Modern Rodding STARTING OVER
Headshot of Brian Brennan
by Brian Brennan

Time to Break Out the Crystal Ball


very so often, about once a year, I like to break out my hot-rodding crystal ball. I investigate what I can glean from this magical sphere, what clues I can find as to what’s happening in our hobby/industry.

For the scientifically minded, the key is to follow our family of rodding events. Examples would be the NSRA Nationals, Goodguys Columbus, Back to the 50’s, The Triple Crown of Rodding, Grand National Roadster Show, Detroit Autorama, SEMA Show, PRI Show, or one of the main auctions, such as Barrett-Jackson or Mecum. These should provide us with the knowledge to foretell the future. I’ve been to all these events multiple times and some a staggering number of times, but for sure a handful of these events every year. I believe it keeps me abreast of what’s going on, although I’ve found that at such highly organized get-togethers the groundswell is more difficult to hear. These events are very upbeat (as they should be) but they can muffle an underlying mood. It is this individual who holds the key to the future.

The reality is one must get out amid the crowd, inhale the exhaust fumes (but be careful), look, and speak with everyone to really find out what’s happening. For me driving is one of the more important aspects that our hobby affords me and allows me to get back to my roots. (And I haven’t done enough these past few years.) While it can be a singular activity it can also be done with one or more friends. Club outings give you the best of all worlds in that you get to drive, constantly be around like-minded friends, and when the run is over there is generally a social “hour” involved and this puts a tidy bow on the day’s activities. And that’s when you speak and hear the underlying tones.

Some of the best drives I’ve had in my roadster either involved driving across country or to a roadster gathering alone or with an accompanying hot rod or two. Invariably it is during these drives that I learn so much more about the “health” of our industry. It gives me a feeling about now and what the future just might hold.

I can remember one of my early drives to a Roadster Roundup when I was driving up Pacific Coast Highway with Dick “Magoo” Megugorac. (Back in the day he was a builder of significant reputation.) There were four of us. The other three roadsters were all powered by varying degrees of a stout small-block Chevy. My roadster went down the road with an “even-fire” Buick V-6. Great on mileage and potent enough at a svelte 2,300 pounds to run down the highway with the “pack.” The problem would arise when we would make a stop. Turns out as quick as my V-6–powered roadster was it was no match for a truly powerful 350 Chevy. I would catch up some 5 miles down the road and as I pulled inline, I could see the Cheshire Cat grin on each of their faces.

So, what does all of this do to help me see what might be coming down the road? By the numbers our segment of the automotive aftermarket is growing. According to SEMA, which tracks our industry closely, we are told that in 2022 the automotive aftermarket grew approximately 2 percent (down from the 4-5 percent annual growth), reaching $51.8 billion in sales. Still, it was growth. While there were some who thought that the pandemic would cause a downward trend, the fact is it was anything but that. On the street there can be no denying that the truck segment of our market is driving the big numbers.

Should you find yourself at one of the “major” indoor or outdoor events, there is plenty to see and get excited about, but you also get the sense that these events aren’t as big as they used to be. In fact, the manufacturers’ presence isn’t what it used to be either. There are some exceptions, with the truck events being responsible for much of the growth. What’s causing this? A change in attitude toward events, the cost associated with travel (inflation), and just possibly a “been there done that” attitude.

Is there a lessening of enthusiasm for hot rods—early and late model? I believe there is a “leveling out” but the enthusiasm is still there. What I see happening is that events need to change to stay up with the times. If you attend any of the major events, you will notice they are often unchanged over what’s happened in the previous decades. It’s time for a breath of fresh air to reinvigorate all events. What, I am not sure, but someone will figure it out. In the meantime, let’s keep driving and talking with like-minded hot rodders to see if we can find that rebirth.

Modern Rodding
VOLUME 4 • ISSUE 36 • 2023