How many stories have been written about “the Good Old Days”? We like reading (and writing) about this subject for two reasons: First, the perception is that life was better “then” (whenever “then” was). And second, time itself makes it impossible to prove or disprove this perception.

I like reading (and writing) about times past as well, but maybe for a bit different reason. I think TODAY is the “Good Old Days”!  Would any of you seriously want to relive any portion of the past, even if you could? This discussion started out in a completely different context between my wife and I about life in general a few weeks ago, but I will contain it to the hot rod world for now.

Pick a specific subject or project -- any one will do -- how about horsepower? In the “good old days” you would have to buddy up to a respected engine builder, interpret the latest magazine “how-to” articles, or spend a bundle of time and money developing your own horsepower recipe. To those who enjoy that area of car building this is hot rodding at its finest. For those of us who enjoy other areas of car building as much or more than engine building, reliable horsepower packages are now but a phone call away.

How about paint? I can’t think of any painter who wishes they could go back to sanding and rubbing lacquer, nor can I think of anyone who longs for the days when a custom paint job would last only a few years before any number of aging issues would befall it.

Tires? Yeah, I want bias ply tires on MY new ride…NOT!

Brakes? Come on…who doesn’t appreciate the bolt-on ease of today’s disc brake systems? The least efficient disc brake package available is still better than the drums they replace.
Much the same story can be written for fuel systems, transmissions, interiors, body and trim parts, etc. Progress breeds progress, success demands more success. This brings us to yet another point…competition. Much has been written about competition from foreign sources, most of it negative. In the “good old days” competition was limited to other American companies who had much the same engineering and workforce resources as the rest of the hot rod market, and whose motivation was to build a safe part that accomplished its intended purpose. Today, competitors may come from half a world away and be motivated by only financial gain with no idea of the true purpose of the component they are building. So we have now identified the fault with my original “Good Old Days” theory, right?

Maybe. Here is the silver lining. First of all, most of these offshore competitors can barely copy what they have already seen. Since they have no knowledge of the marketplace and no motivation to understand what hot rodders really want, they will never “invent” anything. They will only show us how to make a given part more efficiently. Herein lies the silver lining: True hot rodders are forced to continue to refine designs, identify the need for new products, and strive for more efficiency in manufacturing. We can’t simply sit on our collective laurels and reap the harvest of one or two good ideas for the rest of our lives.  Just think if the Chinese had not “ripped off” designs for valve covers and oil pans. There would likely have been no motivation for good companies like Moroso, Milodon, and Canton to continue to improve their designs. If Auto Meter had no offshore competition how long would it have taken for all of their zoomy new designs to hit the market? If the wheel industry didn’t have to be concerned about cheap Taiwanese copies would companies like Billet Specialties and Budnik even exist to bring us fresh new designs? On a larger scale would we really have ever seen a 300-hp Mustang GT or 500-hp Corvette if it weren’t for foreign competition?

On a smaller scale, would you really be planning to build that triple throw-down tube-framed supercharged EFI LS1 Camaro if some guy at the cruise night hadn’t shown up with his similarly equipped Mustang?

If this article was written 25 years ago we would have been bemoaning the demise of flatheads, point ignitions, Led Zepplin, 25-cent-a-gallon Sunoco 260, bias ply tires and Pro Street Vegas.

This whole article may be an exercise in rationalization or the futile hunt for a silver lining, but what else are we going to do? Pissing and moaning are rarely productive…it simply delays the inevitable. It is much more productive and profitable to get off our butts and do it better, faster, different or more efficiently, be it building cars or manufacturing parts.

So much for the good old days. Because of technological progress and competition, these ARE the good old days. You have all heard the saying “Freedom is anything but free.”  In the same vein, the price of the benefits of all this technology and parts availability is the necessity to work harder to refine and invent new products and processes. If you are a car builder, build a better car. If you are a manufacturer, build a better part, or at least build it more efficiently. If you don’t, the only thing you’ll see the next time you look over your shoulder is your competitor running you over!

‘Till next month… 

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