While they’re two entirely different vehicle styles, hot rods and custom cars seem to go together like salt and pepper. And they did exactly that at the Jalopy Jam Up car show, a two-day event in late August held in Rockton, southeast of Cambridge, Ontario. A total of some 500 cars and trucks showed up at the fairgrounds there.

The show also drew a field full of assorted pre-1964 antiques and modified vehicles, but the focus is on what’s known as “traditional” rods and customs that look like they were modified in the 1950s and 1960s — and in some cases actually were, still on the road looking nearly the same more than half a century later.

While hot-rodding has basically been around since the earliest auto owners started tinkering to get more power out of their engines, it really took off after the Second World War, when young men took well-worn 1920s and 1930s cars – both plentiful and cheap – and dropped larger engines into them for racing on the dry lakes in California. They modified them by taking off the fenders and hood sides to shave off weight, and lowered the suspension for wind resistance. As interest in them spread, those who stayed on the street would copy the changes not for racing, but for looks.

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Customized 1956 Oldsmobile Holiday 98 owned by Joe Siclari Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1950 Chevrolet 3100 Delivery owned by Clayton Foxall Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1962 Ford Fairlane owned by Jaime and Bart Smith Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1965 Plymouth Fury II station wagon owned by Sean McConomy Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1950 Ford Custom owned by Clayton and Rhonda Miller Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1934 Ford owned by Peter Bourikas of Boston, Massachusetts Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1975 Bricklin at the Jalopy Jam Up Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Studebaker pickup at the 2022 Jalopy Jam Up Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1957 Plymouth Belvedere owned by Tom and Natalie Doder Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

The author arrived at the show in her 1949 Studebaker pickup Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1932 Ford owned by Paul Richer Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

A line of traditional hot rods at the 2022 Jalopy Jam Up Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1966 Studebaker Wagonaire owned by Les and Anthia Graham Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1953 Chevrolet 210 owned by Matt Hayes Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

The late Mel Watson’s 1957 Buick beside Fred Bottcher’s 1957 Cadillac Photo by Jil McIntosh

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1932 Ford owned by Matt Thompson Photo by Jil McIntosh

Custom cars, also known as “kustoms,” also dated from the first car owners doing some bodywork or adding some accessories, but what’s generally considered the “golden age” of customizing generally began in the late 1940s and 1950s. Unlike the hot-rodders who were cutting up old cars, many customs were relatively new vehicles when their owners started peeling off their chrome, and lowering or “chopping” their roofs. Soon there were subsets – lowriders with their hydraulic suspensions that went up and down; and bombs made from 1930s and 1940s cars with static lowered suspensions and heavily accessorized with fender skirts, windshield visors, and other add-ons.

They were all welcome at the Jam Up, a delightfully casual event that’s more about the culture than the cars. The first one was held in 2014, and this year was the first since COVID-19 shutdowns, so it was more of a reunion of car friends than anything else. The cars aren’t judged and there are no awards, giving it a welcome laid-back feel. Instead, there are minibike races, eating contests for pie and ice cream, a retro-dress pin-up pageant, and rockabilly bands. There’s also a parts swap meet, pinstripers laying down lines on vehicles, and even a barber shop and tattoo parlour.

It’s put together by Jay Tyrrell, Brandon Roberts, and Jeff Norwell, three long-time friends who visited similar events in the U.S. but couldn’t find comparable events in Canada. Many car owners have been coming for years and driving great distances to get here. As he has before with other cars, Joe Siclari drove in 420 miles (676 kilometres) from New Jersey in his 1956 Oldsmobile Holiday 98 two-door hardtop. It still has its original engine and driveline, but has numerous modifications including a rear-mounted Continental kit, lowered suspension, fender skirts, and push-button door handles from a 1941 Lincoln.

“This was my friend’s dad’s car when I was a teenager,” Siclari said. “It had gone through a couple of owners when I saw it for sale online in 2019, and I knew right away it was his car. It needed a new fuel system and I rebuilt the (engine) heads, and then I’ve been driving the balls off it ever since. I drove it 12,000 miles (19,312 km) the first year and then another 12,000 since then. It was an impulse purchase, but I knew it was decent and a fair price.”

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

1939 Ford owned by Josh Fernley Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

hot rods, custom cars rule at ontario's jalopy jam up

Jalopy Jam Up 2022 Photo by Fred Bottcher

Some buy and some build, and it was the latter for Clayton Foxall, who runs the Backpeddling bicycle shop in Guelph, Ontario. He bought his 1950 Chevrolet 3100 delivery van because he’d always liked them, and because he wanted something to haul bikes. “I’ve owned it for ten years and it’s been on the road for six,” he said. He built it with the help of friends, adding a 350-cid Chevy engine – a popular choice for modified vehicles – but leaving its weathered exterior appearance. “It’s a daily driver in nice weather, and if I find and buy antique bikes, I pick them up in this.”

And some just realize the driving season for old cars is short and they do whatever it takes to be on the road. Bart Smith usually drives a 1929 Ford hot rod, but when it started having issues that are requiring a major rebuild, he wasn’t about to miss out. When he found a 1962 Ford Fairlane for sale a couple of months ago, he snapped it up. It still has its original engine, but he lowered the suspension, and a friend painted the roof in red metal flake. “I only wanted something for the summer, but I will keep this,” he said. Like everything else at the Jalopy Jam Up, it’s all about having fun.

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