There's been a lot of media attention lately focused on our hobby, which in the grand scheme of things should be a good thing. But if you're an outsider looking in, you might think that it only takes a few weeks at most to build a car from the ground up, and when it comes time to sell it, get ready to go to the bank because it'll bring six figures easy.
Anyone who has built a car from the ground up knows those kind of time frames aren't realistic, but when it comes to the money, that may be a different story. We've been having a lot of discussions around the water cooler lately about the high cost of hot rodding. It wasn't too long ago that I was watching a prominent hot rod builder being interviewed on one of these television shows when he made the statement that you've got to have $100,000 to play these days. My initial reaction was that he was out of his mind. But the more I thought about where he was coming from the more I realized he was probably right.
Got your attention now, huh? He's right if you went to his shop or any of the other high-profile shops with nothing but your checkbook and told them to build you a hot rod. In fact, for 100 G's you'd be lucky to leave with a basic '32 highboy with virtually no modifications. In an era when it's common to hear of build costs of two, three, or four hundred thousand (or a million) for some of the cars roped off and displayed on the indoor car show circuit, $100,000 almost starts sounding cheap.
Even these numbers lose some of their shock living in Southern California and dealing with the real estate market, but I've traveled enough to know that in most parts of this country, $400,000 will not only buy your house but might just get you your neighbor's as well. So the thought of even spending a tenth of that for a hot rod is unimaginable. I believe a cool hot rod or custom can be built for substantially less than that and if I didn't, I couldn't put out this magazine geared toward those of us on a budget. Just how cheaply a hot rod can be built is still a matter of debate.
While attending the Lonestar Round Up this past April, I set out to find out just how much you can build for your money and was surprised at what I found. My main goal was to see just what could be assembled for less than $10,000. I felt that this was a realistic number, but I'm sure some of you are already thinking that 10 grand is high-buck-just as I know that as soon as you're done reading this, you'll write me to tell me I'm full of crap (wouldn't be the first time) and send me a photo of the car you built for much less (I hope you do).
I based my criteria on a prewar car that was somewhat finished and was built with, what I considered, an aesthetic plan. That doesn't mean paint but it should appear complete with such things as floorboards, door panels (upholstered or not), gauges, and a well-built chassis (basically safe). I'm talking about hot rods that the owner built from the ground up. I know that you can have a lot of fun in a '50s something with the springs torched and a set of wheels and whitewalls but that's not what I'm referring to.
Once I found a hot rod that I thought might meet my criteria I started talking to the owner. I was somewhat surprised to find that when the discussion turned towards the build cost they were almost embarrassed to say and in most cases it wasn't because it was so little. The figure quoted most often, which surprised me, was around $15,000. One example was a good-looking modified with a 'glass body in black suede (no opening doors or trunk), no upholstery (it had painted bomber seats), a vintage engine with a trio of 94s, split wishbones, and a basic wheel and tire package. I would have bet the farm that it would have come in under my $10,000 budget, but it was detailed nicely and well-built and once you start pricing new items like dropped and drilled I-beams along with the cost of vintage parts (rebuild carbs and Buick drums), the money starts adding up quick.
I know it can be done for less and I'm glad that there will always be those of you who will strive to recycle as much as possible and do as much of it as you can on your own. I also know you'll have more fun working on it and driving it than the guy who has 10 times as much invested in his.
I'd really like to see the hot rods built by those of you who will argue that it can be easily done for less than 10 grand. Send a photo along with an honest breakdown of the costs of the parts used (the $25 392 Hemi you've had stuffed in the garage for the last 20 years doesn't count) to me at email@example.com or Rod & Custom, 774 S. Placentia Ave., Placentia, CA 92870. I'd like to prove that you can indeed play in this hobby with a beer and hot dog budget.