Do you speak hot-rodder? 35+ terms for high-powered fluency

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Historic Vehicle Association

Car lovers have a language all their own, and each sub-genre of car culture has its own dialect. The meanings of some words are immutable, while others change wildly over time and in different regions. Just try to get five people to figure out what “muscle car” truly means. Despite the debates that rage on, we’ve picked out some common terms to help explain some essential hot rod and custom jargon, along with photos to help out.

Bellflower tips

Straight chrome exhaust tips that appear behind the rear wheels and run parallel to the end of the car.

Bellybutton

A somewhat derisive nickname for a small-block Chevy, particularly when used in an engine swap. As in, “Everyone’s got one …”

Corvette Fuelie
This is one of the least-common of Chevy’s ubiquitous engine family, a mechanically fuel-injected 327. Brandan Gillogly

Blown

An engine that uses forced induction, typically via supercharger.

Bomb

A lowrider from the 1930s to the ’50s, often fitted with period-correct accessories.

Lowrider Bomb
Brandan Gillogly

Channeled/Channeling

Lowering the entire body over the frame, often by raising the floorboards.

Chopped/Chopping

Lowering a car’s roof by removing a horizontal section of sheetmetal from the window pillars. Sometimes involves either lengthening the roof or slanting the A-pillars rearward, the C-pillars forward, or both.

Chopped Custom
Brandan Gillogly

Decked

Trim has been removed from the trunk.

Elephant

Nickname for the second-gen Chrysler Hemi. The 426 was the only factory displacement offered.

1963-65 Hemi engine cross section illustration
FCA

Fat-fendered

1935–1948 Fords, named for their bulbous fenders.

Parmalee 1936 Ford
Brandan Gillogly

Flathead

An engine with valves in the block, rather than in the cylinder head.

Ford Flathead V8
Brandan Gillogly

Frenched

Trim that has been incorporated into the body, usually referring to headlights or taillights.

Frenched Headlights
Brandan Gillogly

Gasser

A drag car typically with a tubular front axle and tall stance that runs on gasoline rather than methanol or nitromethane.

Stone Woods Cook Willys Gasser
Brandan Gillogly

Highboy

A fenderless hot rod with the body mounted on top of the frame, often used for a Model A Ford.

Eddie Dye Highboy Roadster
Brandan Gillogly

Hot rod

Just about any car, truck, or motorcycle that has been modified for more power or speed.

Lake pipes

Exposed exhaust pipes with block-off plates that will divert exhaust back through the mufflers—for when the cops might be around.

Lake Pipes
Brandan Gillogly

Lakester

Originally a term to describe a hot rod modified for racing on dry lake beds, lakesters evolved into a specific, streamlined class of cars with exposed wheels.

Lakester headers

Exhaust headers that end near the cowl to allow exhaust to exit near the front edge of the door. They often include a bypass to route exhaust under the car through mufflers.

Lakester header
Brandan Gillogly

Lead sled

A customized car with significant body modifications, in the old days incorporating lots of lead filler to smooth the seams. Often chopped and sectioned, the archetypal lead sled is a 1949–51 Mercury.

Mercury Lead Sled
Brandan Gillogly

Lowboy

A fenderless hot rod that’s channeled over the frame, as opposed to a highboy.

Lowrider

A highly customized lowered car, typically from the 1960s to the ’80s, with intricate paint graphics, an abundance of chrome, and an adjustable suspension—either air or hydraulic.

Lowrider 1964 Impala
Brandan Gillogly

Mouse

Nickname for a small-block Chevy V-8.

Nailhead

Buick’s early family of V-8 engines from 1953 to 1966, so named for their small-diameter valves whose stems point straight up.

Buick Nailhead
Brandan Gillogly

Nosed

Trim has been removed from the hood.

Chevy custom
Brandan Gillogly

Pancaked

An alteration of the hood sheetmetal to get a more gradual slope at the leading edge or a lower height overall. Like chopping a roof.

Pizza Cutters

Narrow front wheels and tires used to reduce rolling resistance on drag cars.

Vintage Drag cars
Brandan Gillogly

Pro-Street

A show car that has been modified to mimic a drag car, named for the Pro Stock racing class that inspired them. Huge rear tires and massive engines with lots of chrome and AN fittings are the norm.

1964 Acadian Pro Street
You’ll be hard-pressed today to find the kind of classic Pro Street car that was typical in the ’80s. J.F. Launier built this 1964 Acadian with some of the same ethos but with a much more modern style. Brandan Gillogly

Pro-Touring

A classic car, often a muscle car or pony car, that has been modified for improved road-course performance.

Rat

Nickname for a big-block Chevy V-8. It’s bigger than a mouse.

Big-Block Chevy
Brandan Gillogly

Rat Rod

A derogatory term for some, it’s a hot rod that is a little rough around the edges, as if built in a shed out back. A traditional hot rod devoid of chrome is not a rat rod.

Rat Rod
Brandan Gillogly

Relieved

Material removed from the deck surface of a flathead engine to help improve flow from the valves into the cylinders.

Restomod

A car that has been cosmetically restored largely to stock but with more modern mechanicals, such as a fuel-injected engine.

1963 Corvette Restomod
Brandan Gillogly

Sectioned

A horizontal strip of the body has been removed to make the car shorter in height.

CadZZila
Brandan Gillogly

Shaved

When trim, door handles, emblems, or any other body adornment have been removed and filled for a smoother look.

Pro Touring Camaro
The emblem on the header panel and fenders of this Camaro have been shaved. Brandan Gillogly

Snail

Slang for a turbocharger, or sometimes a centrifugal supercharger, due to the shape of both the turbine and compressor housing.

Twin Turbo
Brandan Gillogly

Tribute

A vehicle that has been modified to resemble a more desirable or historically significant machine.

Tubbed

Larger rear wheel wells have been installed to fit wider and often taller rear tires for drag-racing or Pro-Street cars.

SEMA Tubbed 1967 1968 C10
With its tonneau cover open, this Chevy C10 reveals its large rear wheel tubs. Brandan Gillogly

Ugga-dugga

A unit of torque as applied by an air impact wrench, so named because of the sound it makes. Slightly less accurate than a freshly calibrated torque wrench.

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