All Things for the
Auto Enthusiast

Introducing New Writer Larry Erickson

Photo Jan 23 2024, 2 30 02 PM

Growing up in Northern California, most of my friends who were into cars got their enthusiasm from a relative or a neighbor. Someone in their life who had an old car or hot rod.  In the gas crises of the 70s, seeing a hot rod or custom car out in the world was a rare occurrence. In today’s world of influence and connection, what inspires a person can come from a source completely independent of family, friends and geography. For this, you can thank the internet, car customizing TV and global travel. This fuels more car events & cruises, and ultimately leads to more custom modified cars on the road and social media.

 This past September I had the opportunity to hang out at the Normandy Beach Race on  the coast of France with my wife Sally, my son Will, and about 14,000 like minded souls. I use the term hang out since it was not so much a race. It was more like watching old hot rods, motorcycles and race cars struggling for traction, while drivers, crew and spectators enjoyed a day at the beach.

Today’s Beach Races are not the same as the early beach speed runs at Daytona and Ormond Beaches from 1903 until the 1950s. Those early events were a single racer running a timed section of beach, sometimes at speeds in excess of 200 MPH.

Today, beach race events like the Race of Gentlemen at Wildwood, New Jersey, Pendine Sands in England, Romo Festival in Denmark, and the Beach Race in Normandy France are more like a hot rod-motorcycle festival with a little friendly competition. Most events run a side by side 1/8 mile acceleration test between two competitors. The competing machines must be pre 1947 machines with period appropriate modifications and components. So no fiberglass Deuce Roadsters with paddle tires and 1500 HP LS motors. Safety is a concern, but skinny bias belted tires and 125 HP Flathead motors usually keep top end speeds below your average I-75 on-ramp velocity. What you loose on the speed scale you make up on the enjoyment scale.

            The Normandy Beach Race is about two hours north west of Paris. The Normandy region is a drivable destination for old cars and motorcyclists, and a great weekend spot to vacation, camp or just take a day trip. These are the same beaches that allied forces landed on in 1943, and the significance of those sacrifices are still visible today. As we worked our way through the crowds, you would see all these competitors and spectators dressed in period style clothing (most events encourage dressing in style). Motorcycle jackets from the 40s, pre WW2 speed equipment style T-shirts, accompanied by 40s and 50s music, mixed with the sounds of hopped up Flathead V8s and uncorked Knuckle Head Harleys.

 So how did a region of the world, that did not have relatives or next door neighbors building and driving these kind of machines back in the day, end up with so many enthusiastic participants? It is hard enough to find the old American cars and parts in Europe and even more challenging to work on them. So what would move someone to spend their hard earned money and time on such a thing?

            It isn’t easy to nail down exactly when the latest wave of enthusiasm for custom built cars started. American Graffiti, Happy Days, ZZ Top’s Music videos, The Fast and the Furious, and Reality TV car customizing programs have all contributed to promoting the idea of a hot rod that is truly your own. In the decades since the 50s, old ideas of what is a hot rod or custom is have been embraced and dismembered all at the same time. Young people in Japan are building incredible recreations of traditional American 50’s hot rods, and at the same time, somebody in Northern Europe constructs the most hot rodded Pontiac Fiero you could ever imagine!

Many of the 14,000 people on that beach in Normandy were there because they had experienced a vehicle so compelling they had to see more. Hot rodding is definitely not the same as it was in the 60s, as the inspiration for tomorrows enthusiast is streaming every second of everyday.  Still, meeting someone and experiencing their enthusiasm first hand is what motivates us. For me it was meeting Vern Tardel, seeing his Bonneville car and listening to his words. All of you owners and builders keep the enthusiasm alive, so as soon as the salt is off the road, get out, get crusin and inspire somebody!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *