Nostalgia is nothing new in rodding. Most enthusiasts are influenced in one way or another by our hobby's past; some never left. Retro-styled rods and customs, meanwhile, never really go out of style, although certain looks may experience more popularity than others as trends cycle.
Right now, we're smack dab in the middle of a '60s revival. One look at the rash of straight-axle, gasser-style cars should serve as a good indicator that the '60s are back. Need more evidence? How about the resurgence of show rods, like Dave Shuten's Astrosled featured last month? Or what about all the customs we're seeing with thin whitewalls, vintage five-spoke wheels, and Watson-style scallops, panels, or lace paint?
Yes, the '60s are back, but what exactly does that mean, and how might it affect your next rod or custom project? We'll explore those questions as we study the elements of '60s style and put a little perspective on it.
Multifaceted DecadeThe 1960s was a decade of social change in the United States. The early years didn't seem much different than the '50s, but change came rapidly as President Kennedy was assassinated, the civil rights movement took off, the Beatles launched the British invasion, and the Vietnam conflict became a full-fledged war. By the late '60s, rock 'n' roll sounded nothing like "Blue Suede Shoes," crewcuts had grown into ponytails, and an entire generation was caught up in a cultural revolution.
It's fitting, then, that there is no singular '60s style for rods and customs. For rods especially, the early '60s looked much like the late '50s. Interest in early hot rods waned as the decade unfolded, but many who continued building them held on to the basic established templates. The most significant changes involved wheels and tires, with a competition influence bringing mags and wider rubber to the scene. The same racing inspiration also led rodders to use newer, bigger, and more radical-looking engines.
The '60s also saw the evolution of the show rod. What began with cars like the Ala Kart in the '50s evolved into a radical new rod form that spawned wild creations like Roth's bubbletop cars, the Dave Stuckey-built Li'l Coffin, and Dan Woods' Milk Truck. Gone was any pretense of actual street use; these cars were built to push creative limits and wow car-show spectators.
Like rods, customs followed two paths in the '60s. On one hand you had wild show customs like the El Matador and Jade Idol vying for judging points and trophies. At the same time, street customs got simpler, relying more on custom paint and minor body mods than chopping or sectioning. Customs eventually lost favor as modified late-model cars adopted styling cues and attitudes from drag racing and factory musclecars, setting the stage for the street machine movement.
Getting The LookLike any rodding style, achieving a '60s look has a lot to do with a few key elements: wheel and tire selection, stance, paint, and upholstery. Let's start with the rolling stock. More than anything, the '60s saw hubcaps tossed aside in favor of aluminum mags. Five-spoke designs like American's Torq-Thrust, Radir's Tri-Rib, and the Astro Supreme were some of the decade's most popular wheels. Fortunately, new versions of each are still available today.