Ruby’s, Hot Rods, and Custom Cars

Rubys CruiseWhen you walk into a Ruby’s Diner in southern California, you take a step back in time, into the 1940s and 50s. The red booths (a table between two long seats), white table tops, soda fountains, and colorful 1940s posters (large printed pictures) are typical of (like, similar to) what you would have found across the U.S. during those years. So is their menu (list of food they sell) – mostly hamburgers, French fries, and milk shakes.

If you visit Ruby’s in Whittier, near where I live, on any Friday evening from May through October, you’ll experience more of the 40s and 50s. That’s when the Ruby’s Diner Friday Night Cruise* fills Ruby’s parking lot with dozens of cars – many of them hot rods and custom cars built during those years.

In the 1930s and 40s, many American young men, especially in California, began to buy older classic (admired by many people) cars and “hop up” or “soup up” (modify, change) the engines to make them more powerful. Sometimes they took out the original engines and put in newer, larger engines and took anything that wasn’t needed off of their cars to make them lighter (have less weight) and faster. They called their cars hot rods; unfortunately no one is sure how the name got started. Roadsters (2-seat open cars) were especially popular for hot rods because they were light and inexpensive (didn’t cost much).

These young men with the hot (powerful, fast) cars began a kind of competition, called drag racing – which Jeff talked about in this week’s English Cafe. In drag racing, two or more cars raced side by side on a street to see which one was fastest over a short distance. Street racing was dangerous and was eventually (after a time) outlawed (made illegal), so after World War II, many hot rodders moved to deserted (unused) airports and raced on the runways.

In the 1950s another kind of hot rod – the custom car – appeared and quickly became popular. Custom cars often had modified engines, like hot rods. But what made them different were changes made to the car’s appearance (how it looks) inside and out, like colorful, unusual paint jobs (if a car has a paint job, it is painted again). When creating a custom car, the goal is to make it look different than any other car. Today there are quite a few custom car shops in California, and some people spend thousands of dollars to have their cars or trucks customized.

The young men – the hot rodders and custom car builders – of the 1940s and 50s are older now and many are gone. But the traditions they started are still alive. You can still find them and their cars at places like Ruby’s Diner all across California.

If you’re interested, Pinterest has a large collection of hot rod and custom car photos, and here is a set of photos of hot rods and custom cars made from the classic 1932 Ford.

*Many young people used to drive their cars slowly up and down a particular street, usually the main street of a town, as a way to spend time with their friends. This was called “cruising”.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.

 Photo credit: cb750cafe.

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6 Responses to Ruby’s, Hot Rods, and Custom Cars

  1. Dan says:

    Hello everyone.

    I am not a car lover, and my crappy 2001 car demonstrates that, but I must admit some of those cars are quite something.

    While looking at a few photos -the ones with the girl in front of the car- I was thinking at the fast development and improvement of cars in just, what? 100 years?

    The other day I was looking at an episode of Air Crash Investigation on You Tube.
    That was an incident in 2010 about this huge aircraft that can carry 500 people.
    As I was looking at it, I was thinking at what we have achieved in that field in just 110 years or so. Unbelievable!.

    Back to cars, today I was surprised to find in my mailbox a handwritten and signed card from the team of NPR Germany.
    And with it a sticker of the NPR logo that I am going to attach to the back window of my car. Unfortunately, over here nobody knows what NPR is, but I going to attach that anyway.


  2. Betty says:

    Thank you Dear Warren, I’m very happy to read about the car culture in California.

    If I go to Ruby’s in Whittier on any Friday evening from May through October, I should see all those beautiful classic cars and I will know they are called hot rods thanks to knowledge from this website.

    I remember when I worked in England last time, I used to hear one of my colleagues in the office talking about his rallying. He was really proud of himself. But because my English was very limited at the time, I could not understand what he said.

    My next door neighbor in England at the moment loves rallying.

    He is not too young now but I suspect he still can go rallying if he gets a chance.

    He keeps a very old car in his garage, a car that can’t run on the road. He refuses to get rid of it because he went on his honeymoon on it. So sentimental!

    Anyway, I like cars, but I prefer new cars because I don’t know how to fix my car. Having an old car means lots of repair work.

    One thing I don’t like is, car companies like to use attractive women’s to help promote their cars. Why those women? A good car is good, but an attractive woman sitting on the car bonnet sends out wrong signal. Dangerous!

    By the way Warren I found that I have the book “Holes” by Louis Sachar at home. My children read them last time, I suppose.

    I will try to read it since you have recommended it.
    Many thanks again and see you soon.
    Best Regards
    Betty 🙂

  3. Dan says:

    Me again,

    I heard that this weekend on a few cable channels they air the new Cosmos with host Neil deGrasse Tyson.

    I LOVED the original series with Carl Sagan from the 80s That I watched on You Tube.

    I hope someone will be posting the new series. I want to compare it with the “old” one.

    Great Carl Sagan! one of my Heroes.

    Hey Betty!

    Actually, they use attractive women everywhere, and not just for selling cars.
    I do not have an answer on whether that is right or wrong, but it probably works.

    LOL! Do you remember the Olympic 2012 in Beijing, that at the opening ceremony they had one not so attracting girl singing backstage
    and the good looking girl on stage mouthing the words.
    That alone speaks volumes on how much the image counts in today’s society.

    Personally, as I am growing older, and hopefully wiser, the image of a woman counts less and less.
    But I still find myself turning my head as I see what I consider an Attractive specimen of female.

    See, that is not even rationality, is something you, as a man do without thinking. It’s as mother nature made us. Not our fault!

    Thank you Betty. I love reading from you

  4. Tania says:

    Hi! Hot rod car…custom car…too difficult to me.
    Thanks to the English Cafe 440 about The National Hot Rod Association, and thanks to your detailed explanations
    I can say that I have understand this matter.
    I think we do not have hot rod and custom cars in my country.
    I think on the TV Sport Channel I have heard about a drag racing.

    Thank you for the nice set of photos to understand better.

  5. Betty says:

    Thank you Dan, I love reading from you too. Your post always make me laugh.

    I remember Emiliano said you are nice looking, perhaps women turn their heads to look at you too. Have you noticed?

    Beauty has its value, high value. That’s why people spend a fortune on plastic surgery.

    I heard the story about the poor girl sang for Olympic as well. China still has a long way to go before she becomes truly open minded.

    Western countries car companies need to use ugly women to promote their cars first. LOL

    Thanks Dan, it’s nice to read from you. Where is Emiliano now? No comment on cars?
    Betty 🙂

  6. emiliano says:

    “Personally, as I am growing older, and hopefully wiser, the image of a woman counts less and less.
    But I still find myself turning my head as I see what I consider an Attractive specimen of female.
    See, that is not even rationality, is something you, as a man do without thinking. It’s as mother
    nature made us”. Not our fault!
    That is a nice big truth and it is not a matter of age, even more to me one of the most beatiful sights
    in nature it is a beautiful nice girl or woman, my eyes rest on her as they could rest looking at the
    sea or the mountains, but sometimes there is another feeling I prefer not to say, as Dan said above
    It´s as Mother Nature made us, not our fault.
    Looking at the castom cars or the Hot Rods that are curious I have preferred to look to the three or four
    girls that are on them or beside them, one of the girls is a beauty, just the one below at the right
    side of the pictures, what is yours Dan?.

    Thank you Betty, emiliano is here taken and advice of your note that it is quite appropriate having in mind
    what he said before, ja,ja, that´s very good Betty.
    Good indeed.

    Thank you so much Warren, nice interesting post to read, to learn new words, and to see good pictures.
    You are great.


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