The Latest From Doc

I just got this newsletter from Doc Frohmader of fame. Thought you might enjoy some reading!

Things keep changing. It’s one of the proofs of life, of course, but sometimes we forget it applies universally. From my viewpoint, dealing with a number of manufacturers engaged in our hobby and rodders and customizers of all kinds, I get to see some things happening a little earlier than most. Such is the case these days.

We all know that the big boom is over and odds are it’s not going to be seen again. Collector cars and rods are selling for far less than they used to just a year or so ago. The result is that a lot of the check-book builders have left the arena and rodding is looking more like it did some decades ago. More people are building because they like building and have a vision to follow, instead of having projects built so they can sell them for a profit or they can use them to massage a swelled ego. I am not disappointed with this because rodding used to be a much more friendly and civil thing. The big money made it mean at times and brought in fast-food style attitudes about parts that made rodding a lot less fun. The con-men arrived to fleece the unwary. One guy I know said that when the big money got into rodding, the fun drained out of it. He may have a point.

So things change. When I visited Fatman Fabrications a while back, Brent and his crew were working at developing a complete chassis for the 1949-51 Ford cars. Like many of us, he’s discovered that the traditional rods are somewhat less popular as projects and the 50’s and 60’s cars and trucks have become more popular. One theory about this is the guys who grew up lusting after a deuce roadster are getting older, giving up, and passing on. I think that we want to build what we wanted most in high school but could not afford or did not have the ability to build. So if generations change and 50’s cars and muscle cars are more what the new guard wants, we adjust accordingly. Oh, and no, traditional rods are not gone, not dead, and never forgotten – just joined by other kinds of projects!

Another theory I’ve heard is that it’s a matter of cost and individuality. Some cars and trucks cost less as the basis of projects and in some cases the cost of raw materials to build that steel ’32 or ’50 Merc or ’40 Ford are out of their range. So they look elsewhere for something they can love and still afford. At the same time, some rods were so over-built that they became kit-rods. Hard to tell one from another and so common that they started to become invisible. I suspect the rat rod and patina trends came from too many clones and a need to find roots or regain individuality. The wonderful designs of the 50’s and 60’s certainly allow for a fresh new approach and some reasonable certainty that you will not see an identical car to your own 50 times at a rod show. In any case, I can see a Renaissance of sorts in that people are slowing down a notch and looking for something more than assembly-line rods and customs and the results are and will continue to be enterta! ining and fulfilling.

Where the change has not been good and seems to be encountering some backlash is in parts. We all know that we’ve taxed and legislated a lot of our manufacturing off shore. It’s hard to find Made in USA these days. Maybe the prices are lower but we’ve also paid the price in lost jobs and poor quality in many cases. Over all we’ve developed the conviction that price is the ONLY thing to consider when shopping for parts. And that has led us on a fool’s errand. It took the advantages of free-market capitalism and distorted it with bad legislation to result in rising prices AND poor quality all too often. I’ve seen power window kits (cheaper, yes) that were of such low quality that it took days of work to fabricate parts strong enough and to work well enough to make those kits functional And the warranties are as good as toilet paper. I’ve seen where steering boxes were so poorly built that they failed almost immediately. They’ll let you have a new one, but if the new one is just as bad… Or cheap aluminum heads that have to be re-worked before you use them? Or lifters that have up to an 80% failure rate? Or how about a Chinese knock-off steering column that in a HOT ROD is worn out in a couple years?

I’ve got to ask: If you are saving money by buying junk that either requires a lot more work to patch up and make work, or parts that are cheaper but have to be replaced well before they ought to wear out or fail, how much are you really saving? I think we need to take a look at this as consumers and let the suppliers know that we’d like to keep prices down but also need to have some reliability and functionality as well. We are all to blame for this and we need to accept that and all take a step back before the good guys are all gone and all that’s left is the cheapest garbage. Quality means something. Always has and always will.

I got this quote from a friend – thanks, Nick. (It may show nothing is really new.):
There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man’s lawful prey.
John Ruskin (1819-1900) British Author, Artist, Essayist and Critic

For what it is worth, I am writing this from Pennsylvania, where it is surprisingly hot and humid for this time of year. I am doing a little R&R, visiting friends, and enjoying the assets of Gettysburg in spring. That’s always worth doing, but it also makes me think how lucky I am not to be in some of the places where the flooding or the tornadoes have made life really hard recently. I’ve lived long enough to have been through both and know what it’s like for nature to get a wild hair and go Postal. And how frustrating and impotent you feel when it happens and all you can do is endure it. And what it’s like to look outside and realize that this is going to mean a lot of hard work and patience to get through and recover from. For me it felt like someone ripped my heart out and stomped on it.

For those of you who have to face this, I just want to say that I and a lot of others are thinking about you and hoping you are picking up the pieces and getting life back on track. I know if it were possible, many of us would love to step up next to you, roll up our sleeves, and lend you a hand. Some have. And remember that in a while the water will recede and things will dry out. The last load of debris will be hauled off and repairs and rebuilding will begin in earnest. As tough as it is now to believe, there are better days coming ahead, so hang in there – you know you can make it.

Doc (Lefty) Frohmader

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