What Will Be The Hot Rods Of The Future?


Since the beginning of time, mankind has often asked: “What does the future hold?” We have spent countless hours guessing at what the future might be like in movies, novels, and through various other media as well as our imagination. We often wonder what the house of the future will be like; robot butlers and moving sidewalks, kitchen gadgets and food in capsules. One area that sometimes gets overlooked by futurists, despite it’s large impact on American Culture, is hot rodding.

seansmithIt seems that few ever ask questions such as, “what will the future of hot rodding be?” and “what will hot rods of the future look like?” However, these questions linger in the back of every hot rod builder and designer’s mind during the creation of each masterpiece as they try to outdo their last.

One of the reasons Rod Authority brings up the topic of the future of hot rodding is because in the last decade the automotive industry has changed dramatically. The cars that have rolled off the production lines in Detroit and other parts of the world have changed drastically and evolved with technologies abundant.

They are more advanced than cars of the Twentieth Century. This makes us wonder what new technologies will play a part in hot rodding and customs in the coming years?


All Artwork By: Sean Smith

Another reason we ask this question is because most of the cars that have been traditionally hot rodded: the Tri-Five Chevys, ’32 Fords, the ’40 Fords, Chevelles and Dodge Chargers, etc., have continued to climb in value and become ever more rare over the last two decades. Most of the average car guys are being priced out of this market as the values are being driven higher by the scarcity of original “hot rods” and their availability. Which leads us to ask, “What cars will be the next vehicle platforms for building a hot rod?”

Along with these thoughts, we have been wondering how people will modify their hot rods in the future? Over the last 60 plus years, hot rodding has gone through several changes – from hot rod coupes of the 50s to the highly modified musclecars of today.

The Cars

To answer these questions we’ll take a look at some of the more readily available platforms of today and take a stab at guessing which ones might become the hot rods of “tomorrow” based on their current mods and upgrades.

We have selected several cars from the “Big Three” that we believe will make great hot rods in the future for both their speed, availability, and “cool” factor. We looked at cars that are currently available that cost less than $10,000, have engines and transmissions with plenty of aftermarket support, and either make great drag cars or have the lines to look good as a custom or the future hot rod of choice.

Chevy Monte Carlo (1978-1988)

1983 Chevy Monte Carlo modified as a drag car.

The first of these cars is the 3rd and 4th Generation Chevy Monte Carlo. This car was popular with gearheads back in the 80’s, but for reasons unknown, it lost its popularity and has become a forgotten value.

The Monte Carlo makes an excellent platform for a hot rod since it is rear wheel drive and came stock with Chevy 305 V-8 small-block motor. If the 305 isn’t powerful enough for you, a swamp is fairly easy as most Chevy V-8s will bolt right up with little or no modification to the frame.

Not only are Monte Carlo’s great performers, but they are lookers as well! They have a great appearance, and nice body lines. This is especially true of the cars with the SS package. The Monte Carlo’s will make great platforms for drag cars, pro touring cars or circle track cars. They can generally be found for between $2,500 and $5,000.

T-Bird (1983-1997)

Many had a 5.0, but some Tenth ‘Gen Birds offered blown V-6s.

The Ford Thunderbird has been showing up at drag strips all around the country recently. The T-Bird is the older but slightly slower sister of the Ford Mustang. Despite the T-bird being slower, in stock form, the Ninth and Tenth Generation T-Birds will make great hot rod projects.

Most of these cars came off the assembly line with Windsor 302 V-8 engines, but the Super Coupe models of the Tenth Gen’ (’89-’97) T-Bird had supercharged six-cylinder engines, which can make an interesting hot rod. The 5.0 was replaced with the 4.6-liter Modular engine by ’94, and the Super Coupe model and it’s blown V-6 went the next year.

Due to low cost and large aftermarket resource, expect to see lots of hot rod T-Birds in the future. These sell for $2,000 to $7,000.

Ford Mustang (1994-2004)

Overlooked at first, the 4.6 OHC V-8 has proven itself as a performer over time.

The 4.6 OHC V-8 has proven itself as a performer over time.

If you already consider the Ford Mustang to be a great platform for a hot rod, then you are correct, it already is quite a popular choice. However, the classic Mustangs from the 60s through the 80s and the most recent generation have been heavily rodded. The Fourth Generation has been largely overlooked as a great platform, but when it was produced, it was a successful car that sold well.

Many gearheads were not fans of its body design and unsure how well its 4.6-liter OHC engine would perform. However, opinions changed by the time the Fifth Gen’ came along. Since the Fourth Gen’ Mustangs have the same powerplant and have a large aftermarket resource. We are certain that the Fourth Gen’ will be revisited and will be a common sight at car shows in the future.

Light Pickup Trucks – Chevy S-10, Ford Ranger, and Dodge Dakota

We have noticed that hot rodding trucks has become popular during the last decade. Trucks such as the Chevy C-10, the classic F-150s and the Dodge D100s are currently being modified in the custom and hot rod world.

1987-Chevy-S10-Race-CWe definitely have a feeling that in the next decade or so, the prices of these trucks may start to climb and gearheads will have to find newer , less inexpensive trucks to hot rod such as the S-10s, the Rangers and the Dakotas.

For the last 10 years or so Chevy S-10s with small-block Chevys have been common sites at the drag strip. The Chevy S-10s are robust trucks that are easy to do engine swaps with. A Chevy 350 will bolt right up to both the automatic and manual transmissions the of 1982-1993 S-10s, for the second generation of S-10s an adapter kit is available. Since these trucks are already becoming common at drag strips, they are most likely going to take off as a candidate for the next generation hot rod.

Unlike the S-10, the Ford Ranger hasn’t been a common site at the strip… quite yet. In the next few years Rangers will become popular among gearheads since they are rear wheel drive, have a solid axle and swapping in a 302 Windsor is easy to do. The 302 will bolt right up to the transmission of first generation Rangers and adapter kits are available for later models.

rangerFord Rangers are affordable trucks that will be easy to turn into performance vehicles. A used Ranger can cost $1,000 to $8,000 making for an easy budget build (based on 82 through 97-model years).

The Dodge Dakota is the only one of the light pickups that came off the assembly line with a V-8 engine. Many of them came equipped with 318 ci V-8 Magnum LA engines that have electronic fuel injection and can make a great platform for a turnkey hot rod. If the 318 is not powerful enough for you, many Dakota owners have begun swapping out these engines for the bigger 440s.

A few other trucks may also be good candidates for a future hot rod. These include Chevy C1500s/Silverados (especially the 454ss C1500s), Rams, as well as the 70s and up F-150s. A few SUVs would be in that mix as well – the Chevy Blazer, Ford Bronco and Dodge Ramcharger, all could make a bitchin’ rod 50 years from now.

Fourth Generation F-Bodies (1993-2002)

The fourth generation of GM F-Bodies are going to be popular among the hot rodding crowd in the next decade or so. During the last decade, the Third Gen’ F-Bodies became more popular, however they are rising in price and may become too expensive for the average Joe. Gearheads may start seeking out Fourth ‘Gens, which make excellent platforms, since from ’93 through ’97 they came factory equipped with a fuel-injected 350 ci V-8 LT1.

These LT1 engines have 280 to 300 hp and a huge aftermarket resource, which means that building 500 hp monsters will be easy. The ’98 through ’02 Camaros and Trans Ams came with an all-aluminum 346 ci V-8, the LS1. The LS1 produced 305-325 hp stock, and it has a large aftermarket resource as well. Right now these cars can be purchased for under $10,000. However, we have a strong feeling that their value is going to sky rocket in a few years as they become popular again.

Modifications of the Future

Now that we have a better idea of what cars may be the hot rods of the future, let’s take a look at what mods these cars and the older hot rods may have.

Late Model Engines

Late-model engines such as the LS are already becoming popular among 'rod builders.

Late-model engines such as this LS are already becoming popular choices.

Late model engines are slowly beginning to replace crate motors in older cars. The latest generation of small-block Chevys, the Ford modular engines and the new 392 ci V-8 Hemi are common engines that are currently being used to power older cars. Builders prefer to build their projects with newer engines over traditional crate motors more and more due to availability, reliability, and current technologies.

But this doesn’t mean “tradition” is dying! This is all very similar to what gearheads did back in the 50s and 60s. They would use engines from the newer cars in their hot rods, as crate motors were not available at the time. You can almost say that this is a resurgence of an old trend.

We don’t expect current crate motors to disappear, but we do think they could become less common until crate motors based on newer products become more affordable.

A Stronger Focus on Handling

Who knows, with the focus shifting to handling prowess, autocross may eclipse drag racing.

With the focus shifting to handling prowess, Autocross may become even more popular.

A focus on improving a cars handling rather than straight-line performance has grown over the last several years. For years most hot rodders have built their cars to drag race or to show, but  many are now building their cars to handle the road course as well. Pro Touring and Autocross have taken off and their popularity has spread all across the hot rodding landscape.

Mods such as low profile tires, 17-inch wheels and performance suspension kits have become common place on musclecars. Despite this, it’s unlikely that drag racing will ever be phased out, but Autocross may or may not be the facet of performance hot rodding in the future. Who knows, do you think the SCCA could ever become bigger than the NHRA? Only time will tell.

Wagons and Four-Doors

As Chevelles,  Chargers, and Deuce Coupes continue to rise in price, people are going to look for different cars to hot rod. Currently classic trucks are popular but we have a feeling that less popular years of the favorite cars, as well as four-door cars and wagons are going to be hot rodded as budget builds become more and more accepted.

Wagons are cool, and could very well become even more popular as the platform of choice for 'rod builders.

Wagons are cool, and could very well become even more popular as the platform of choice for ‘rod builders.

People are going to begin purchasing the less desirable years of their favorite cars. For example, since the ’68 through ’72 vintage  are expense many people are going to start buying the ’73 and ’74 model-year cars. The body style stigma of the past has begun to fade away as hot rodders are becoming thriftier and willing to do something different to work with what is available.

Station wagons and four-door models are going to be more common place as well. Expect to see more four-door Novas, Chevelle and Coronet wagons at car shows and at the strip.

Alternative Fuels

Alternative fuels and electric vehicles is always a bit of a sore subject for hot rodders, but it is inevitable as we look to the future. As alternative fuels become more commonly used in everyday vehicles, it will be only a matter of time before they start being used in hot rods. Expect to see more ethanol, methanol, diesel, and even electric hot rods in the future. 

Steel Bodies

Companies such as Brookville Roadster already produce Model T, Model A and Model B steel bodies. Many people want something a little more authentic than fiberglass, and steel bodies are the prefect answer.

As the values of ’57 Chevys and ’68 GTOs keep increasing, it’s likely that companies will begin to make steel replacement bodies for these cars. This will allow the average rodder to own a more authentic version of his dream car at a fraction of the cost.

The Cherry Bomb Camaro is a great example of the hot rod of the future. It has a major focus on handling and is equipped with cutting-edge modern performance parts inside and out.

Old School Meets New

The blending of different eras is beginning to take off. An example of this is Year One’s Cherry Bomb Camaro, which combines a 70’s street machine with a modern pro touring style car. The Camaro has side-pipe exhaust, a blower sticking out of the hood, and slot mag’ wheels like a true 70’s street machine build.

However, the mag’ wheels are 18s and wrapped in low profile tires. The motor is an EFI LS block instead of a carbureted engine, and the supercharger is an intercooled BDS 8-71 like a modern hot rod. Garage-built hot rods may soon be done this way as well, as more technology becomes readily available to the home builder.

The Future Is Uncertain

What does the future hold for hot rodding? No one really knows for sure, not even us. However, we do believe that our predictions are solid. But what do you think will become the most popular car to hot rod over the next 40, 50, or 60 years?

Expect to see a greater focus on handling, and when you attend a car show 30 years from now, expect to see several modified ’93 Camaros, ’99 Mustangs, Chevy S-10s, and Ford T-birds. Who knows, we could be way off and 20 years from now we’ll all be hot rodding hovercrafts.

hot rod

Only time will tell what is in store for hot rodding, but here at Rod Authority we have a feeling it’s going to be a bright future. Put your shades on, and stay tuned!

About the author

Josh Courter

Josh Courter is a Power Automedia freelancer with a serious passion for anything custom. Rods, classics, sleds, and even motorcycles provide inspiration for Josh along with his passion for automotive history.
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