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.
A study of '60s magazines also shows how popular Buick Skylark and Chrysler wire wheels were on rods and customs. Chrome reverse wheels-open faced or with spider caps-were favorites too. As for tires, the wide whitewalls popular in the '50s fell out of vogue as new 1-inch whitewalls like U.S. Royal Masters hit the streets. Other sidewall looks-including dual white pinstripes, redlines, goldlines, and raised white letters-came about almost annually through the decade. Today, you can find 1-inch whitewalls in radial form at most tire chains, or get authentic bias-ply versions from Coker Tire. Companies like Coker and Diamond Back Classics also offer radial whitewalls, redlines, and other vintage-looking rubber that looks appropriate for the era.
The candy paints made popular in the late '50s only got more vibrant in the '60s. Not only that, but metalflakes, pearls, and other enhancers made the colors pop more dramatically. To make the most of such hues, custom painters experimented with techniques like panel painting, fades, lace effects, and cobwebbing. If candies are too wild for you, keep in mind that basic reds, blacks, and blues remained rodding staples through the decade, and that that mid- to late '60s saw more subdued browns and greens being used as the resto-rod look began taking hold.
Sixties-style interior decorating relies heavily on that old rodding staple-vinyl. White rolls 'n' pleats are appropriate, but the decade saw many all-black cabins too. Button-tufted and diamond-pleat stitching was increasingly popular later in the decade. Customs often contrasted white vinyl with brightly colored metalflake vinyl, frieze, or other funky cloth. And let's not forget that show-car favorite: angel hair! Following new-car trends, bucket seats became popular in both rods and customs.
Properly accessorizing your ride can go a long way toward landing that '60s look, and there are a number of repop parts available if you don't feel like scrounging the swap meets or eBay. Spider caps, metalflake steering wheels, vintage-style wheels, underdash air conditioning units, retro gauges, vintage fabrics, and scores of other parts are all available if you know where to look. We've highlighted a few such components and companies to get you pointed in the right direction.
Nothing says you can't tweak '60s styles, though, as evidenced by our cover cars. Paulette Zaragoza's '33 Vicky has many mid-'60s hallmarks-Buick wires, skinny whitewalls, and candy gold paint-but a closer look reveals a modern fuel-injected V-8, overdrive transmission, and independent suspensions. Roy Brizio's '55 Chevy, meanwhile, evokes an early '60s feel, but substitutes 17- and 18-inch billet wheels patterned after the Corvette hubcaps that might have been used back in the day. Roy even had Diamond Back Classics dress up the low-profile tires with thin whitewalls.
Similarly, a few rodders are putting a modern spin on the show-rod concept. Elden Titus' Voodoo Spider and Vampyre evoke '60s vibes, but use contemporary underpinnings and large-diameter wheels. This is in addition to clones and restorations of famous '60s rods (Roth's Mysterion and the Monkeemobile, respectively) and more authentic-looking tributes like Shuten's Astrosled or Fritz Schenck's Roswell Rod.
Your WayThe '60s were many things to many people, but above all, the decade exuded a "do your own thing" ethos. So if we can leave you with any advice, it's simply to not get boxed in by rigid rules. We've rounded up some photos and products to get you thinking, but in the end it's up to you to decide if the '60s vibe is right for your ride, and how best to achieve it.