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.
Straight chrome exhaust tips that appear behind the rear wheels and run parallel to the end of the car.
A somewhat derisive nickname for a small-block Chevy, particularly when used in an engine swap. As in, “Everyone’s got one …”
An engine that uses forced induction, typically via supercharger.
A lowrider from the 1930s to the ’50s, often fitted with period-correct accessories.
Lowering the entire body over the frame, often by raising the floorboards.
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.
Trim has been removed from the trunk.
Nickname for the second-gen Chrysler Hemi. The 426 was the only factory displacement offered.
Cars with bulbous fenders, particularly 1935–1948 Fords.
An engine with valves in the block, rather than in the cylinder head.
Trim that has been incorporated into the body, usually referring to headlights or taillights.
A drag car typically with a tubular front axle and tall stance that runs on gasoline rather than methanol or nitromethane.
A fenderless hot rod with the body mounted on top of the frame, often used for a Model A Ford.
Just about any car, truck, or motorcycle that has been modified for more power or speed.
Exposed exhaust pipes with block-off plates that will divert exhaust back through the mufflers—for when the cops might be around.
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.
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.
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.
A fenderless hot rod that’s channeled over the frame, as opposed to a highboy.
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.
Nickname for a small-block Chevy V-8.
Buick’s early family of V-8 engines from 1953 to 1966, so named for their small-diameter valves whose stems point straight up.
Trim has been removed from the hood.
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.
Narrow front wheels and tires used to reduce rolling resistance on drag cars.
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.
A classic car, often a muscle car or pony car, that has been modified for improved road-course performance.
Nickname for a big-block Chevy V-8. It’s bigger than a mouse.
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.
Material removed from the deck surface of a flathead engine to help improve flow from the valves into the cylinders.
A car that has been cosmetically restored largely to stock but with more modern mechanicals, such as a fuel-injected engine.
A horizontal strip of the body has been removed to make the car shorter in height.
When trim, door handles, emblems, or any other body adornment have been removed and filled for a smoother look.
Slang for a turbocharger, or sometimes a centrifugal supercharger, due to the shape of both the turbine and compressor housing.
A vehicle that has been modified to resemble a more desirable or historically significant machine.
Larger rear wheel wells have been installed to fit wider and often taller rear tires for drag-racing or Pro-Street cars.
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.