by Jim Kerr
Warm spring days bring collector cars, customs, and hot rods out of their hiding places in droves. You might see some of these vehicles in parking lots, local car shows, or simply cruising main street. Talk to their owners and you may find they talk a special “car” language. Here is a short guide to terms you may encounter.
Cherry: perfect in every way. The paint reflects like a mirror, the car sits “right” (at the right angle and not too high or low!), the interior is tasteful yet functional, and every part of the vehicle fits together with even spacing and alignment. To have a “cherry” car is high praise indeed.
Lemon: This doesn’t refer to the colour of the vehicle! A lemon is a car that has been trouble for its owner. Just like the fruit, it can leave a sour taste in your mouth. Any single car can be a lemon, but sometimes complete models such as the Ford Edsel achieved notorious “lemon” status (largely undeserved).
Pumpkin: as in “your pumpkin awaits”. It refers to any vehicle that is being offered as a means of transportation home.
Rhubarb: Hopefully you will not hit any as you drive. This term comes from England where the ditches in rural areas are often filled with rhubarb. Stay out of the ditch please!
Peach: as in “it’s a real peach” A good looking car that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling when you look at it.
Not all terms are related to food. Here are a few more:
Skirts: Covers for the rear wheel well openings on a car. These can dramatically change the appearance of a vehicle.
Lead Sled: A custom car from the fifties on which the roof has been lowered so the windows are only a few inches high, and the complete vehicle has been lowered on its suspension. The image is often enhanced by adding dual spotlights and long low fender skirts that hide the rear wheels almost completely.
Chopped: This refers to a method of lowering the top of the car (see Lead Sled above). Metal is removed from all vertical panels and door window frames at the window glass level and the top is welded back on at a lower position. The car looks good but you may not know why!
Clipped: a common method of updating the front suspension on an older car. The complete front suspension and frame assembly from a newer vehicle is welded onto the original rear frame portion of the older vehicle
Rod: Technically this term is reserved for a customized or modified vehicle built before 1949. Originally called hot rods, the name and image have evolved. Now they are called street rods or just rods for short. The vehicle’s body may be radically modified or appear original on the outside but is sure to have a modified driveline beneath it.
Low Rider: a vehicle that has had its suspension modified to drop it to the ground. Not very practical unless you drive on a glasslike surface! Some drivers install hydraulic systems to raise and lower the car body as they drive. This method of modifying the suspension can be unsafe for street driving and is illegal.
Mean machine: An aggressive appearance and a powerful engine can make a “mean machine”. The vehicle will often have the back end raised a little and the front end dropped down. Combine this with wide, wide tires on the back for traction, and narrow tires on the front to reduce drag, and you have your mean machine. NOTE: No matter how hard you try, some vehicles will never become “mean machines”.
Suicide Doors: Doors with their hinges at the back edge. The door could pop open on rough roads, folding back upon the car body and leaving the occupants free to fall out on the road.
Finally, you will hear words like coupe, roadster, convertible, hardtop, and sedan used to describe many vehicles. These words often refer to the number of doors and types of tops built on the body, but throughout the automobile’s history they have also been used in various combinations, such as “Convertible roadster”. If you are unsure what they are referring to, just ask. Most owners find talking about their cars is almost as much fun as driving them!