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Car Spotting in London

Home > London > Fun Things To Do | Hobbies
by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Published July 31st 2012
Being a hot rod & Kustom car enthusiast, particularly of the genius known as Morris Minor Chevy, I always think there is always fodder for a hot rod, kustom or lowrider in London. The cars in London are so white-bread, but they are repositories of raw ingredients for a recipe for something nothing else has. However, there are cars that really stand out. No, I'm not talking about the rusted banger that has an interior like the bedroom of a child possessed by the God of Hellfire and the bumper falling off, nor the hot hatch with a body-kit made of Burberry shellsuit material, but something more out there. So out there that you have to do it yourself, but if you don't get it, you don't get it.

For those of you who know not what a hot rod is, it all started in the 1930's southern California when speed junkies were throwing away any surplus weight from their Model T, A and B Fords and building the most powerful engine you can find in the scrapyard. Of course, the hot ticket for dirt cheap speed was (and is) to drop in the engine from a Luxury car, such as one out of a 1970's Cadillac. The big 8.2 litre one or the current Northstar engine, for instance. It would have been nice to use a Duesenberg engine, but even in the 1930's, they were rare even then.

After WWII, it exploded across America like the bomb dropped on Hiroshima when GIs looking for thrills, armed with new skills and wanted to do nothing with pills found the scrap yards filled with military surplus and an old Model A that had been worn out. What do you do? You build something and go racing on the dry lakes. "Since there are no dry lakes in the British Isles, let alone within the M25, where does London fit in?", you ask.

The hot rod fodder I've seen in London is a real treat for the discerning gearhead, like this Humber Super Snipe. What comes to mine when you see it? Your granddad's car? The old heap that needs to be recycled into something more sustainable? I see either a potential star of the drag strip, a Kustom that could Cruise the King's Road, Chelsea with more style than the Ferraris rich Arabs bring over every summer or a sleeper. You know, restore it back to factory condition, but lowered and add a few well chosen period hot rod touches under the hood. It even looks like a 1955 Chevy, just plainer. As a teenager, I wanted one of those Detroit queens and still do today.

There is so much scope in the Humber Super Snipe, especially as it looks like a 55 Chevy. Fancy your chances, Sir?

Let's face it, Ferrari's are for people with more money than imagination. That said, who hasn't even thought of having a Ferrari engine dumped in between the chassis rails of their white bread hatchback? Come on, don't deny it. You've dreamed of it. Well, you have an imagination, don't you? Even I've thought a Ferrari V8 could make a great hot rod engine, dropped in the frame-rails of a 1932 Ford 3 window Coupe.

Ironic someone coughed up a lot of money for something that looks like a 1980's Chevy Caprice.

Contrary to what Jeremy Clarkson tells you, the coolest cars are not the supercars you see on the new "Top Gear". They are the unusual, what grabs your attention without grabbing your balls by making you take a second look. A Bentley station wagon was one, just because there are only three made, so the driver told me. Anyway, On clocking it, I picked up the pace and pounded after it, pumping blood, lungs acting like superchargers until I whipped out my camera and shot away as it stopped in Cadogan Square, Belgravia. As soon as I throttled back, I got talking to the driver and he was a nice guy who told me all about this curio. It turns out this car was only one of three station wagons built in Switzerland, this one being built for a rich Arab to carry his Polo mallets. Ironically, this man coughed up a lot of money for something that looks like a 1980's Chevy Caprice, we both laughed. I even wonder whether he was laughing at me for suggesting this, but so what, it's a great surfer's car.

Just imagine it slammed, some airbrushed woodgrain in the right places, unpolished American Racing Torque Thrust wheels, redline tyres, matching surfboards and you've got a party wagon par excellence. All you need are a few leggy society bikini babes, some beer, Dick Dale on the stereo and directions to the beach. Either that, or you can tow your Bentley Continental gasser to the drag strip. As I was there, there was a 1950's Bentley Continental parked nearby. Is this deviant thinking, or what?

I know it's not a hot rod, but it has that unusuality that appeals to hot rodders because it is worth a second look without going for the jugular. Although I'm a station wagon and hearse freak, I find it not out there enough. However, there is one car local to me that is.
Worth a second look, even for the subtle touches. I see this Volvo all the time and love it, especially what's been done.

Now I've shown you the raw material, in the form of a Humber, let's look at my favourite example of a finished custom in my area. This Volvo Amazon is a 1950's style mild custom, which could have come out of Southern California's best drive ins. Unlike the vulgarity of a Bugatti Veyron in candy blue wrap I saw, this little honey really is a tasteful example of what could have been an older (read: especially married with kids) hot rodder's daily driver at that time, only slightly smaller. The trim has been removed, cleaning up the lines, and the grille is home made, constructed out of a towel rail, mesh and overriders from what I suspect are Morris Minor. The hubcaps are 1955 Oldsmobile items, which are very common on 50's-style customs. One key customiser's trick is using pieces from other cars, such as the bumpers off another car. While the front & rear valances aren't reshaped to the bumper's contours, it looks great nonetheless. This is just simple stuff that really alters the car's personality and works on any car from the 30's to 70's. It'll even work on the Humber, which could bring out the transatlantic styling at its best.

While I admit this essay is opinion, I want to show you awesome stuff is out there. If you know where to look, you'll get an amazing idea or a million.
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Why? If you don't get it, you don't get it.
Where: London
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