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A custom car is a passenger vehicle that has been substantially modified in either of the following two ways
Although the two are related, custom cars are distinct from hot rods. The extent of this difference has been the subject of debate among customizers and rodders for decades. Additionally, a street rod can be considered a custom.
A development of hot rodding, the change in name corresponded to the change in the design of the cars being modified. The first hot rods were pre-World War II cars, with running boards and simple fenders over the wheels. Early model cars (1929 to 1934) were modified by removing the running boards and either removing the fenders entirely or replacing them with very light cycle fenders. Later models usually had fender skirts installed.
Coachcraft Ltd. in Hollywood, California, built several modified cars that are generally regarded as the first examples of "custom cars", in contrast to a custom-bodied coachbuilt car that was commonly purchased new by wealthy people in the 1930s. The firm was started by ex-employees of Howard "Dutch" Darrin, who had designed and built the custom-bodied luxury cars that came before. Strother MacMinn called the "Yankee Doodle Roadster" by Coachcraft the “first American custom sports car." Many pictures of this car can be seen by looking at the web pages in these references:
Many cars were "hopped up" with engine modifications such as adding additional carburetors, high compression heads and dual exhausts. Engine swaps were done, the object of which was to put the most powerful engine in the lightest possible frame and body combination.
The suspension was usually altered. Initially this involved lowering the rear end as much as possible with the use of lowering blocks on the rear springs. Later cars were given a rake job either adding a dropped front axle or heating front coil springs to make the front end of the car much lower than the rear.
Much later some hot rods and custom cars swapped the old solid rear axle for an independent rear axle, often from Jaguar. Sometimes the grille of one make of car replaced by another; the 1937 Buick grille was often used on a Ford. In the 1950s and 1960s, the grille swap of choice was the 1953 De Soto.
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