics air brushed on, you get the idea. For those cars, unless you're a painter, my little theory won't work, as body and paint are just too expensive. The good news is, there were plenty of well-built cars that came out of the 90's that were just painted a single/neutral color like red or black. 

Wheels and tires: The biggest offenders and the easiest fix! You'd be surprised how a car can change with just a wheel and tire update. Trading the Boyds for some clean, tasteful steel wheels and baldy caps goes a loooooong way. 

Chrome: Painted bumpers and grills were very common. Luckily, that's an easy fix. Get the brightwork back on these babies!

Engine bay: If you can stand a Small Block Chevy, T350 and 9" Ford, you're in for some good news, since that was what 90% of these cars used. Just toss the ugly valve covers and air cleaner in favor of a more tasteful setup and replace the billet oil and trans dipsticks with clean stock stuff and you're good to go. You won't be winning any awards on the HAMB for being the most trad-bro on the planet, but you'll be driving a nice car. Just keep the hood shut. 

Interior: This is a big one.. Very few street rods escaped a 1990's upholstery shop without being draped in a few yards of hideous grey tweed. If you're lucky enough to find something that did, you are so far ahead of the game it isn't even funny. That's gonna be pretty rare though. Most are going to need that shit pulled out, and lit on fire. Then nice, more traditional stitching put in its place. You'll also likely be updating gauges, and steering wheel at a minimum. (Any idea how many cars I've gone to look at where the guy was so proud to tell me it has digital gauges? - Too many.) 


Same car as above with nothing more than a wheel change. This was a high end six-figure street rod build twenty years ago. I recently sold it for less than half of that to a very happy guy who now has a timeless looking hot rod that drives like a modern car. For cheap. 

At the end of the day, how far you want to go is up to you. And don't get me wrong, there are plenty of these 90's cars that can't be straightened out in a weekend with a set of wrenches and a case of beer. But there are a ton that can.

 My friend Robbie and I drove to LA to grab this '36 3 Window a few years back. Old hot rod from the 40's, turned 90's street rod. Tweed interior, SBC, Mustang II, the whole deal. But an amazing car body and paint-wise, with a killer old chop. We smacked some of the 90's out of it with the basics: Wheels and tires, pulling the painted mirrors, etc. 

Unfortunately, unlike the scenario I outlined in GET SOME PATIENCE NOW you most likely won't be making any money back on the items you pull off of these cars. Why? Nobody wants it! Rather than taking photos and posting this stuff to Marketplace, you'll be searching for the nearest burn pile, or poorly-guarded construction site dumpster.. Or if you're a betting-man, maybe you can stuff it away in the hopes that this gross era of car customization makes a comeback some time down the road. Will it? I hope not, but it is possible!

Lots of great cars like this still out there. I found this in a google search, they were wanting to sell it. Described as a "mid-90's build" that cost $120k at the time, it would shock me if it sold for more than $45k-$50k. Wheels/tires and put the door handles back on this thing and I'd be proud to drive it. 

So, there you have it, my two cents. The point is this: If you can find a well-built old street rod that has a bulletproof drivetrain, with decent paint in a color you can stand, the rest is easy money. Give it some thought! Happy hunting...

 Oh, when we're done fixing street rods, we need to have a real talk about all these Milner clones...


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published