Thursday, 29 October 2009

Choosing a Car Stereo

With the huge choice of car audio equipment available today it is often difficult to decide what car stereo would best suit your needs. This article will hopefully help you negotiate the technical minefield and make the best choice for your requirements.

There are two main contributing factors to the quality of the audio that is produced by any audio equipment which are the frequency response and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The frequency response of the ear is around 20Hz to 20KHz although this often diminishes with age. A 'loud' facility is sometimes provide to boost the frequencies that become degraded with age. The SNR is important as it is what constitutes the background hiss that is often associated with cheaper audio equipment.

The car stereo or head unit today can play audio from a wide variety of sources which we will now discuss below.

Cassette Deck

If the reason for replacing your car stereo is to allow you to play your CD's or music from your iPod then please be aware that it is possible to purchase equipment that allows you to play music from an external source. These specialised adapters look like a cassette with a flying lead that plugs into your alternate music source ie iPod, CD player etc. This is often a very cheap and easy alternative if funds are tight!

Audio Cassettes in general do not give as good an audio experience as CD players as their frequency response and SNR is often inferior to that of modern digital equipment.

Although cassette tape sales have declined extensively it is still possible to purchase due to the amount of tapes that are still out there however as a long term investment a CD or MP3 player would probably be a better choice.

CD player

The CD has been around for many years now and is well established in the market-place. A CD can store its information in a multitude of formats but the most popular at the moment is usually just referred to as an Audio CD in the specifications. These are the CD's that you can buy of the shelf from any major music retail shop.

As with all technology the the common audio format is under threat by a relatively new format referred to as MP3. MP3 is a digital audio compression technique that allows much more audio to be squeezed onto a single CD. A typical compressed song will be roughly 4-6MB depending upon the quality of the audio and a typical CD can store around 700MB of data. So you can see that you can store many more songs using MP3 technology than with the conventional music CD's.

It is also possible to purchase a head unit that has a remote CD player or CD changer. A CD changer is like a mini duke box that can be located in your boot, glove compartment etc. They typically have between 6 and 12 CD's within them and often support the ability to play songs randomly between all the CD's.

USB/Memory Card

With the rapid adoption of MP3 format and the availability of cheap USB memory sticks car audio manufacturers have started to adopt USB ports on their equipment as standard. A USB stick or memory card can be thought of as a very small CD usually about a couple of inches long and about half an inch wide but capable of storing vastly more information than a conventional CD. Something to check when buying a head unit supporting this feature is the upper memory limit of the USB stick or memory card. Typical memory cards today are around 2-4GB which would store many albums however these sizes may not be supported by the head unit.

If you purchase a head unit supporting this type of media then you'll need to make sure that you have a method of getting the music from you CD collection onto the memory stick. This will involve 'ripping' the audio and copying it onto the memory. There are many programs available for doing this such as Windows Media Player.


Most people are familiar with car radio's and understand what to look for when purchasing one. However something to keep in mind when looking is the uptake of DAB radio which is the new digital transmission method.

DAB radio uses modern digital compression techniques to offer a greater variety of music and programmes as well as short messages etc that often appear of the display. Since this is a new format and isn't widely adopted as the mainstream format most DAB radios also still support FM transmissions.

The DIN form factor

Finally something which should be overlooked is the form factor and connections for the head-unit. With early cars there wasn't really a standard which led to all sorts of problems when replacing the factor standard unit. However there is now a standard size referred to as the DIN which is 2 1/8" (50mm) tall and 7 1/8" (180mm) wide and double-DIN which is twice as tall as the standard DIN size.

The connectors used to plug the stereo in are fairly common but there is no one standard connector. Luckily due to the size of the problem there are many different types of adaptor readily available in most car audio shops.

One problem often experience with fitting new audio equipment is with the memory 'forgetting' its settings. This is often due to the power supply wires to the head unit being switched over. To over come this problem the manufacturers of the cabling adapters easily enable the yellow and red wire to be interchanged which will fix the problem.

It is always worth checking out many retailers before making a selection on a head unit and I would recommend searching an automotive directory for the best choice.

First stop news on the adventure!

Erie Flathead Club hosted The Rolling Bones last night on their first leg of the WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE ROLLING BONES cross country adventure to SEMA. Keith Cornell and Ken Schmidt met with about 40 Erie area rodders at the Quaker Steak and Lube for a few hours. Thank you to Steve for organizing the group! Bright and early this morning, Keith and Ken were sipping coffee with Jeff at Tregler’s Precision Services in Fairview , PA. Specializing in racing and high performance engines, Tregler’s was a great way to get the motor running this morning!

Next stop is the Road Rockets Custom Car Club at Culbertson’s Rod & Custom Shop in Indy ( 1815 South Lynhurst Drive ). If you’re in the area, the fun starts at 7pm tonight. Thanks to Tom and Naomi for gathering friends, family, customers and fellow rodders to meet and greet Ken and Keith on their 2nd day of their journey!


We’ve added an additional stop to the tour!! On Halloween evening (Saturday, October 31st), Ken and Keith will be swinging through Jamie Johnson’s Hot Rod Haven in Albuquerque . This world-renowned shop is located at 2215 Edith NE in Albuquerque . Thanks to Jamie for hosting this last gathering before the last leg to Las Vegas ! Hope to see you there!

Pictures to follow soon!

The cross country adventure to SEMA has begun!

The Where In The World Are Rolling Bones cross country adventure to SEMA started today!!

Hot Rod? Check.

Books? Check.

Maps? Check.

Ken and Keith? Check. Check.

Speeding Ticket? Check.

The Rolling Bones Cross Country Adventure to SEMA started bright and early this morning... with a speeding ticket! Even before they hit the highway, Keith got a speeding ticket on the way to pick up Ken this morning. The best part? The guys only live 10 miles apart. I guess they were excited to get the WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE THE ROLLING BONES adventure started!

Rolling Bones arrive in Erie , Pennsylvania this afternoon and will hang with Erie County Flatheads Club tonight at the Quaker Steak & Lube ( 7851 Peach Street , Erie ), 7pm. All rodders in the area are welcome to come!

Don't forget to check back again to read what happens when they get there and see some pictures of the turn out!

Lowrider Arte

When people think of Lowriders the first thing that most people with think of is the ground-scraping stance and the bouncing of Hydraulic competitions. However there is much more to the Lowrider scene than dropping the suspension and one major area is that of Lowrider Arte.

The creation of the Lowrider scene can be traced back to the late 60s and was due to the mixing of several cultures which were the California car culture and the Mexican culture.

Lowrider Arte is not confined to using a Lowrider as the canvas and extends to Tattoos, paintings and most other art forms. The Lowrider Arte magazine is solely dedicated to providing an outlet for Lowrider artists and features articles and tattoos, car drawing and much more.

Serious Lowrider car enthusiasts spend a great deal of time on all aspects of their creation with attention to detail being paramount to their success in Lowrider competitions. During the build the car will be completely stripped and many of the major components of the car will be as detailed including chrome plating and air-brushing. Often the bodywork, door shuts, boot, engine compartment will feature murals and fantastic works of art.

'32 Ford Deuce

This is a big heavy book that will have your both a little more muscular and more knowledgeable after reading it! It is actually an extended version of a book originally about the Deuce. The book now has 75 of the best Deuces that have shaped history to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Deuce.

The beginning of the book is devoted to the history of Ford with an interesting insight into how Ford operated as a company. It is packed with photos of early prototypes, production lines and designs and tells of how the Ford V8 was a move to go 2 cylinders better than the competition which were mainly using 6 cylinders. Henry Ford also tried to avoid using a water pump in the design to cut down on production costs which were always his key objective in any new project.

The 75 Deuce Hot Rods at the end of the book include cars from Bruce Meyer, Boyd Coddington and Dan Fink. The pictures are large and very hi-resolution and each section has a small piece of interesting text about the car and its creator.

You can see the entire review plus some 32 Ford Deuce pictures here.

Where in the world are the Rolling Bones?

Rolling Bones

Rolling Bones, one of the nations best-known hot rod shops, is teaming up with Motorbooks and rodders across the country on an adventure to SEMA! Ken Schmidt and Keith Cornell (aka Rolling Bones) will drive their 1932 Ford Three Window Coupe from their shop in Ballston Spa , New York to Las Vegas . Their final destination would be the Motorbooks booth (#22393) at SEMA! Rolling Bones were featured in Peter Harholdt and Ken Gross’ book Art of the Hot Rod(which recently won a GOLD medal at the International Automotive Media Awards and author Ken Gross won the Lifetime Achievement Award) and Peter Vincent’s Hot Rod Garages. They will be meeting with hot rod enthusiasts and builders all the way across the country… and selling books to pay for their gas!


  • Monday, October 26th - Erie County Flathead Club hosts at the Quaker Steak & Lube ( 7851 Peach Street , Erie , PA ), 7pm
  • Tuesday, October 27th - Road Rockets Custom Car Club in Indianapolis hosts at Culbertson’s Rod & Custom Shop ( 1815 South Lynhurst Drive , Indianapolis , IN ), 7pm
  • Wednesday, October 28th - Regional Streeters in Crown Point , Indiana hosts at Schoops Hamburgers ( 1124 N. Main Street , Crown Point , IN ), 5pm
  • Thursday, October 29th - Morfab Customs in Union , Missouri hosts ( 79 Hi-Line Drive , Union , MO ) hosts, 6pm
  • Friday, October 30th - Darryl Starbird Custom and Hot Rod Hall of Fame hosts (55251 E. Hwy 85A, Afton, OK) 1pm
  • Saturday, October 31st - Bozo’s Garage in Santa Rosa hosts ( 2601 Will Rogers Drive , Santa Rosa , NM ), 2pm
  • Sunday, November 1st - Heading to Vegas!

You can see the route that the guys from Rolling Bones will take across the states in the map below;

The Rolling Bones Route
The Rolling Bones Route

The guys below will be performing the adventure in the hot-rod (also shown below) if you're in the vicinity and see them don't forget to give them a wave!

Rolling Bones Coupe Hot-Rod
Rolling Bones Coupe Hot-Rod
The Intrepid Explorers
The Intrepid Explorers

If you’re interested in following their progress as they drive cross country, become a friend of Motorbooks on FACEBOOK or check out this blog.

New Biography/About Me

We have now modified the members section to allow them to upload a picture of themselves together with some information. A good example can be seen for Kate in the lowrider models gallery.

Hot Rod History

The Hot Rodding culture dates back to the late 1940's and the end of World War II mainly in southern California. It was fuelled by a period of peace and growing prosperity as well as the enthusiasm of young men returning from war with newly acquired mechanical skills.

After the war there was a plentiful supply of mainly early fords such as Model T's and Model A's that became an excellent choice for tuning and improving the performance. At this time in history performance parts weren't available and these came later with the car tuning pioneers such as Edlebrook, Offenhauser, Weber and many more. At this point for those who didn't have access to machinery or the know how to improve the engines performance the main option was to improve the power to weight ratio of the vehicle. This was easily achieved by removing some parts such as the wings, running boards etc. To those with the facilities other enhancements were made such as channeling the body over the chasis rails to improve the stability and performing a roof chop to reduce the drag.

Over a relatively short period of time the aftermarket tuning parts industry became big business, with the illegal street racing eventually evolving into the new sports such as NASCAR and drag racing that we see today.

The original drag racing strips were much wider and longer than they are today and were mainly formed from disused landing strips that had been created for war-time purposes. As drag racing became increasingly more popular it became evident that a central body was required to ensure that certain levels of quality and safety were met which led to the formation of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). The NHRA was formed by Wally Parks in 1951 in Southern California and today is one of the largest motor sports bodies in the world.

Hot Rod Evolution

In the 1970's there was a drive to improve the efficiency of cars which led to an overall loss in power for most manufacturer's cars. Due to the high fatality rates caused by accidents around the 1970's there was also a drive to improve the safety of all vehicles which mainly required the removal of hard objects from directly in front of the driver etc. All these changes in the main stream motor industry forced hot-rodding to evolve as well with cars hot-rods being safer and more fuel efficient. This new stream of hot-rods are now referred to as Street-Rods and are built to be driven and more family friendly. To oversee these changes a new governing body was formed in a similar vein to the NHRA which was called the National Street Rod Association (NSRA). Where the NHRA's primary focus is on safety on the drag strip the NSRA's focus at events with an inspection team that checks everything before the event starts.

The definition of a street-rod is a car that was manufactured in 1948 or earlier that has been modified to meet the owners requirments. The usual upgrades that take place are things like the drive train, interior, audio equipment etc.

To see then entire artciles including hot rod and street rod pictures click here.

The Cal Look

A stock Volkswagen Beetle is comparatively underpowered by modern standards and even as early as the 1950's companies were developing aftermarket performance product for Volkswagen owners that wanted a little more power. After a short period of time Beetles began entering drag racing competitions and holding their own on the strip.

In the 1960's enthusiasts (particularly in California) started to emulate these drag racing cars by stripping of all the chrome, upgrading the wheels and tyres and modifying the front suspension to give a nose down appearance. This style became the foundation of the Cal Look that we see today although it has evolved over time.

Today the Cal Look has become incredibly popular mainly due to the relative inexpensive of the Volkswagen Beetles and the cost involved in creating an eye-catching Cal Look example. There is a myriad performance parts available compared to those available in the 1960's and unleashing large amounts of power from the flat-four engine is fairly achievable on a modest budget.

One of the main features that identifies the Cal Look is the smooth body where most or all the exterior trim etc has been removed. This can be traced back to its drag-racing roots where reducing the curb-weight of a car is a key ingredient in achieving a good time on the drag strip. The steel wheels are also usually replaced with lighter alloy wheels with popular choices being Porsche Empi 5 or 8 spoke wheels. The choice of 5 or 8 spoke is mainly determined by the age of the car they are being installed on because older Volkswagen's had 5 studs whereas the later one only have 4 studs.

A common popular half-way variant on an all-out Cal Look is the Resto Cal Look. These Volkswagens are essentially stock with the exception of a lowered stance and tuned engine. They are often fitted with aftermarket period accessories such as roof-racks, fender-skirts and air conditioning units.

The Cal Look is no longer only popular on Volkswagen Beetle and is now also very popular with Campers, Ghia's and Type 4's.

In Stephan Szantai Demon Bugs book he gives many examples of Cal and Resto Cal Volkswagen's. To see the entire article together with some Cal Look pictures then click here.

Volks Rods

The Volksrod is really a hot-rod that is based on a Volkswagen Beetle but in the style that you may expect from Hot Rods build from Model T Fords or Model A Fords. Some believe that the scarseness of old cars to modify and customise has led to the increased popularity of volksrods while others suggest it could be due to the customising community looking for something a little bit different.

A Volksrod is easily identified as it will usually be in the style of a Rat-Rod and most commonly painted matt black. The wings are usually removed and replaced with wheel hugging mud-guards, to prevent stones from damaging fellow drivers cars.

The front suspension is either moved forward to make the wheel-base look longer with some reworking of the stock suspension and steering components. Another popular modification is remove the stock suspension and steering components and fit the suspension from an early Ford. This popularity of this modification has lead to the creation of several kits that have been made available.

To see the entire article together with some volks rod pictures click here.

Rat Rods

A Rat Rod is difficult to define but you know when you see one! They are often based on cars from the 1940's to the 1960's but some examples are as recent as the 1970's. Some Hot-Rods are assembed from a selection of parts usually dating around the 1930's.

To the people not familiar with Rat Rods these cars may appear unfinished and shoddy but that couldn't be further from the truth. Rat Rods were originally developed as an alternative to the glossy high-price Hot-Rods which were never driven and trailored to shows. Rat Rods are all about the fun of building and driving them and appearance take second place. The majority of Rat Rods that are seen at the shows will be dented and rusty but importantly they will have been driven there. If a part needs to be replaced then the owner will often fabricate the part themselves of fit a part that does the job equally well. If the Rat Rod is painted at all it is usually matt black or primered and often will have Maltese crosses on the doors and skull accessories such as the gear-shifter.

For the builders of these cars it is all about building a car that performs well both in speed and acceleration as well as handling and braking. For that reason the majority of the 'comfort items will be stripped away such as headlining, interior trim to give the best power to weight ratio possible. Many of the cars have heavily modified bodies and are often roof-chopped, channelled, lengthened, shortened etc.

The typical choice of engine for a Rat Rod is a V8 which would probably be a Ford Flathead V8 or an early Chrysler Hemi.

To see then entire article together with some Rat Rod pictures click here.

Lowrider Suspension

There are several options that are available to lowrider enthusiasts to achieve the desired 'in the weeds' look. These include dropped spindles, chopping the suspension springs, hydraulic systems and airbag systems. In the modern lowrider culture airbags or hydraulics are usually preferred over dropped spindles or chopped springs since the ride height is adjustable.

Airbag Suspension

The use of airbag technology is now the most common type of suspension modification due to its price and simplicity. A cheap system can cost about $400 to install leading up to about $1000 for a more advanced system.

To create an adjustable ride the coil springs are replaced with a rubber bag that is filled with air from a central reservoir which is filled using an air compressor. To raise the car the bags are inflated with air and to lower the car the bags are deflated. A simple system consists of a air-bags, a compressor, a reservoir and control unit.

It is important not to drive with the suspension completely lowered all the time as it can lead to premature failure of the airbag itself as the rubber will become fatigued. It is also probably dangerous and impractical due to the inability to move the wheels fully as they will be tucked up under the wheel-arches. Conversely riding with the suspension fully raised will lead to a very harsh ride and may cause cracking around the mounting points of the airbags.

While airbags give the ability to adjust the ride height it tends to be slower than its hydraulic counterpart.

Hydraulic Suspension

With a hydraulic installation it is possible to make the jump, bounce and hop due to the speed at which the ride height can be adjusted. In the air-bag system the suspension spring is replaced with a rubber bag that is filled with air in the hydraulic system however the spring is replaced with a bladder that is filled with fluid under immense pressure very quickly. This rapid expansion causes the car to lift very rapidly and depending upon the speed of the flow can cause the car to jump of the ground.

The pumps required to fill the bladders are very power-hungry and often require the lowrider having several batteries to make the system successful. The flow to each bladder, usually at each corner of the car, can be controlled independently using a solenoid valve that can be switched to give the appearance of dancing. In many cases it would be unsafe to be in the car whilst the car is moving so the switches for the solenoids are made externally accessible.

Installing a hydraulic system on a lowrider can be very expensive when compared to the airbag system.

Hi-Risers - Donks, Bubbles and Boxes

The term Hi-Riser refers to a modified vehicle that has been modified in such a way to that the ground clearance has been increased greatly over the factory standard. This is achieved by adding large oversize wheels with very low profile tyres. The sizes of these wheels are typically between 20-26 inches but with the demand to get bigger and bigger some cars now feature 28 inch wheels and maybe more.

To get such large wheels to fit into the wheel arches the owners of the hi-risers have had to adopt modifications commonly seen on monster trucks and kits are available to give the car the required lift. Particular attention must be paid to the braking system due to the increase diameter of the wheels and the suspension in general which needs to be stiffened to avoid excessive roll when cornering.

Inexpensive automobiles are commonly used to create a Hi-Riser and the model and its age will determine which category the Hi-Riser is in. The most popular models that are used in the creation of a Hi-Riser are the full-size Chevrolet cars such as the Impala, Caprice, Monte Carlo, and Chevelle. A Box is usually a 1970-1990 Caprice or Impala and so called due to their squared off front and rear ends, giving a box-like appearance. A Bubble is usually a 1990 Caprice or Impala and so called because they are rounded at both ends.

A Donk is in a league of its own and is generally created from a mid 1970s Impala, Caprice and Monte Carlo or any mid 1970s ride with a sloping rear end. The stance of a Donk is very important and is slightly different to a Box or Bubble in that the front of the car is slightly higher than the rear, giving a nose in the air appearance. The name Donk has come from the "badonka-donk" noise that the rear suspension makes when it goes of bumps in the road.

Other manufacturers that are commonly chosen for Hi-Risers are Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

50 Years of Hot Rod

Most car enthusiasts will be familiar with the Hot Rod magazine and this book is a chronical of Hot Rod magazine. The books is categorised into 5 chapters covering the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties and lastly the nineties.

In the fifties the magazine was mainly covering the drag racing as it evolved into the sport we see today and the formation of the NSRA.

Through the sixties the magaizine covered the big names such as Mickey Thompson, the Summers Brothers and Art Arfons as they became legends in the newly formed automotive arena. As well as covering drag and competition Hot Rod also had pictures of some of the amazing creations by big names such as Ed Roth.

As time progressed hot rodding and car customising became a huge industry and with the arrival of names like Boyd Coddington in the nineties a Hot Rod became the new must have accessory. Celebrities such as ZZ Top all put in their orders for the next cool ride the majority of which adorned the pages of the Hot Rod magazine.

It is interesting to see how the hot rod and car customising community has formed throughout the last 50 years and this book shows it in a very visual and easily digestible format.

If you would like to see the whole review of 50 Years of Hot Rod then click here.