Scene & Heard Issue 4

A column for venting opinions about the scene today. This month, Jon Hill’s returning rantings

Where have all the ‘glass cars gone? When, for want of a better term, customising started in this country, there was a wealth of suitable rodding material – it was a time when pre-war cars were plentiful and there really were steel ’32 Fords about, although these, alas, had been raced to death on the oval circuit and were relatively thin on the ground. In the era of the jack-up kit, virtually anything went and we had a massive variety of cars as it was acceptable to modify virtually new cars too.

Not surprisingly, this scene of ours has its roots in American hot rodding so it was natural to ape what was going on in the new world. It’s always the case that the most wanted car has been the ’32 Ford so it wasn’t long before we started seeing replicas, the most famous of which was the stuff produced by Jago. Yes, looking back it wasn’t the best; being a couped-up Cabriolet, the roof was a bit wrong and you needed to do a ton of work to make it look exactly like a proper five window coupe; although the long-missed Hot Rod and Custom managed it with their ‘Coping With The Coupe’ series of articles…

The thing was, because it was all we had, hundreds of excellent cars sprang up and it was more than acceptable to build a ‘glass car – we got plenty intermingled with more traditionally English bodied cars like the ubiquitous Pop, Fordson and Austins too. It got to the point where things progressed and there were some really excellent bodies being produced – Phil Ritchie’s ’32 three-windows, Chris Boyle’s 34-Corner ’34s, Chris Palmer’s Rod Shop Model As, Paul Haig’s Yorkshire Street Rods Model As, not to mention Pete and Marts T bodies; there were simply loads of manufacturers churning them out.

Consequently, there were loads of really superb rods being built – real show-quality stuff – some of which is still about. I’m not sure when it all changed but that isn’t the case now – you can count the number of ‘glass body manufacturers on one hand! I don’t think there is anyone in this country making ’32 Ford bodies anymore – there are plenty in the US still and some really top quality stuff coming out of Australia, but it’s a ton of money to import it.

The propensity now is for steel cars because it seems there are still quite a few left, with people importing them from the obvious source but as far afield as South Africa too. On first reflection, that’s a good thing – it’s real after all – but it’s also created a division where it seems you really are a second-class rodder if you use anything but real steel. And it seems to be that people are going to ridiculous extremes to get it, starting with a totally rusty, beaten-up, cattled body and restoring it over countless years just to say it’s steel. Personally, I both admire the perseverance but disagree with the stigma it can cause – I think I’d rather use a good quality ‘glass body and don’t care what other people class you as…

True, we’re living in great times and you can buy a repro steel body from the likes of Brookville – it’s probably the case that when you cost out a ‘glass body compared to steel it may be not that much more to have the real thing? The trouble is, there’s no choice, whilst there’s way too much stigma attached to fibreglass, even though it can be stronger and it doesn’t rot, either. You could also look at it from the point of view that race cars were often ‘glass to save weight. A ‘glass Willys is totally acceptable – a case in point, the excellent Boston Strangler ’33 Willys gasser is a glass bodied car, and that’s awesome!

The thing is now, there’s so much money involved. True, all the long-term rodders may have more money now the family’s grown up, so they can realise their dream cars – nothing wrong with that. A while back, a friend of mine had a steel Willys Coupe that ran in the nines and picked the front wheels up every time it ran down the strip. But he hated it – not ‘cos it wasn’t a laugh (and it certainly was) but the sheer fact that even back then it was a forty grand car – now a £140,000 car-plus – which meant that if he lost it on the strip, then it’s wiped out completely. You can say that for plenty of race cars but the point is, the majority of the money is in the steel body. A ‘glass car, yep, it’s a tragedy, but you haven’t wiped out forty grand in just the body alone!

Are we now looking at cars as pure investments, like the rest of the classic car world, or are we out there to have fun in any car; whether it’s ‘glass or steel? Perhaps that’s why the movement towards Rat Rods – a term I hate by the way – has surfaced in such a big way? I both love these and hate them too. So many seem to err on the side of “look at me, aren’t I whacky,” but there are rules to which a hot rod’s built – ever heard of California rake? Some to me look like a mish-mash of parts that have simply driven through an autojumble with a magnet… There is nothing wrong with a ratty-looking car but FFS make it sit right and less like a road accident waiting to happen!

‘Glass has gone and I think it’s a shame – it was the gateway through which many of us got into this great hobby; way of life, even. I’m just concerned we are pricing ourselves out of doing what we love…

So what do you reckon? Is Jon right, and we’re all more concerned about what a car’s made of than what it is? Or is he talking out of his ‘glasshole? Vent your spleen to dave@street-machine.co.uk