More Underrated Rods

Last week I reported how the hot rod movement has evolved over the years. As most of you well know, hot rodding owes its origins to low-buck efforts of add performance to used cars, but over time it has transformed itself into a more sophisticated and more costly pastime. While the cars that the top hot rodders are turning out these days could be described as nothing less than automotive art, the fact that the hobby (lifestyle?) is getting increasingly expensive has made it difficult for some budding and resurgent car modifiers to get in the game. Frankly, the price tags on many prime models are out of sight these days. If you glance through Hemmings Motor News at prices of in-demand iron like the '55-57 Chevrolet, '64-'70 Pontiac GTO and '32-35 Ford coupes, among countless others, you might well find your mood for getting that hot rod of your dreams fade fast.

But those of you who harbor the hot rod dream can take heart. Our colleague and fellow old car fan Richard Lentinello of Hemmings Rods & Performance has identified several vehicles that can become the basis of worthwhile hot rods, while at the same time not putting an incredible crimp in your pocketbook. For those of you who are unaware, Hemmings Rods & Performance is a new publication from the same people who offer Hemmings Motor News, the Bible of the collector car hobby, and Special Interest Automobiles. When it comes to old cars Lentinello certainly knows whereof he speaks, and his staff's picks combine value, availability, performance potential and just plain fun.

So here, without further ado, are three more sleepers that might find a happy place in the corner of your garage:

1948 Hudson Commodore Club Coupe Do you like the look of the current Ford "49" concept car? Do you dig the lines of a late Forties Mercury, especially when it has been "chopped?" Well, if long, wide and oh-so-low is your thing, a '48 Hudson Commodore with its "Step Down" chassis design might just be the ticket without costing you an heir to your family fortune. As the Hemmings staff puts it, "Hudson's Commodore is as close to a factory-built custom as they come." Depending on your own desires, relatively little effort is required to transform this sleekly styled Club Coupe into a real head-turner. The car features a three-bar horizontal grille augmenting its width and rear fender skirts emphasizing its length. Originally powered by either a straight six or a straight eight, this Hudson has plenty of space under the hood to accommodate a larger engine. The staff at Hemmings suggests a Chevrolet 502 cubic inch big block, but a 350 cubic inch small block Chevy is probably the better choice for real-world driving. Average Price: $5,000.

1961-62 Buick Skylark/Special Produced in sedan, coupe and convertible body styles, the most interesting part of this cool little Buick is what resides under the hood: an all-aluminum 215-cubic-inch V-8. This engine was not a big hit in the United States, but Rover bought the tooling in the Sixties and kept it in production until the early Nineties so a modern version of the mill can be purchased for a reasonably small outlay of cash. In fact Edelbrock, a high-performance parts manufacturer, offers an alloy intake to increase low-end power and torque. The light, compact Skylark and Special were originally available in either 155- or 190-horsepower trim, so these conservatively styled flyers make an excellent basis for a unique street machine. For ultimate performance, pick the coupe. For outstanding fun, the convertible is the model to buy. Average Price: $3,000.

1965-66 Oldsmobile Starfire Sure, the car of choice in this genre is the Oldsmobile 4-4-2. Your author had a '65 example, and it was one of the best all-around vehicles he ever owned. Now, though, with current prices of 4-4-2's beyond what many enthusiasts can afford, the Starfire is a reasonable alternative. Built on a slightly larger platform than the F-85/Cutlass-based 4-4-2, the Starfire offers nearly comparable performance when equipped with the 425-cubic-inch "Rocket" V-8. Since the engine spun out 375 horsepower in stock trim, not to mention mountainous gobs of torque, the Starfire is a natural platform for simple hop-up techniques. In addition, you'll have yourself a very versatile vehicle with room for as many as six passengers and a trunk that resembles Meramec Caverns. On top of that the Starfire two-door hardtop delivers distinguished Sixties-era Oldsmobile styling, so you'll be hard-pressed to find a more powerful, good-looking touring car that's comparably priced. Average Price: $5,000.

Hemmings Rods & Performance includes in-depth parts reviews focusing on the pros and cons of particular components' construction, theoretical articles explaining the functions and designs of individual engine and driveline components, and different engine build-ups, complete with dyno results, costs, and insights from the engine builders themselves.

Cleveland-based Luigi Fraschini has owned a number of hot special interest cars including a 1965 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 and a 1968 Pontiac Firebird convertible.