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The Magic of Street Rods

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Originally Published: 7/1/1999
Mitch Silver

I'm a purist and I love driving cars as they were built 20, 30, 50 years ago - dead stock. But it doesn't take a very long drive in a nice street rod to make a believer.

The most consistent element in every street rod that I've encountered is that a lot of money, time, money, work, money and effort, went into making these cars very special and a pleasure to drive.

The key to a street rod (defined by the National Street Rod Association as a customized 1948 or older model) is that it's set up for comfortable touring. Some of the most important options are power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, and a state-of-the art sound system. Some of the nice extras are power windows, power seats, and electrically operated doors and trunks. And some of the fanciest gizmos are hydraulic or electric hide-away systems, tilting front ends, etc.

The '55 Mercury that I drove for a couple of weeks , was basic - by street rod standards. It had a 305 high-performance Chevy engine coupled to a turbo 400 transmission which gave it smooth, modern power. It would go a lot faster than I ever wanted to drive it, and its dual pipes had a very sweet sound, a must for most street rods.

The suspension on my Merc was lowered, however, to the point of absurdity. If you encountered a railroad track you had to turn around and find a different route (I'm not exaggerating). If the street you were driving on had a manhole cover, you had to change lanes or risk leaving essential mechanical components in the path of the car behind you.

Not your best everyday driver - but, oh, that look!

The seats in my rod were comfortable with good support but fixed in one position, so that a two-hour trip was a bit too long and an eight-hour trip was waaaay too long.

I was most impressed with the response my car garnered from onlookers. Young and old both liked my candy apple Merc and everyone had to ask how to open the doors with its shaved door handles. (I admit it was fun to show them the push button hidden in the Appleton false spotlights that magically opened the door and invited entry.)

The magic electric trunk, unfortunately, took two people, one to push the button while the other lifted on the lid with fingertips, which is embarrassing when you're by yourself late at night at a minimart gas station. On several occasions, I had to wait for another customer to show up so I could get the trunk open and fill the tank.

Street rods have their place, and one of their places is is in my garage.

I'm hooked, and although I still love original cars, I've got at least one stall open for a street rod.

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