Bring Your Hot Rod into the Modern Age

Speed customers are driven by a similar passion. They want to build their classic car or truck into their dream ride. It’s no surprise that a number of the most popular modifications being made are those that bring a beloved hot rod up to today’s performance standard. Muscle cars are crude, so bringing these beasts to the modern age requires a lot of work. And it can be a bit intimidating at first. To help shops get started with a customer’s latest project, we spoke with a shop owner himself, a man who’s been at it for decades and is willing to share some tricks of the trade.

Our Expert

Chuck Wanamaker of Waldwick Auto in Waldwick, NJ has been working on specialty cars and trucks for over 30 years. He’s had his share of unique customers with diverse requirements walk through the front door. Many of which were guys looking to modernize a classic car or truck. Wanamaker has a format, or style, that he tries to follow when approaching these types of builds.

As an opening tip, Wanamaker likes to keep things basic. “Once you go all out, there’s no going back,” he said. He advised that making extreme modifications immediately enters the hot rod into a whole new world. Instead of being an open canvas, it becomes pigeonholed. This means it would be much harder for the customer to change the vehicle’s nature in the future. And it could even make it harder to sell.

Start with a Strong Base

What’s typically considered a hot rod is a 60s or 70s American muscle car. So, if you’re starting out here, then there are probably a few things that should be addressed before throwing speed parts at it. Wanamaker likes to run through the car from top to bottom and make sure the basics are in good shape. The last thing anyone wants is to get a car all worked up, only to find that they must go back and nit-pick small problems like leaky brake lines or bad suspension components.

Suspension & Brakes

When looking through the basics, it’s a good idea to check out the suspension and brake components. Build customers are usually going to upgrade these items anyway, so swapping them at this part of the process is a wise choice. Two companies that make these mods very easy are Wilwood and QA1. This isn’t to say that there aren’t other homerun name brands out there. But these two have done a great job servicing the hot rod market by making the modifications easy. They both offer kits that bolt in place of existing factory equipment with no fabrication or modifications needed. This is great news for the customer, as it saves money that could be put towards additional upgrades.

Wheels and Tires

After a good solid base is established, Wanamaker moves onto the wheels and tires. This can be something of a toss-up for a customer. These cars have been around for 50 years or so, and there are many styles of wheels that look great. But the problem remains that classic mags don’t handle as well as 15” wheels. To solve this dilemma, Wanamaker likes to go to US Wheel. They offer larger wheel sizes with classic styling. Therefore the customer gets the proper look, with the drivability improvements of a larger wheel and tire set up. No longer do they have to spend hours deciding between the two.

Engine and Performance

Two of the most popular enhancements made are adding an overdrive setup and upgrading to fuel injection. These two upgrades are what makes it possible to take that hot rod on those longer commutes—commutes a driver would never consider without such an investment.

Fuel injection is all the rage right now, but it’s important to remember that not all offerings are the same. For those who are looking to upgrade to fuel injection but don’t want to make serious modifications to the engine throttle body, setups are the way to go. Wanamaker suggests using Edelbrock as a go-to. For throttle body injection, they offer E-Street EFI, which is a universal upgrade and makes a breeze out of installation and start up. On the high-end, Wanamaker likes to use Pro-Flo 3, which replaces everything from the manifold but is a little more on the all-out side of the spectrum. What’s nice is that this kit is still a simple upgrade, yet offers sequential port EFI.


Upgrading to overdrive can be more complex. There are a few ways to go about this, but most guys simply opt to swap out the entire transmission assembly for something a little more up to date. American Powertrain is the company to talk to when a customer is looking to fit a 5- or 6-speed transmission in a Detroit steed. American Powertrain offers swap kits designated to make this upgrade as easy as possible. Everything from the bellhousing and clutch, to the crossmember all wrapped up into one complete deal saves you from going on a wild goose chase. Wanamaker strongly stands by this product and recently used it to upgrade a pair of ‘65 Mustangs he was building.


Sure, speed and performance are awesome, but it’s about the journey. “These guys are looking to drive these classic cars down to the shore, and they want their wives and kids to go with them” shared Wanamaker, who admits that he keeps this in mind when planning the build. The ride should be as enjoyable as possible. Heat, AC, sound deadening modern stereo systems, and other “luxury” items make the car more welcoming and help customers to get their families to partake in the passion of owning and actually driving a hot rod. These finishing touches should always be top of mind for any customer build.

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